“Almost every parent in Nigeria is in violation of the NIMC Act – Sabi Law Expert”. Says voter registration should be continuous, not election year affair. An interview of Onyekachi Umah by Lillian Okenwa.
Onyekachi Umah is a private Legal Practitioner with amazing experience in human right, criminal law and civil law including; pre-trial detention, human rights, intellectual property, transaction and regulatory advisory, corporate, commercial and investment law and energy law as well as litigation and arbitration arising from them. A Legal Awareness Expert, Certified Arbitrator both in Nigeria and the United Kingdom, Umah is managing partner of Bezaleel Chambers International and founder/President of Sabi Law Foundation with a free law awareness program known as www.LearnNigerianLaws.com. This Sabi Law aficionado has written over Seven Hundred free to access articles and materials on law with a desire to enlighten the public. In this interview with Lillian Okenwa, he bares his heart on the National Identity Number registration debacle.
L&S: Do you suppose there is any justification for Nigeria’s government to put its citizens under pressure to get national identification numbers considering there was no prior awareness creation in this regard?
Answer: There’s no need for the panic we’re having today. The problem we’re having is that the institutions we have refused to work. The institution is failing Nigerians because all along there should have been massive awareness allowing people to register. Now you don’t need to be 18 years to register. A father and a mother for instance have the responsibility to register a baby once it is born. The question is – in how many hospitals do we have the NIMC (National Identity Management Commission) posts in? It’s Simple. If you’re giving birth to a child in a hospital let’s say in Abuja for instance, there should be a NIMC post there. The NIMC post there allows the father or the mother of the child to enrol and obtain a NIN (National Identification Number). Let’s say it’s not convenient at that point. When this child is brought for postnatal care, you register him or her. The law gives 18 months grace to stay without registering a child. The point is -almost every parent in Nigeria is in violation of the NIMC Act without knowing it.
The law provides that every parent must register his or her child at birth. Now the law did not say that NIMC must have desks in all the hospital. It doesn’t have to. The law says it has the power to do any other thing that is incidental to its work, to perfecting their duties. Part of the things that will be incidental to perfecting their duties is to have as many offices as possible. No one knows the exact population of Nigerians are but let’s say we have over 200 million Nigerians. You have NIMC offices in respective schools, universities and the rest. Now you also have that in malls; shopping malls. Look at the telecommunications companies for instance. Prior to the directive to discontinue SIM registration, if you want to buy an MTN card and get registered, you simply walk down the street. Before you walk a hundred yards, you’ll see their umbrella. So why don’t we have that?
I recently misplaced my debit card and went to the bank to get a replacement. It didn’t take 30 minutes and another card had been printed for me. It is same with every commercial bank. You can walk into any of their branches and have your debit card replaced in minutes if you request for it. When I did my NIN registration, what I was given was a temporary card not the real thing. I was told that the actual National Identity Card will be ready at a future date. With all the resources that have been deployed into this business and for an agency that has been in existence since 2007 why can’t people register and have their cards printed right away? Mind you these debit cards which banks print out in minutes can be used for transactions locally and internationally the instant they are issued. These are people that mean business. Same can be done with NIN if the authorities in charge decide to.
Take INEC for instance, nobody is doing voter’s registration now as if it’s an affair for election year. It should be a continuous affair. This is the time to do the registration. Have the registration units and booths. The realisation on the ground has made the government to keep pushing the closing date for National identity card registration, because you can’t just shut people out. Have you done what you’re supposed to do? If you look at it on one hand, the SIM card is a private property. It’s also a regulated property. Lands are regulated, cars are regulated but the ownership of those things will lie with those who purchase them. Why would you just wake up for instance and say ownership of lands in Nigeria would be revoked unless you register your land within three days from today? That is asking for impossibility. We are making mockery of ourselves. It’s only now with the pressure and noise about deadlines and blocking SIM cards that Nigeria suddenly became awash with getting a NIN as if it’s something new. The law has been there since 2007 but there was no sensitisation. Awareness creation is key.
L&S: At some point people were paying to have accelerated services on account of the crowd. Despite the Covid-19 challenge that’s still taking its toll, NIMC didn’t seem to have bothered about the crowd; the challenges beating their initial and even subsequent deadlines would create.
Answer: It is almost impossible to register Nigerians without creating a proper awareness within a very short time, without giving room for people to breach those protocols. That means we are the ones enabling and promoting corruption. I watched a video skit online. One man said he had to pay so that he’ll register for his national identification number. The other said no you don’t have to pay, you just have to queue on the line. One said if I queue on the line to do this, I’ll die there and even if they took my corpse to the hospital, the corpse will also queue to be attended to. So you look at the impossibility that we create. It’s just lack of proper management. A 2007 law and in 2021 we’re still battling with it. That’s like 14 years. If you do a random sample you’ll find that people think this is a Buhari led administration project but it a 2007 law. The year 2007 is when we’re supposed to have started all the awareness that is needed.
If you go to the NIMC website, you’ll find out that between 2007 and 2019, NIMC has been calling out to people to go and register. Is that how to create awareness? How many people go to websites not to talk of NIMC website? How many people are even aware of the meaning of NIMC? Enough funds should be deployed for awareness creation. There should be enough awareness. Create more registration booths, create jingles. Reach out to people. You can’t have things on the official gazette, the Federal Gazette or a few newspapers and you feel you’ve raced out to people. Anyone who is not wearing a face mask in any public place can be arrested. How many Nigerians were aware of this until recently that people started being publicly arrested and shown on TV?
Imagine setting an initial December 31 deadline for people either obtain a NIN or have their SIMs blocked. With all the emphasis on Covid-19 protocols, the timing for is the wrong and the rush is unnecessary. This is the worst time for you to have such an affair. In a country where you’re not certain of reliable medical procedures or network of hospitals, you’re calling people to come together at this time when we’re talking of the Corona virus. That’s on one hand. The same government that fought corona virus by shutting down schools and places worship is the same government that is calling for people to congregate and do their national Identity card. Is Nigeria shutting down? Why the hurry?
Answer: Some people think it’s the failure of law. We have all the awesome laws here but we don’t have institutions. Permit me to digress. On Wednesday January 27 this year, President Muhammadu Buhari signed the Covid-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021. This 2021 law is actually a rehash of a 1926 law and the penalty for persons caught not wearing nose masks is N200. In April 2020, I wrote series of articles on the Quarantine Act and I kept hammering that the National Assembly must as matter of urgency amend this Quarantine Act of 1926. Nothing has happened. Today instead of going about with a nose mask for instance you’d rather have N200 in your pocket because the moment you’re caught, the court after trail can say we’re giving you a fine of N200. There and then you pay and go. Are we not making a mockery of ourselves? We’re going in circles. At it is happening in the telecommunication sector, it’s affecting the health sector and it’s affecting education. Same with the oil sector.
I wrote about the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as a student in 2008. I wrote about it as a student in my final project then and till today it’s still a bill not a law. People have fought physically over that bill at the National Assembly. Legislators! It was on TV and social media. Nothing has come out of it. But for how long? The NIN is good initiative. When it’s finally sorted out, you can’t have people call with unknown numbers. Kidnaping schemes, fraudsters, and online fraudsters will abate but the way we’re going… And you see the way these things are going, you’ll find that some people didn’t register well. Some used fake names and all.
At some point a top immigration officer was asked, how do you know one is a Nigerian and he said, once you look at the person you’ll know. With what we’re seeing now, in the next 100 years, this same problem will still be there if we don’t have strong institutions. Using a 1926 Act to regulate events of 2021 is bizarre.
We have the highest paid federal legislators in the world and what work are they doing? What other time will they remember the quarantine Act and amend it other than a time like this when health, and epidemic and pandemic are the key words across the world. If no other time, this is the time to actually work on the Act. Someone told me they will not do it because there is no money share in it. If the Act is to create a quarantine commission where there will be money and people to hold offices, immediately they would have amended that law but what do they stand to benefit? Are they even taking the corona virus serious?