The digital rights advocacy group, Paradigm Initiative has called for the immediate suspension of the enforcement of National Identification Number (NIN), as announced by the National Identity Management Commission.
The NIMC announced on Tuesday the commencement of the full enforcement of the use of the NIN by Ministries, Departments and Agencies and other bodies requiring the verification of individual’s identity in the country, such as security outfits, banks and other financial institutions. The commission also announced it was empowering other government agencies and private companies to collect citizens’ data on its behalf, a situation Paradigm Initiative finds disturbing.
According to Tope Ogundipe, Paradigm Initiative’s Director of Programs, “We have always been concerned about the ability of the Commission to ensure the protection of the data in their possession, in a country that has failed to put in place a data protection law. Full enforcement of NIN at this time could lead to denial of crucial services to millions of citizens who are not comfortable with sharing their data with the commission or its agents for good reasons.”
“While the harmonization of records and data might be a good step in the right direction for better accountability and statistical documentation in Nigeria, we consider the whole process premature at this time. There has to be a strong data protection law before citizens are forced to entrust their data to NIMC or other agencies of government,” Ogundipe added.
Weighing in on the issue, Paradigm Initiative’s Executive Director, ‘Gbenga Sesan said, “Data protection is a core necessity in every society. It is a responsibility of the state and individuals alike to respect the privacy of citizens. Section 37 of the Nigerian Constitution guarantees this unequivocally. There is no way that the right to a person’s privacy can truly be respected in the digital age without data protection laws, policies and mechanisms.”
The National Identity Management Commission is saddled with the mandate to establish, own, operate, maintain and manage the National Identity Database in Nigeria. The Commission ought to take data protection very seriously; including ensuring that before the execution of such a nation-wide database harmonization exercise, there is extant and comprehensive legislation on data protection.
Paradigm Initiative urges the NIMC to cease all activities regarding the mandatory registration and use of the National Identification Number (NIN) pending when the nation enacts a data protection law. We have been following the legislative process of the Digital Rights and Freedom Bill (HB. 490) which contains comprehensive and internationally recognized provisions for data protection and we are confident that if the President assents to the Bill, the NIMC would have a sufficient data protection legislation to guide its activities.