NIN and the unending war against Nigerians

Nigeria is an endowed nation. Its citizens are very resourceful. Unlike the atomized Western societies where long queues of hungry people waiting for food rations became a feature of many cities in the US during COVID-19 lockdown, we are our brothers’ keepers. The more affluent among us donate money and food items to their less privileged neighbours. Ordinary Nigerians are at peace with each other because there is no part of Nigeria where the rights of settlers are not protected. Hausa fruit hawkers, Yoruba food vendors and spare-part sellers at Ladipo spare-parts market mingle freely and threw banters. Those of them engaged in tomato, pepper and yam trade at Mile 12 food market in Lagos are at peace with their Igbo and Yoruba middle men. I have witnessed in Kano market how Igbo trader enthusiastically took over the chores of Hausa traders during their five times daily prayers.

All Nigerians therefore ask of their government is an enabling environment to carry out their daily chores. Unfortunately all they got as feedback for this modest demand since the end of the first republic were impoverishment, deprivation and debasement of their humanity in the name of ill-conceived and often ill-implemented government policy thrusts.

First it was the civil war with harvest of three million deaths. The immediate cause was disagreement over policy thrusts (Ironsi’s unitarism, Ojukwu’s confederacy and Gowon’s federalism) by ill-equipped leaders who wanted to impose policies on a people whose consent they did not seek. Not long after, Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo with little understanding of how society works waged their own war on our civil servants, Ivory Towers’ residents they envied and the press. Then came Babangida with his ill-conceived Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) which destroyed our budding industries. He along with Obasanjo who through the ill-implemented privatization policy, turned our nation to importers of labour of other societies while our trained university youths roam the streets for job with many others emigrating to the west in search greener pastures are responsible for today’s travails of our youths.

The on-going brutalization and dehumanization of millions of Nigerians as they struggle across the nation in a season of COVID-19 to beat the government deadline to obtain National Identification Number, NIN is one more example of how government wage wars against the people they govern.

The Nigeria national identity project was first conceived by Obasanjo in 1976. However, it was Shehu Shagari’s administration that first awarded the contract in 1982 to the least qualified bidder- Avant Incorporated, a company which had earlier been disqualified by the technical committee of Ministry of Internal Affairs. From then on, the project, according to Prime Times report “continued to be torpedoed by executive high handedness, mind boggling corruption, sheer irresponsibility of government officials and asinine abuse of power”.

Avant and its partner Afro-Continental could not deliver at the end of the agreed 18 months. When Buhari overthrew Shagari in 1983, he also overthrew the $100m ID card project. Babangida resuscitated it and frittered away $70.7m. Then in 1998, the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime added another $38.4m to the drain.

In 2001, Obasanjo ignored an existing government contract with CHAMS which Chris Onyemenam, the Director General/CEO of NIMC had sat on for over two years and re-awarded it to SAGEM, an action Justice Esho who awarded damages of $410.390.60. against government at an arbitration court described as “unprecedented irresponsibility’. Beyond implicating the late Internal Affairs Minister, Sunday Afolabi, who later died in prison, his successor Mohammed Shata and Labour Minister Hussain Akwanga in a $2m bribe scandal, SAGEM did not deliver despite government cumulative expenditure of about N121billion.

By May 2020, six years after, Jonathan’s initiative had led to the registration of about 41.5 million Nigerians. It then dawned on Buhari government of change that the answer to insecurity challenges in the country was in linking of NIN numbers with telephone numbers of subscribers.

Then as if to punish Nigerians for government inefficiency, President Buhari directed over 100m Nigerians to obtain NIN within four months, threatening to direct private telephone service providers to deregister telephone subscribers who fail to meet the deadline.

Since the directive, it has been tale of woes across the country for Nigerians who have been spending hours at designated NIN centres without relief. A neighbour of mine, a retired civil servant was asked to bring an identity card and had to go and spend N40,000 to renew her expired international passport. When she got back, her contact who turned out to be a security man at the centre told her the illegal charges had gone up from N5,000 to N7,000. Another one narrated how she paid N7,000 to get captured at about 8pm in a private school somewhere in Lagos. It is the same story all over the country.

While Nigerians are going through this nightmare, Obasanjo had his own NIN issued to him on November 3, 2014 at his Hilltop Estate Abeokuta by no other person than Director General/CEO Chris Onyemenam and other NIMC management staff.

Unfortunately, we seem to be chasing shadows if the current attempt to link NIN to telephone numbers is designed to address our insecurity. Many have argued that some of the herdsmen, bandits cattle rustlers who are suspected to be non-Nigerians buy SIM cards from neighbouring countries which they then roam to Nigeria. If that narrative is true, then the kidnapers, bandits and terrorists that have taken abode in the mangrove forest of the southwest will continue with their trade unaffected by this government new-found answer to insecurity.

We have also not been told how this desperate attempt to link NIN to telephone numbers will affect thousands of wild-looking dark-skinned boys who ride Okada all around Lagos, Ibadan and other parts of the southwest and those healthy looking middle-aged men that one sees as one drives out of Lagos towards Ogun State pretending to be beggars. In any case, if people can be captured in private locations in Lagos after payment of illegal fees, how do we guarantee the capturing machines are not taken across borderless areas of Nigeria to capture non-Nigerians?

Unfortunately the on-going visiting of hardship on helpless Nigerians is not the answer to our security challenges. It is only those who have stakes in their communities that can best secure their communities. The other day, Tunde Fashola as governor of Lagos State decided to register those who live in Lagos for better planning and separation of genuine Lagos residents from criminals who were pretending to be beggars. Abuja and the likes of ex-governor Peter Obi of Anambra rose against him claiming it was unconstitutional. Nigeria is perhaps the only federal state in the world where governors as chief security officers of their states have no control over those who reside in their states. How can Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State guarantee security in his state when the president’s spokesman from Abuja says the so-called herdsmen who took over ‘reserved forest’ in his state without permission are protected by the constitution?

Replacing this constitutional fraud written by 49 selected people and promulgated into law by 40 Supreme Military Council members without any input from Nigerians has a better prospect of addressing our security challenges than the on-going NIN exercise we have no guarantee will not end like the past efforts. It is also perhaps the only way to end state wars against ordinary Nigerians.

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