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They make their world so hard (I)

National ID card National ID card

Three weeks ago, maybe even four, I got a message from my mobile phone company asking me to re-register my line and link it to the national identification number, aka NIN, else I would be barred. I murmured to myself: “Here we go again!” How many times will I link my line to NIN? I scampered down memory lane and disgust overpowered me. It seems some people in government wake up every day asking themselves: what more can we do today to destabilise and demoralise Nigerians? It appears they are never at peace until they inflict disruption and discomfort on millions of Nigerians through obnoxious policies and directives. That is their understanding of imagination and innovation.

In this article, I will give seven instances on this biometric enrolment epidemic. First, in 2010, we were directed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to register our SIM cards. I went to a centre close to my estate to give my mother’s maiden name to some random individual eating noodles under an umbrella by the roadside. It felt so uncomfortable. Months later, I was informed by my telco that I was yet to register and that my line would be barred. I was perplexed. I called a friend at the NCC and he said my telco was bluffing. As it turned out, the data captured by the roadside noodle eaters could not be integrated into the telcos’ systems because of compatibility issues.

The entire NCC registration exercise was null. We wasted millions of dollars on the contracts and never heard anything about it again — but is it not Nigeria? We simply moved to the next level — my second instance — when the NCC issued another directive that all SIM cards must be registered by 2015. This time around, I went to the airconditioned office of my service provider and felt more comfortable telling them my mother’s maiden name. It worked this time as nobody threatened to cut off my line again. But when my sister, at the point of death in a Kano hospital in September 2015, desperately said “I want to talk to my brother”, her line had been barred, albeit it was registered.

She died without being able to talk to me. Till today, I still live with the trauma of wondering what she wanted to tell me. It pains me I would never know — not because she disobeyed the directive to register her line but because of our sloppy system. We had hardly calmed down with SIM registration when we were asked to get a bank verification number (BVN). We were threatened again that our accounts would be blocked if we did not obey the order. We queued in the sun and under the rain to get the BVN. We gave our mothers’ maiden names again, in addition to the very invasive capturing of our biometrics — something done only to criminal suspects and foreigners in advanced societies.

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Most of us survived the BVN badgering but those who didn’t had to suffer the severe inconvenience for months. We were still catching our breath when we were ordered to register for NIN — my fourth example — otherwise we would not be able to get a passport or write university entrance exams. We queued up again, come rain or shine, to do the “needful”. Registration centres became like police checkpoints where extortion is the means of value exchange, if you know what I mean. There were people who spent days and weeks trying to register. But the registration was not enough — there was another one called “verification” which also provided a sweet opening for more extortion.

The fifth instance was the instruction to link NIN to our phone lines in 2021 — when COVID-19 was still killing people. Otherwise, our lines would be barred. Old, young, elderly and sick people had no other option than to flood the registration centres again. Ordinarily, if you already have a NIN, there should be a very easy way to add your number since all your details have already been captured by both the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), which manages NIN, and the telcos. It should be as simple as going to a portal to do the linking. Interestingly, or luckily, NIMC eventually came up with an app to make life easier, and I can remember registering all my lines via the app.

Not so fast: the sixth instance was coming. That was when I got a message from my telco to link my NIN to my line by February 29, 2024 or I would face the consequences. I was baffled. What happened to the “linking” of 2021? Has it expired? Thinking I was smart, I quickly opened my NIMC app. Alas, I could no longer access my linked numbers. It kept telling me “unauthorised access”. I went to another menu and finally saw my linked numbers — but my main line had disappeared. I clicked the “add number” button and was told a one-time password (OTP) had been sent to me. I am still waiting for the great OTP — after trying my luck a million times since February. I now do it for fun.

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Now, wait for the seventh instance. I got a mail from my bank that I should add my NIN to my account, otherwise what happened in 1979 would repeat itself (if you don’t know the Okey Bakassi joke, accept my sympathy). This is the mystery: my account has a BVN, and it was from this BVN that my NIN was generated (well, that was what the NIMC lady that registered me for NIN said). If my NIN was indeed generated from my BVN, why do I have to link my NIN again? Comically, all the banks that said we could link our NIN via their internet banking platforms were only “using us to play”. There is no such menu or portal or function or button on their sites. After checking for three banks, I gave up.

The good news is that I decided to spend a whole day going from bank to bank to link my NIN so that nobody would stop me from accessing my bank account for no fault of mine. The bank officer who attended to me at my first port of call said my line was linked to many accounts, so I should change my phone number, otherwise he would not be able to link my NIN. I wanted to treat it as a joke but he was not laughing. I stood my ground. He buckled. I thereafter went to my telco to re-link my NIN. I was No. 225 on the queue. I’m not joking. I met many sad and tired Nigerians who had spent hours on the queue. I felt nothing but pity for them. This is what Nigeria does to its citizens all the time.

When I was done re-linking my NIN to my mobile line, I headed for the second bank to obey the latest CBN directive. The security guy at the main gate approached me to find out what I was looking for. I said I wanted to do the needful. He said it was past 4pm and the bank had closed. That was when I realised I had lost my sense of time. Hungry and frustrated, I drove straight home wondering why Nigeria routinely does this kind of thing to its citizens. It is an annual punishment. The philosophy of our policymakers seems to be: why make life easier when it can be complicated? I can bet that there is more in the offing. Soon, we may be asked to link our BVNs to our driving licences.

Even though I sound as if I am angry or bitter or sad, the truth is that it is the poor and lowly people I really feel for. I am an employer. I can somehow afford to burn one day going from one bank to the other to link NIN and all that, but millions of Nigerians do not enjoy that luxury. Their lives depend on daily earnings. They are not asking government for contracts. They are not asking government to pay them welfare support. All they want to do is work with their own hands to feed themselves. But that is not good enough for the policymakers. There must be a new directive to disrupt their lives and send them on unsettling errands that can be done on a smart phone. Millions of lines were cut off.

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By the way, I have nothing against BVN or NIN — or linking the national ID to our phone lines. I need to be clear about that. I am cool with whatever measures the government wants to take to tackle terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, money laundering and other crimes. The authorities owe us the duty of making our country safe and secure — and we, the citizens, have the duty of supporting and co-operating with them. But must they make life this miserable for us in the process? Robert Nesta Marley, the reggae legend, captured it in these lines: ‘They made their world so hard/Every day we got to keep on fighting.’ If you drink ordinary water in Nigeria, you will need to use a toothpick.

The wickedness of our policymakers does not have any limit. They woke up one day in 2022 and decreed that they were going to re-colour naira to “fight corruption”. After sadistically making sure there wasn’t enough cash in circulation, they confiscated the old notes from us until the Supreme Court came to the rescue. They ensured electronic channels did not work well so that bank transfers would be tough. People died in the process. According to authoritative rumours, the policy was to stop Asiwaju Bola Tinubu from winning the presidential poll. The lives and livelihoods of millions of Nigerians were ruined. The Nigerian economy was mutilated. And Tinubu still became president.

The way government has handled SIM registration, BVN and NIN shows the poverty of thinking, the abject lack of rigour, in policymaking in our dearly beloved country. Someone comes up with a proposal and says “Oga, better dey for you o” and it becomes a policy with discomfiting deadlines. The idea will not be tested, the decisionmakers will not think through it and the financial or human costs are never considered. All they want to do is make money, even if the economy will be ruined in the process. Why must anybody go physically to a bank or a telco to link their NIN when all the details have already been captured on a system that we spent millions of dollars to build? Why?

I would like to be a fly on the wall when some of these heartless policies are being discussed. I would like to know if there is any sane human being in the room who highlights the impact of these directives and orders on Nigerians. I have this funny feeling that most people in power are facing the same direction. Maybe those who have contrary opinions often decide to shut up so that they would not lose their positions or get branded as renegades. I do not know. I am just guessing. But I wish that policymakers would stop treating Nigerians like goats. Life does not have to be this hard over things that can be simplified with the help of common sense. As if things are not hard enough.

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AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…

KURIGA KIDNAPPINGS

The spate of abductions in northern Nigeria in the past few days is very frightening. Nearly 300 school children were abducted from Kuriga, Kaduna state, on Thursday — a sad reminder of the Chibok kidnappings of 2014. Someone asked if this and other incidents are not co-ordinated or if the economic hardship is instigating an upsurge in criminal activities. As expected, some politicians are seizing the opportunity to play politics, as we saw with the Chibok abductions. Whatever the case may be, President Tinubu must realise that securing the country is his primary responsibility and no excuse is acceptable. We want to see action and results, not rhetoric or blame-trading. Urgent.

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ANOTHER ORONSAYE

Another week, another agency. Since President Tinubu “ordered” the implementation of the Oronsaye Report to cut the size of federal bodies, the National Assembly has kickstarted the process of establishing more. It was Peace Corps in week one. In week two, it was the National Tax Crimes and Oversight Commission — the function well performed by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). This is a clear indication of the quality of thinking in certain circles and a disturbing confirmation of a lack of purpose. At this rate, we may need to set up another Oronsaye Committee to rationalise the new agencies and commissions being created after Tinubu’s directive. Dissonance.

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POWER PLAY

Chief Bayo Adelabu, minister of power, spat fire on Wednesday over the dire power situation in the country. He “summoned” the chief executives of distribution companies (DisCos) and threatened to revoke their licences. He said despite all efforts to improve generation, “Certain distribution companies are failing to adequately distribute the power supplied by TCN (the transmission company).” I am a bit baffled. Is it possible to hold back power that is already on the grid? Where will the DisCos keep it? I understand that Adelabu is under pressure because of public criticism, but he needs to be calming down to be able to understand the sector before issuing threats. Complicated.

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Have you heard the latest? A forensic analyst told an FCT high court on Thursday that the documents used to request the payment of $6.2 million for unnamed foreign election observers were forged. Mr Bamaiyi Meriga, the forensic analyst, confirmed earlier claims by Boss Mustapha, former secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), that President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter and signature were forged. Fellow Nigerians, I always claim that “I have seen it all” but there is definitely still more to unfold about how rotten our Nigeria is. You mean $6.2 million could be so easily taken out of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) without due diligence such as checks and confirmations? Wonderful.

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