africa

Between BVN and NIN


Editorial

 

Isa Patami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, sounded tentative and seemed to be testing the waters, when he told journalists last week in Abuja, that the Federal Government was contemplating replacing the existing Bank Verification Number (BVN) with the new National Identity Number (NIN).  Millions of Nigerians are currently striving to acquire the NIN, and link to their SIM cards before the expiration of the stipulated deadline.

The NIN, being managed by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), is a unique identification number to be assigned to every citizen and legal resident in Nigeria.  It will also be fed into a national database, for purposes of efficient planning, preventing identity fraud and enhancing national security. The BVN, on the other hand, is a unique 11-digit number assigned to all bank account holders in Nigeria, to ensure the integrity and security of banking transactions in the country.

The Minister claims to have already briefed President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Economic Sustainability Committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, on the imperative of substituting the BVN with the NIN. That is no bad idea in itself.

However, we believe that such a serious policy decision would require full- fledged deliberations by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), and even a stakeholders’ forum, to enable all interested parties to contribute towards a final decision. It is not as if the Minister’s suggestion is not without merit. He argues that the BVN covers only bank account owners and is a product of a regulatory policy outlined by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). NIN, on the other hand,  is a mandatory requirement that all citizens and legal residents must possess, in accordance with the NIMC Act of 2007.

Surely, it is better and probably more efficient to have one identity database that covers all Nigerians, rather than multiples of sectoral identity databases that may be a source of confusion, or even a loophole for fraud. According to the Minister, “BVN is a policy of a bank and has not been established by law, NIN is the only mandatory number and the primary identification of our citizens and every other identification are secondary”.

Rational as the minister’s argument appears, it does not speak well of our public policy decision making process. The government could just as well have focused on getting Nigerians to obtain the NIN cards, much earlier than banks dragooning millions of Nigerians to acquire the BVN, only to later realize the NIN, which had been annoyingly slow in implementation, was the more complete security option.  Much time, energy and resources, burnt by millions of Nigerians to acquire the BVN, would have been saved.

Could it be that the various legal departments in the requisite federal agencies involved in the conceptualization and actualization of the BVN did not give the appropriate advice, on the position of the law, as regards the legality of the BVN? We certainly need a more serious, rigorous and coherent approach to the formulation and implementation of public policies to avoid these kinds of avoidable situations.

But even if the NIN is to replace the BVN, the NIMC must first get its act right and ensure that every eligible Nigerian is assigned an NIN before any such move is contemplated. Right now, the ongoing effort to get Nigerians to either acquire NINs, or link their NINs to their telephone SIM cards, is hardly being handled with the requisite efficiency.

In the first place, the short time initially given Nigerians to acquire and link their NIN to their SIM cards resulted in thousands of Nigerians thronging NIMC offices nationwide, in a desperate quest to meet the deadline. Large crowds of people converging at NIMC offices constituted a veritable health danger given the raging COVD-19 Pandemic. Matters were not helped by the reported tardiness with which NIMC officials were conducting the exercise.

Happily, the authorities have created more registration centres; and taken other measures to enhance the efficiency of the process while also extending the deadline, for the commencement of the NIN-SIM registration policy by eight weeks, to April 6. It is important to ensure the success of the ongoing NIN registration and SIM integration exercise before contemplating Dr Patami’s suggested replacement of the BVN with the NIN.



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