The National Identity Management Commission officials across the country on Thursday cashed in on the rush to obtain the National Identification Number to fleece candidates, investigations by The PUNCH have shown.
Many candidates thronged registration centres on Wednesday and Thursday as the registration for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination would start on Monday.
The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board had on October 17, 2019, said only candidates with the NIN would be registered for the 2020 UTME.
The JAMB spokesman, Dr Benjamin Fabian, in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents on Wednesday, insisted that there was no going back on the board’s policy on the NIN.
He blamed examination malpractice syndicates for the problems being encountered by candidates who wanted to obtain the number.
Findings by The PUNCH indicated that touts and the NIMC officers were demanding between N500 and N2,000 from candidates.
In Ogun State, one of our correspondents gathered that the touts collected money from the applicants to facilitate their quick NIN registration.
The PUNCH gathered that the touts, some of whom were working for corrupt NIMC officials, collected between N500 and N2,000 from each candidate.
A candidate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he paid a tout N500 at the Oke-Mosan Abeokuta office of the NIMC, before he could obtain the number last week.
“The EFCC undercover operatives should be going to the centres across the country to see the evil of some lazy NIMC officials,” he said.
But state Coordinator of the NIMC, Tayo Olatunde, denied that the officials were extorting money from the students. He, however, confirmed that some touts were extorting money from the students in some centres
Also, scores of UTME candidates in Nasarawa State accused the NIMC of demanding money before capturing them.
The PUNCH correspondent, who visited the NIMC in Lafia, the state capital, observed that thousands of prospective candidates were in long queues struggling to be captured by the NIMC officials.
One of the candidates, Sunday Michael, said he had been in the queue for three hours and he had not been attended to.
He said, “I have spent several hours and yet I have not been registered. People that met me here were attended to because they bribed the officials. Some NIMC workers called me aside and told me that if I had N1000 I should bring it and I would be captured without any hiccup.”
Reacting to the allegations, the state coordinator of the NIMC, Ode Ebi, said they were baseless.
In Gombe State, a Senior Secondary School 3 pupil, Abdullahi Sanni, told The PUNCH that he left his home at 6am only to remain in the queue unattended to at 3pm.
He said, “Since 6am we have been here; unfortunately I’m number 18 in the queue but they didn’t start work upon resumption at 8am. When they finally started, once you gave them money, you would be registered.”
The state coordinator of the NIMC, Dursaila Shilong, denied the allegations. She said, “We should be commended when compared to what goes on in other places.”
In Port Harcourt, Rivers State, a 16-year-old candidate, Rebecca Ologhodien, said she went through stress trying to get her NIN.
Ologhodien told one of our correspondents that though she eventually got her NIN on Tuesday, many of her colleagues had yet to get their numbers.
She said, “I have been to their office for the past seven days, but I was lucky to get it on Tuesday. Some of my colleagues have yet to get, even when the UTME is approaching.
In Bauch State, Rashida Abubakar said many registration centres she had been going to in the past two weeks had been complaining of poor network caused by bad weather.
Last-minute rush by Nigerians responsible for hitches in NIN registration– NIMC
But the NIMC headquarters in Abuja attributed the hitches to what it called ‘last-minute rush’ by Nigerians to get the NIN.
The Commission’s General Manager, Legal Services, Hajiya Hadiza Dagabana, who spoke to one of our correspondents on Wednesday in Abuja, revealed that there were fewer than 2000 enrolment centres in the country.
She said there were supposed to be at least 4000 enrolment points, going by international standards.
Dagabana, while responding to The PUNCH’s enquiries concerning the difficulties being experienced in the enrolment, said Nigerians’ penchant for ‘last-minute rush’ was to blame for the unsavoury situation.
“We started enrolment in 2012 but nobody was interested in the exercise. Then we were begging people to come out and enrol but they were not bothered. Now there is a crowd at the enrolment centres.
“If people have been coming out to register since we started in 2012 we would not have the crowds that we have today.
“Nigerians like last-minute rush, but the fact is we have had these centres open and running since 2012.”
The NIMC official added that many parents, who were not bothered about the enrolment in the past, were coming for registration after realising that children below 16 years would not enrol if one of the parents had not obtained the NIN.
Despite the hitches being experienced by Nigerians to enrol for the NIN, Dagabana said that nobody would be left out.
She said, “Our offices are open for life as long as the NIN is needed. The identity management system is a life-long arrangement. People are born everyday so we will continue to enrol Nigerians.”
NIMC is currently collaborating with JAMB to ensure the successful conduct of the examination, Dagabana added.
She disclosed that the Registrar of JAMB, Professor Is-haq Oloyede, went round the NIMC centres in Abuja on Tuesday and was satisfied with what he observed concerning the enrolment.
Dagabana denied reports that machines being used for the enrolment were breaking down. “I am not aware that machines are breaking down anywhere,” Dagabana said.
She said the enrolment would become decentralised after the commencement of the Digital Identity Ecosystem project for the National Identity Management System.
In line with the ecosystem project, which is supported by the World Bank and other donors, the NIMC would license competent and qualified public and private sector service providers to capture the data of Nigerian citizens and legal residents for the NIN.
Over 10,000 enrolment centres will be established across the country when the project effectively takes off by the second quarter of the year, Dagabana told our correspondent.
Already, a total of 586 firms have submitted bids to be licensed to partner NIMC in the provision of data capture and NIN enrolment services.
Dagabana further disclosed that the Data Protection Bill, which is awaiting presidential assent, will have to be signed into law before the digital identity ecosystem project will take off.
It was gathered that the enactment of the Data Protection Act was one of the conditions given by the World Bank and other donors who are funding the digital identity ecosystem project.
Dagabana said, “By the second quarter of the year we will have more than 10,000 centres that will be registering people.
“Some of these enrolment points will be mobile, some will be stationary and also some will have a multiple machines and equipment.
“They will be going to homes to knock and ask people to enrol. They will register people according to our standard.
“By the middle of the year, when we have the ecosystem all hitches will be a thing of the past.”
The licensed service providers would be paid from the funds provided by the World Bank at the end of each month, according to the number of persons they enrolled.
Exam fraud syndicates behind hitches at NIN centres – JAMB
On its part, JAMB said examination malpractice syndicates were behind the problems encountered by candidates registering for the NIN.
The board said it had security reports indicating that the syndicates had infiltrated the NIN registration centres nationwide in an attempt to frustrate the exercise which he said was meant to curb exam malpractices and other unethical activities.
But commenting on the hardship being faced by the candidates, Fabian said the board, security agencies, and the NIMC were working to address the NIN registration challenges.
He said, “Exam malpractice is a huge industry: We have a security report showing that 90 per cent of what is happening now is not the true picture of what people are seeing.
“People have been infiltrating registration centres and working round-the-clock to ensure that it did not work and unfortunately, some Nigerians are buying into this.”
“Instead of us to put our heads together and ensure that this thing works, some people are calling for all manner of things, I don’t think this is the way to go as a nation,” Fabian noted.
Asked if exam malpractices syndicates were the ones masterminding the hitches at the NIN centres, he said, “It is not unlikely.”
The JAMB spokesman explained that the directive making the NIN a pre-condition for UTME registration was issued by the Federal Government, stressing that it was meant to sanitize the system.
He added that JAMB as a responsible organisation had put in place measures to ensure that all prospective candidates obtained their NIN before the UTME registration commenced.
Fabian admonished Nigerians to support the exercise, saying calls for the abrogation of the initiative was not the way to go. He insisted that the benefits of the directive would manifest in the long run.
He stated, “We know that malpractices in Nigeria have become a huge industry and these guys (syndicates) can put funds together to frustrate whatever government policy is in place to address this particular industry and that explains why we are appealing to Nigerians not to buy into what they are seeing now. Let us look at the bigger picture, the bigger benefits.”