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Digital ID in Africa this week: mammoth biometric registration plans for Nigeria and Interpol in the

By Frank Hersey, Biometric Update

The sheer scale of the projects underway in Kenya and Nigeria mean that once again the two countries dominate Africa’s biometric ID news this week. Nigeria is to rely on private partners to work towards its aim of signing up 50 million people a year. Unsurprisingly, there are skeptics out there. The hearing for Kenya’s Huduma Namba project bill is currently ongoing and we’ve dedicated a separate article to it. Interpol is pushing for further biometric sharing in the troubled Sahel region, while further south in Zimbabwe, the government is pushing ahead with its civil servant biometric capture as staff strike over low pay.

Nigeria: Private sector to help with reaching targets for ID registration

Nigerian authorities are turning to the private sector to help reach an aim of signing up 50 million people a year, the head of identity commission told Bloomberg in an interview.

Despite registration efforts dating back to the 1980s, only around 38 percent of Nigerians have any form of ID, something the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is seeking to address with the recently announced $433 million in funding from the World Bank, EU and others.

NIMC head Aliyu Aziz told Bloomberg, “We have a thousand data centers across Nigeria, it’s not enough capacity to capture and provide identification for about 200 million Nigerians and non-Nigerians. This is why we are partnering with private sector and government agencies.”

NIMC is launching a new digital platform in the next few days in collaboration with the private sector and other government agencies. Registration is becoming critical as the government intends to go ahead with enforcing this year the requirement for a National Identity Number for accessing other government services such as passport applications.

Nigeria: Towards a single digital identity – how Nigeria marked officially marked International Identity Day for the first time

Nigeria was the first country in the world to officially mark International Identity Day on September 16 (to match the UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.9 of legal ID for all by 2030). Nigeria’s theme was ‘Assured Digital Identity for All,’ an aim of accelerating the registration of Nigerians in a single, national database managed by NIMC (see above).

On International ID Day, the Minister of State for Science and Technology, Mohammed Abdullahi, unveiled the emblem (for what was called National Identity Day), saying “the significance of a unified identity for every Nigerian is therefore not lost on this gathering, as it holds huge implications for the nation’s security, planning, development and equitable distribution of resources… the important role identity plays in empowering individuals to exercise their rights and responsibilities fairly and equitably in a modern society cannot be over emphasized,” as reported by Blueprint.

The day wasn’t a celebration for all. The Blueprint report quotes several critics of the approach so far. Data analyst Seyi Olagunju told the site, “Unfortunately, in Nigeria, it seems realizing the importance of identity management has not translated into giving it the attention it deserves by putting in place the necessary framework to ensure that all Nigerians are properly identified and the database is properly managed to reap the accruing benefits.”

The NIMC is attempting to link all biometric databases in a single database. But, also speaking to Blueprint, Dr. Shehu Idris of the Department of Statistics, Base University Abuja, said, “[the] lack of collaboration among government agencies like NIMC, National Population Commission, Independent National Electoral Commission, Federal Road Safety Corp, National Passport Office, among others have complicated the issue of a unified means of identity for Nigerians.

“As at the last count, Nigerian government manages more than 13 unique sets of identity systems that do not talk to each other. In addition to the costs, this anomaly creates significant amounts of data replication and raises questions on data protection and privacy.”

Zimbabwe: Deadline for civil servant biometric capture looms

Civil servants have until September 30 to register for the biometric capture exercise as part of the World Bank-funded project to weed out ghost workers – or face being struck off the payroll, The Herald reports.

The project is intended to increase efficiency in the civil service. According to the report, the majority of staff have registered. The subsequent stages of matching payroll to the national biometric database and validation of data on the database will begin in October and last until early 2020.

Zimbabwe is beset with economic turbulence and staff strikes over issues of low pay as high inflation has eroded its value. Many civil servants cannot afford the fuel to get to work.

Sahel: Interpol adds weight to call for biometrics sharing to tackle terrorism

The Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock emphasized the need for cross-border information sharing, including biometrics, in the region of West Africa known as the Sahel which has been suffering from increased terrorist activity, reports The Diplomatic Times.

Addressing a meeting of the security ministers from the member states of the G5 Sahel (group of five states) in Ouagadougou, Stock said: “It is not about one conflict, or even a single continent. It is a composite, sophisticated cross-regional threat, where local insurgences and grievances provide fertile ground for terrorist groups. The need-to-know and the need-to-share can coexist and bring operational impact across regions, but even the highest quality intelligence cannot be actionable, unless it is effectively streamlined.”

Members of ECOWAS, the West African Economic Community, which includes the Sahelian states announced a billion dollar fund to combat terrorism, including the sharing of biometrics throughout the greater ECOWAS region.

Interpol previously signed an agreement in May 2019 with the G5 Africa Joint Force to increase information sharing.

Updates and in brief

Op-Ed – EU/Africa: a critique of the EU’s problematic and increasingly expensive attempts at dealing with migration from Africa, hosted by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.

Update – Nigeria: After the incident we reported on last week where Nigerian evacuees fleeing South Africa were allegedly enforced to undergo biometric capture in Johannesburg, a Nigerian academic is calling for biometric profiling of returnees to determine whether they are involved in crime and how best to help them, reports PM News.

In brief – Côte d’Ivoire: a biometric time and attendance system is to be introduced for public servants.

In brief – Chad: opposition skeptical about upcoming legislative elections as biometric census has yet to happen.

Update – Tanzania: only 5 million SIM cards (12 percent) have been registered so far as the December 31 deadline approaches.

In Brief – South Africa: Mainstream radio discussion show on how biometric user data could help businesses make money by tracking users from online to offline via facial recognition, Power 98.7.

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