The Federal Government has renewed commitment towards tackling factors impeding government’s desire to accelerate harmonisation of disparate citizens’ biometric data residing with different agencies in order to avoid data duplication and cost reduction for government. KUNLE AZEEZ and JOSEPH AGUMAGU reports
When President Muhammad Buhari was sworn into the office in 2015, one of the inefficiencies he pointed out was the poor management of citizens’ biometric data in the country.
He lamented the silo nature of different data residing with many agencies of the government, which are being managed separately, resulting in unnecessary duplication of citizens’ data.
The President, who noted the situation was costing the government a lot of money, subsequently mandated the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) to immediately spear-head the harmonisation of all the various citizens’ biometric data hitherto standing in silos.
However, about three years after the executive order was given to NIMC, not much has been done to harmonise citizens’ data and this has remained a missing link in the national data harmonisation exercise.
It was on this basis that the government recently renewed its commitment to accelerate the data harmonisation mandate with the setting up of an Inter-Ministerial Committee to oversee the process of harmonising data collection and evaluation.
This is coming just as the country reiterated its renewed readiness to deepen its commitment to end data duplicity and data capturing exercises across federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
New Telegraph learnt that the process could save the country about N40 billion incurred as operational costs by the different MDAs for their stand-alone data collection and evaluation.
Ensuring national standards
Speaking on the new inter-ministerial committee recently, Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, noted that the Committee would ensure national standards for data collection, evaluation and publication as well as regularly provide guidance to all MDAs and other stakeholders engaged in data collection, analysis and publication for policy formulation, implementation and monitoring.
The committee to be chaired by the Statistician General of the Federation and Director-General of National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Yemi Kale, is expected to serve as the clearing house and focal authority for MDAs for data collection, authentication and publication.
Adeosun said the establishment of the Inter-Ministerial Committee has become imperative to develop the production of national statistics and avoid data production duplication.
The inter-ministerial committee is expected to submit half-yearly reports to the Minister of Finance for necessary briefing of President Buhari.
Agencies, which have their own separate biometric data gathering in the country, are Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
Others are National Pension Commission (NPC) the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) , the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), the National Population Commission (NPC), the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, among others.
In all, the data harmonisation committee is made up of the about 23 Federal Government Agencies who are stakeholders in the identity sector. They are all expected to collaborate towards reducing data duplication and boost their integration of disparate data in the country.
Need for effective harmonisation
Meanwhile, apart from saving government money, it is believed that once the harmonisation is completed, citizens will no longer be required to have their biometrics taken repeatedly by different government agencies and private entities such as telcos. The harmonisation will also help the country in crime detection and prevention.
Available data showed that countries such as the United States of America (UAE), Canada, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and countries in the European Union (EU) countries and several others have harmonised their citizens databases and this effort, it was gathered, has continued to impact successfully on citizens engagements, crime detection and prevention as well as economic development.
Also speaking with this newspaper, a security expert, Mr. Tony Ofoyetan, said that as more collaboration between the public and private sector in combating cybercrimes is being advocated by experts, it has become imperative for the federal government to accelerate effective harmonisation of disparate databases of citizens in the country.
Ofoyetan said there are several identity data of Nigerians currently residing with different public and private establishments, which needed to be harmonised to effectively stem the tide of cybercriminal activities.
According to Ofoyetan, harmonising various data collected by different agencies at different centres in Nigeria would put both the private and public sector in a strategic position to effectively battle the menace of cybercrime Nigeria.
He said that data collection has not been the challenge in the country as many may have erroneously assumed but the harmonization of databank.
He said: “We don’t have data collection problems in Nigeria, but no data correlation. We have too much databank disparity in Nigeria. Yet we continue to advocate that the on-going cyber war should be the collective responsibility of everyone.
“Data that have been collected by different agencies have not been harmonised to enable the collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors to have meaningful effect on the fight against cybercrime in Nigeria.”
He emphasised the need to fight cybercrime with knowledge, which he believes, is predicated on leveraging on a harmonised database for forensic analyses.
He therefore, urged the government to be deliberate about the collection of data across the nation, which would be a rich resource for the country in future as far as cybersecurity was concerned.
“Nigeria should be deliberate about data collection. In the process of treating people for Monkey pox, Ebola, HIV or other diseases, we can collect authentic data from people in an area, which will become what we need for forensic analyses in future. You know people are willing to come out en masse for this time. This will help, in no small measure, in fighting cybercrimes and terrorism in Nigeria,” he noted.
Harmonisation grows NIN database
Meanwhile, the NIMC, which said it had enrolled over 28 million Nigerians and legal residents into the National Identity Database and issued them the National Identification Number (NINs), said it had been collaborating with other data-collection agencies of the government.
Director General the Commission, Engr. Aliyu A. Aziz, said his organisation has also set a new target to enrol additional 50 million Nigerians and legal residents as well as issue those with the NIN by December, 2018.
In December, 2016 when the enrolment figure stood at only 14 million, the NIMC DG had set the target to double the figure so as to capture 28 million Nigerians and legal residents into the database by last December, a target that was met few days after the end of December 2017.
He also acknowledged the push for the mandatory use of the NIN from stakeholders and partners of the Commission in the private and public sectors, especially members of the harmonisation committee set up by the Federal Government and charged with harmonising all identification data.
“Indeed, their commitment towards the harmonisation process contributed to the growth of the database, as well as increase in the general public’s awareness about the NIN and its benefits,” Aziz said.
Explaining that the NIN bequeaths citizens with a lot of privileges and benefits, the DG listed some of the benefits to include one-person-one-identity, ability to verify and authenticate individual’s identity, access to services, claims and entitlement and benefit from government social interventions.
With the inauguration of the inter-ministerial committee, industry watchers have called for increased collaboration among the organisations constituting membership of the committee to accelerate the delivery of their mandate of effectively harmonising citizens’ biometrics in order to reduce cost associated with data duplication and enjoy the benefits of having an effective, well-harmonised data on the nation’s economy.
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