The Independent National Electoral Commission is considering making the National Identity Number a precondition for registering voters when the continuous voter registration exercise commences in a few weeks, The PUNCH has learnt.
A national commissioner at INEC disclosed this during an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday.
He said the NIN would help tackle challenges of underage voting, alien voting and other challenges associated with registration.
The national commissioner, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak, said a final decision would soon be reached.
The INEC official explained that the permanent voter card was only supposed to be in use for a maximum of 10 years, adding that most countries rely on a national database and not the Permanent Voter Card for voting.
He said, “The NIN is the ideal. When we want to begin the continuous voter registration, we may consider it because ordinarily, a national identity card is what should be used for voting. When the PVC was introduced, it was meant to be in use for 10 years and the assumption was that within those 10 years, the national identity card would be in use by a majority of Nigerians.
“I can tell you that the NIN will be one of the preconditions for registration when the CVR starts. We are trying to harmonise all databases.”
When contacted on the telephone, the Director, Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Nick Dazang, said he could not say for sure if the NIN would be a precondition for registration, adding that meetings were still ongoing.
He said once a final decision had been made, INEC would officially inform Nigerians.
When asked if the NIN would be made compulsory for new registrants, Dazang said, “When we reach the bridge, we will cross it. For now, we have not announced the date for the registration exercise to begin and the conditionality. When we are ready, the commission will announce the procedure for the continuous voter registration so the commission has not taken a decision in respect of that.”
The INEC director said the commission was also looking at how to ensure that the registration is done amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic.
INEC has not registered any Nigerian in over two years, a development which civil society groups have criticised.
The commission had announced in November that the registration exercise would begin in the first quarter of 2021.
Several government organisations have made the NIN a precondition for obtaining documents.
The Nigeria Immigration Service had in 2019 made the NIN a precondition for obtaining a passport while the National Examination Council and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board said recently that only persons with their NINs would be eligible to sit for exams.
The Federal Road Safety Commission also said recently that persons applying for driving licences must possess their NINs.
The demand for the NINs by government agencies has forced thousands of Nigerians to gather at enrolment centres of the National Identity Management Commission in flagrant disregard of COVID-19 protocols.
Crowds overwhelm NIMC centres
In a related development, despite the assurance by telecommunication firms that telephone lines that were not linked to NINs would not be deactivated on Wednesday, many Nigerians still thronged the NIMC registration centres on Tuesday.
In Abuja, it was observed that most NIMC centres recorded large turnout of residents as Nigerians struggled to get their NINs before the February 9, 2021 deadline.
Two of such centres, which witnessed huge number of people, who wanted to register as of the time one of our correspondents visited were the one on the premises of the Nigeria Customs Service, Karu and the one at Kenuj School, Jikwoyi.
Those, who spoke to The PUNCH at the two centres expressed frustration at what they called the slow pace of registration.
“I have been here since 5am to pick a number. Up till now, it is not yet my turn to be registered,” a student, Yusuf Garba, told The PUNCH at 11am at one of the centres.
Another student, Esther Davies, had a more pathetic story to tell. He stated, “I came in here with my brothers at 5.30am. Our dad drove us here and left for work. Since 5.30am, it was just around 10am that we were told we could not be registered today.
“They told us to come back on Friday and that we should endeavour to come very early and see if we may be lucky that day,” he said.
Another prospective registrant, who identified himself as Abubakar, said he had earlier tried his luck with centres in the city centre with the hope that those ones would not be crowded.
“I thought the centres in town will not be crowded, but I was wrong. I have been going from Mararaba to city centre since last week without luck. That’s why I decided to try this place too,” he said.
Also, residents who gathered at the Public Service Institute of Nigeria, Kubwa, complained that the registration at the location was slow.
“This whole thing is not moving as planned and it is better for the government to extend the deadline because a lot of people have not obtained their NINs,” one of the residents at the PSIN centre, Stanley Okoroduru, said.
In Rivers State, applicants, who besieged the NIMC office in Port Harcourt, said the process was frustrating.
An applicant, who identified himself as Otukupe, said more centres should be created. “If you go in there now, they have only seven computers. So let them open more centres. You can see the crowd here,” he stated.
In Sokoto State, some residents returned home when they heard that telephone lines without NINs would not be deactivated on Wednesday.
One of them, Sule Nasiru, who spoke to one of our correspondents, said, “I can now return to my tailoring business and come back at a more convenient time after the crowd has reduced. I have been locking up my shop in the last three days just to meet up with the NIN registration.”
In Kwara State, applicants from other parts of the state, went to the NIMC centres in Ilorin, the state capital.
One of them, Alhaji Isa Olofe, said that he came with many people from Otte in the Asa Local Government Area of the state.
He said that he was disappointed that they could not register
Borno State residents also besieged the registration centres in Maiduguri. A displaced person in Kukawa, Mohammed Adamuid, said registration centres in other local government areas were not functioning.
In Gombe State, residents, who mistakenly believed that telephone lines would be deactivated on Wednesday (today) thronged the NIMC centres as early as 4am on Tuesday.
A resident, Adams Useni, said he was one of those who got the centre early.
Useni said, “As early as 4:30am, I had got to the secretariat waiting to be attended to, but the staff didn’t resume early. I was able to get a number with the hope of being attended to today (Tuesday.)”
In the race to meet up with the deadline for the NIN, many residents besieged Alausa, the Lagos office of the NIMC.
The PUNCH gathered that workers at the Lagos centre were overwhelmed with the crowd, many of whom were made to wait at the gate.
An official at the centre, who spoke to our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said the closing date for the registration was not realistic based on the number of people yet to be registered.
“There are diplomats and envoys who have not even registered. They are not coming out because of COVID-19. We attended to one of them from the UK on Friday and she was complaining that we made her wait for over seven hours. She was lamenting how the government would insist that people register at a time when there is COVID-19. Some of us were just staring at her because seven hours is nothing compared to those who come as early as 5am.
“Today, we attended to a lot of people. On the average, we register 400 people daily. The local government centres are overwhelmed because Lagos civil servants who should assist them are not around because the government said they should work from home,” the source said
Uncertainty over status of diplomats’ registration centre
There was also uncertainty over the status of the national identity card registration centre at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has now been designated for registration of foreign diplomats.
The registration centre at the Tafawa Balewa building, Abuja, was earmarked for registration of envoys by the Federal Government last week.
Findings by one of our correspondents on Tuesday, indicated that the centre was still catering only to the foreign affair ministry staff and their families while diplomats had yet to visit the office for the registration exercise.
A senior official said, “The designation of the NIN registration centre at the ministry of foreign affairs is just a proposal; it has not been implemented. The registration centre is a small office and it has been registering the staff for years. Nothing has been added to it.
“I was there on Monday to register the family members of a colleague and the place has not been expanded to accommodate the number of envoys that may come for the registration exercise.”
The PUNCH could not confirm if the facility would be designated for diplomats only or expanded to register both diplomats and ministry officials and their family members.
When asked about the status of the centre, the ministry’s spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, said he did not have any information on it.