Those who have been to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) centre in Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, would agree that the state, which has remained the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic is indeed in trouble. Apart from the difficulty applicants face in trying to process their registrations on a daily basis, the centre, may become a depot for fueling the dreaded disease. ISIOMA MADIKE, who was at the centre on two occasions, report
There has been further apprehension following the recent strike embarked on by the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), NIMC branch on Wednesday, December 7. For applicants seeking to register for the now compulsory National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) located on the premises of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) office in Alausa, Lagos, their woes may have increased.
The notice of strike, Saturday Telegraph gathered, was signed by the President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), NIMC branch, Lucky Michael, and its Secretary, Odia Victor. Our reporter, who was on the premises of the centre as early as 8am on that day, met hundreds of applicants locked outside at the entrance gate discussing the unfolding drama.
The labour officials were also said to have picketed other local government offices and special centres to make sure their members comply with the directive as they were advised to stay away from work. No official of the commission agreed to speak on the matter, but this paper’s investigation revealed that the staff of the agency took the decision to go on strike to demand better welfare package from the government.
According to a source, who pleaded not to be mentioned, the ASCSN, NIMC branch, stated that the strike had become necessary due to the exposure of staff to COVID- 19 risks, lack of personal protective equipment, irregularities in promotion and poor funding.
“They also asked to be paid overtime and given enough tools to work with. Staff members were being infected with COVID-19 and adequate measures have not been taken to curtail the spread. They also complained that the recent increase in the number of applicants at the office for registration has caused a lot of stress for the workers,” the source added. The situation at the Alausa NIMC office had left many applicants, including the elderly, pregnant women, and mothers, who had come with their children for registration, stranded.
In spite of the development however, many could not return to their homes on time as they kept watch, hoping that the striking workers would have a change of heart so that officials of NIMC could attend to them. Meanwhile, COVID-19 protocols at this centre appear not to be of any concern to both officials and applicants.
This is in spite of an earlier stance by NIMC, which pleaded with individuals to wear their facemasks regularly, as only individuals with facemasks would be allowed entrance into enrolment centres. But, our reporter, who monitored the registration process on Wednesday, observed that there were long queues at the inner entrance to the registration point where applicants waited for several hours before they were called in.
While at the outer gate hundreds of other applicants were seen in a boisterous manner trying to force their way into the premises. Amid COVID-19 spike and flagrant disregard of safety protocols, a large number of people, mainly youths, had stormed the NIMC office, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos, in an attempt to register for NIN.
Recall that the Federal Government had threatened that SIM cards not linked to NIN would be blocked, and that telecom service providers that failed to block phone numbers without NIN would have their operating licences withdrawn. Apparently, in a rush not to be caught unawares, Lagos residents in their thousands stormed the NIMC office in utter disregard of COVID-19 safety protocols of social, physical distancing in particular.
Our reporter learnt that anxious applicants usually get to the centre daily as early as 6 am to form a long queue outside the premises, which also houses the NSCDC. This development often leads to traffic gridlock as the crowd inhibits traffic flow. The situation attracted the attention of the Lagos State Government, which drafted relevant authorities, led by Lagos Safety Commission to ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols.
In spite of this effort however, not much was achieved as seen by this reporter on Wednesday and Thursday this week when he visited the Alausa centre. He observed that there was no adequate arrangement to ease the process for the registration.
Apart from that, only a handful were seen wearing facemasks; not even the officials at the gate complied with this simple protocol. The situation was the same at the gathering point inside the compound, as chairs provided for applicants negated the social distancing requirement being touted by the state government. The hand washing basin provided at this point was flagrantly ignored as no official cared to direct people to it before going in, and there was no single hand sanitizer on sight.
“It is a terrible thing and an eyesore here. That this is happening close to the seat of state government, tells a story of a people that are not serious. Or how else does one explain that no official cares about the much talked about spike of the COVID second wave here. While would the government and its officials keep a blind eye to this? “Many who have been here would never believe the COVID second wave claim of the state government.
However, if the virus is indeed in town as we have been made to believe, then we are in a serious problem. From what I have seen here, we all may soon be consumed by the rampaging pandemic,” said one applicant, who does not want her name in print. Another remarked: “I got here exactly 6.30am today (Wednesday). I live in Alapere, Ketu. I have been leaving home early since last week against all odds. Each time I get here, I meet a mammoth crowd.
The officials would not allow us access into the premises. They based their decision on keeping to COVID-19 protocols as they would call us in batches when it’s 8.am for registration. Yet, as you can see, no one is really concerned about the COVID-19 protocols here. It’s all gimmick to continue to manipulate the hapless applicants.” Tosin, also an applicant, complained to this reporter that nobody bothered to attain to them despite that it was already 11 am.
“Some officials of NIMC, who came to address us, asked us to leave as they are battling with system collapse. They claimed they have been trying to troubleshoot but were not successful. For how long can we continue this way? You can imagine the rigour and pain we are being subjected to on a daily basis just to register for NIN, which ordinarily they can link with ease to our SIMS without much qualms,” the distraught mother of two, added.
The situation, according to others, became worse when an announcement was made that the NIN was now a prerequisite for JAMB. The number of people who wanted to obtain the number did not only shoot up, it became an opportunity for some dishonest officials to extort people.
Recounting his ordeal in the hands of these officials, an intending JAMB candidate, who identified himself simply as Ezinna, said he has been coming to NIMC office for days without success. He said: “In one of my visits here, an official asked if I could provide the sum of N3,000 so he could help me.
But I didn’t have that kind of money. And that is the reason I preferred coming to try my luck without paying no matter the stress.” Indeed, there seem to be some racketeers and touts feeding fat at this centre.
Saturday Telegraph investigation revealed that touts and racketeers have been taking advantage of the difficulty experienced by prospective applicants to make quick money. At the gate of the office, our reporter was confronted by a middle-aged man, who volunteered to assist him complete his registration within minutes. The young man, who cleverly declined giving out his name, said those who want to follow the normal office protocol to obtain the NIN could spend weeks if not months to get it while those that followed the shortcut got it in less than two hours.
He seemed to have collaborators inside the NIMC office as he was busy making calls apparently to some officials within the compound. The NIN enrollment form, he said, costs only N200. There are two things involved in obtaining the NIN, he said.
“Those who want to get it fast pass through agents that have offices outside the NIMC office. This category of applicants pays higher but gets it within two hours. Another category spends weeks and may not even be able to register. So, the choice is yours,” he added, and walked away expecting the reporter, who had shown interest in what he was saying, to call him back.
A young man, Adeleye, told our reporter that somebody asked him to pay N5,000 so as to help him fast-track his registration. Another, an undergraduate, who would not give his name, said: “I was at the UNILAG centre; I got there and waited for hours without succeeding. I was asked to pay the sum of N3,500 to enable me to register fast, but I don’t have that kind of money. I am a student and cannot afford to pay that kind of money to touts.”
While the registration and issuance of NIN to Nigerians is supposed to be free, findings by our reporter in the Alausa centre indicates that applicants are being extorted during the exercise.
The extortion and racketeering in the registration process seem to have been exacerbated following the initial deadline for registration issued by the government, coupled with the demand by various government agencies requiring NIN as a mandatory requirement to register for examinations such as JAMB-UTME.
Apart from the menace of racketeering and extortion, the issue of inadequate registration materials and power failure are also making the exercise frustrating for applicants. In this centre, findings revealed that power outage is the main problem causing delay in the registration process. A source within the NIMC office, told this reporter that whenever there was a power outage, work was usually stalled and that most of the equipment in the office were obsolete while staff morale is low due to poor salary. Favouritism and shunting in the crowd persisted also due mainly to the “man knows man” syndrome.
Some “powerful” individuals were observed gaining access into the premises unhindered once such a VIP is recognised. They usually come in flashy cars. Once they arrive without candidates, the officials at the gate clear the crowd to make way for them to drive in. Even at the waiting point on the premises, these “big men” are cleared without obstruction for the business of the day and they usually do not spend more than 30 minutes to complete their children’s registration. Following the seemingly noncompliance to the COVID-19 protocols, and in a bid to make the enrolment process seamless and safer for both staff and applicants, NIMC announced the adoption of a booking system nationwide.
It decried the high level of non-compliance to safety protocols by applicants, noting that although the booking system has been in place since February 4, it has not been fully complied with by applicants. This, according to it, is evident by the growing incidence of crowding in most enrolment centres. Saturday Telegraph gathered that when effective, applicants are to visit any of the NIMC offices closest to them during stipulated business hours (9am -1pm). Personal information would be collected for the purpose of scheduling an enrolment appointment. Applicants are urged not to include any personal information other than what is required by the booking register.
Once admitted into the office, a number-issuing queue management system will be in place to ensure orderliness and strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols. Efforts to speak with the coordinators were not successful. The first time, this reporter was ushered in to see her on Wednesday and she appeared to be very busy that her secretary had to reschedule the meeting for Thursday. By the time the reporter visited on Thursday, the industrial action by the ASCSN, NIMC branch, had commenced.
The woman was said to be away in a crucial meeting with senior members of NIMC concerning the strike. The state coordinator met on the premises also declined comment, saying he had no mandate to speak with the press. While an official of NSCDC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told this reporter that though the agency shares a compound with NIMC, its officials do not interfere with NIN registration as that is outside the scope of their mandate.
He said NSCDC officials at the entrance gate were only there to help maintain orderliness. The Federal Government of Nigeria in its bid to stem criminal activities has through the Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) mandated that all Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) be linked with National Identity Number (NIN). This is to allow governmental and other accredited agencies to be able to access anybody’s details from the national database when required. On Wednesday, the Executive Vice Chairman, Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Professor Umar Garba Danbatta, allayed fears of mass disconnection, when he issued clarification on the ongoing NIN-SIM integration exercise.
He stressed that reports in the media that there would be mass disconnection of subscribers were unfounded. In a statement, Director, Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said most of the publications are based on the erroneous assumption that for every network or SIM connection, there is one unique human subscriber. He explained that with the advent of social media and App-driven digital environment, network subscription goes beyond human subscribers to include machines like PoS, Routers, Wi-Fi devices, electricity meters, CCTV and tracking devices. According to him, a recent survey conducted in Nigeria has shown that on average, there are now approximately four to five SIMs to every human subscriber.
He said: “This explains the basis of allowing the linkage of up to 7 SIMs to one unique NIN in the recently launched Federal Government Portal. Thus, if there are 43 million Nigerians with NINs, this could account for about 172 million SIMs already linked to NINs.
“The current exercise of linking NIN to SIM(s) is for the common good of all Nigerians, as it has far reaching benefits. Apart from enhancing our general safety, this will help in such vital exercises like National Budgeting, Policy Planning, Social Intervention programmes and many more.” He said that the Honourable Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, has assured Nigerians that the Government will continue to review the exercise in the light of experiences to ensure its smooth implementation even as he called on media partners, publishers and reporters to always endeavour to seek clarification from the Commission before going to the press, especially on sensitive issues.