On 15 December 2020, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) directed that all phone Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs) should be registered with valid National Identification Numbers (NINs) failing which such SIMs will be blocked. The National Identification Management Commission ("NIMC" or "Commission") confirmed that the NIN registration applied to all Nigerians and legal residents in Nigeria as provided under the NIMC Act of 2007. Section 5 of the NIMC Act of 2007 empowers NIMC to create a national database, harmonise existing ones and register eligible persons.
In line with this, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) has indicated that its database will be harmonised with the NIMC's database. This means any registrable person (including foreigners resident in the country) will not be able to process any immigration documents without NIN.
The federal government has indicated a new deadline of 6 April 2021 for NIN and SIM integration.
Objectives of the NIN Database
Under the NIMC Act, a National Identity database is to be created with data on registrable persons. It seeks to:
- Identify persons using unique features such as biometrics, faces and fingerprints
- Issue a multi-purpose identity card with a unique ID number
- Harmonise existing identity card schemes in Nigeria;
- Support law enforcement authorities in ascertaining facts about relevant persons and where adjudged necessary for the public interest; and
- Provide a uniform means of identification across the country for inter-agency use
Section 16 of the NIMC Act defines registrable persons to include Nigerian citizens, permanent residents and foreigners who are legally resident in the country for a period of 2 years or more.
Persons who are 16 years or older at the time the Act commenced (25 May 2007) were to register within 60 days or as otherwise directed by the NIMC.
Guardians with responsibility for persons below the age of 16 are to register their wards within 60 days of their birth or within periods, not exceeding 180 days as the Commission may specify in a regulation.
Requirements for Obtaining NIN
Section 18 of the NIMC Act provides that every registrable person should present any particulars specified by the Commission. Below are the list of requirements for expatriates to obtain a NIN:
- International passport
- Residence permit (CERPAC form / card)
- Bank Verification Number (BVN)
Process of Obtaining NIN
Individuals are allowed to pre-enrol on the NIMC website nimc.gov.ng where a barcode slip will be issued before proceeding to an enrolment center. The applicants will be verified at the enrolment centre after which supporting documents provided by the applicant will be vetted.
Biometrics will be taken before a transaction ID is issued as proof of enrolment. The NIN is issued to the applicant within 1 to 5 working days, while the ID card is expected to be issued within 12 months after the issuance of the NIN.
Mandatory Use of the NIN
Sections 27 and 29 of the NIMC Act provide for the mandatory use of the NIN for certain transactions including passport application and issuance, opening of personal bank accounts, insurance policy purchase, transfer or registration of land by any individual, voter registration, tax payments as well as other transactions that have social security implications. The Commission may prescribe more uses via a Federal Government Gazette.
Privacy Concerns and Third Party Involvement
Information to be recorded on the database is specified in the Second schedule to the Act. It includes personal information such as names, addresses residence status, identification information or personal reference numbers on passports or any immigration document amongst others. Individuals can also submit information considered necessary for the NIMC.
Section 26 of the NIMC Act restricts access to the information without the authorisation of NIMC subject to consent from the individual. Information can only be released without the individual's consent where it is in the interest of national security or for crime prevention.
Likely challenges with NIN-SIM integration
The NIMC Act exempts foreigners who visit the country temporarily (below 2 years) from the NIN registration. However it is now mandatory to use the NIN for transactions such as obtaining a SIM. Temporary visitors may have to roam their home country lines pending approval of possible alternatives such as over-the-counter temporary SIMs for use by non registrable persons.
Dependents of expatriates who are 16 years or older are expected to register for NIN if they are legal residents in Nigeria for at least 2 years. This is regardless of the registration status of their parents or guardian. Penalties for non compliance may apply to the children and/or parents or guardian. The Act does not provide for waiver of penalty.
Unauthorised access, refusal to give information or giving false information are offences which attract penalties ranging from a minimum of 3 or 10 years imprisonment without the option of a fine; or fines of up to N10 million (circa USD 25,000) in some cases along with imprisonment.
The offences are punishable on the individuals, corporate bodies or relevant officers of the recalcitrant organisations.
Section 30 lists other offences to include destruction of the card and engaging in prescribed transactions without a NIN. Offences without specific penalties attract a general penalty of N100,000 or imprisonment for no less than 6 months or to both. There are no specific penalties for authorised persons who misuse information on the NIN database. This is an important issue requiring urgent consideration by the government to prevent abuse.
Assignees and their wards who fall under the category of registrable persons are advised to take steps to obtain the NIN registration. For expatriates, this would ensure ease of residence permit renewal at any point it is required.
Organisations should encourage and support their employees to obtain their NINs as failure to reflect NIN on mandatory transactions such as tax payments could be considered as a violation of the Act.
The federal government should consider temporary SIM cards for business travelers who are not registrable under the NIMC Act. Countries like the UAE, Rwanda, UK and the US allow the purchase of flexible OTC SIM bundles for temporary use without registering for a national identity or social security number.
Given the nature of information to be stored on the database, there should be a robust framework to guarantee privacy, data security and guard against identity theft or other fraudulent misuse of the information collected. There should be stiff penalties and prosecution in the Act to forestall misuse by those with authorised access.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.