Journey from Analog to Digital Technology

In September 2003, Dr Felix Babatunde Obada, PhD, FloD, FIBA, FInst PS, FMMI successfully pioneered the entrance of Nigeria into the space industry by facilitating the design and launch of Nigeria’s first Satellite (NigeriaSat-1). NigeriaSat-1 was procured by the Nigerian government and launched in Plesetsk, Russia under a six-nation constellation arrangement put together by Prof Martin Sweeting of the University of Surrey Space Centre, UK; with the help of Prof Turner Isoun and Prof Ajayi Boroffice, then Minister of Science and Technology and Director General of the National Space Research Agency.

It was a significant milestone in the embryonic stages of Nigeria’s digital age. The feat featured close collaboration between the University of Surrey, Surrey Space Technology Limited and the Federal Ministry of Science & Technology.

NigeriaSat-1 and its successor, NigeriaSat -2 form the global constellation of satellites used for Disaster Monitoring worldwide. The other partners in the international consortium are the UK, China, Algeria, Turkey, Thailand and Vietnam.

The primary objective of NigeriaSat-1 was to assist with Nigeria’s demographic planning and agriculture. In the layman’s language it amounted to Nigeria having an ‘eye’ in the orbit. The likes of late Prof Olalere Ajayi and Prof Vincent Olunloyo later helped to expand the scope of the space program with the launch of Nigeria’s Telecommunications Satellite into the Geo-stationary orbit thus, giving the country an ‘ear’ in the orbit. With both ‘eye’ and ‘ear’ in the orbit, Dr Obada began to dream of the day Nigerians will move away from the analog to the digital age.

It was clear even at that time to Dr Obada that Nigeria had an overwhelming identity crisis. For example, it was almost impossible for an individual to walk into a bank to take out a loan because we did not know ourselves, and were not therefore considered credit worthy in our own country. This has been due mainly to the challenges around the true identity of individual Nigerians, as well as their traceability and high incidences of fraud and identity theft.

It therefore followed that under the continued backdrop of readiness to pursue a period of transformational change in Nigeria that Dr Obada took further steps to constitute a competent Digital Technology Team. The upshot was a synergy of notable IT industry players and Financial Institutions brought together to enlist the support of the Federal Government, for the implementation of eGovernment solutions as a national initiative.

Members of the team were:

  • Olu Agunloye, a co-founder
  • Dr (Mrs) C.A.O. Ibru – MD/CEO, Oceanic Bank
  • Ms Faith T. Matthews – ED, Standard Trust Bank
  • Raji Rasaki – Regional Manager, Wema Bank
  • Segun Sopitan – Regional Manager, Oceanic Bank
  • Mrs Florence Seriki (deceased) – CEO, Omaket Computers
  • Wole Ajisebutu – CEO, 21stCentury Technologies
  • Harold Anumihe – Orade Corporation, Nigeria
  • Emmanuel Ekuwem – CEO, Teledon

On 18 October 2004, the team was invited to the meeting of the nation’s highest ruling organ chaired by the then President of Nigeria, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR.

Despite then President having his own roots in agriculture and not technology savvy, he nevertheless proved himself open minded enough to embrace the digital technology idea. On that day, after approving the launch of eGovernment offerings nationwide, the President organized a 3-day national workshop on eGovernace in his office. He demanded and secured the cast iron commitment of the Digital Technology Team members to make privacy and data security issues a matter of national priority.

The good seed in the form of a vision had indeed been planted and it was only a matter of time before National eGovernment Strategies Ltd (NeGSt) came into being. NeGSt eventually birthed the National eAuthentication Ltd in 2005.

Amongst the significant outputs of this initiative are:

Establishment of a sustainable partnership over the years with the Federal Ministry of Interior and the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to build a world-class eGovernment platform for the issuance of Nigerian Passports and Visas globally. This has significantly improved revenue yields for the profit of the Federal Government of Nigeria, whilst also closing all loopholes by which Nigerians fraudulently acquired multiple international passports.

Another major workstream is entirely focused on assisting the National Identity Management Commission’s (NIMC), to provide National Identification Number (NIN) enrolment services to the Nigerian diaspora community on a global scale; in addition to digitalizing and electronically authenticating certificates and important personal documents to stem falsification, theft and forgery.

The Importance and Magnitude of the NIN Enrolment Programme Globally

Nigeria’s colonial history and eventual independence in 1960 is well known, so it is understandable why its data management systems are still in their infancy. Given that Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, it is only natural that the ramifications and adverse impacts of the inadequacies in the identity system have not gone unnoticed by the international community.  It has been acknowledged that this is situation cannot be allowed to go on forever.

In recent times the World Bank, French Development Authority, and the European Union stepped in to offer NIMC support to ensure that Nigeria achieves the United Nations SDG goal 16 (Identity for all by 2030). The support resulted in the provision of NIN enrolments services locally, at home, within Nigeria free of charge.

However, whilst this aid has helped with the roll out of NIN locally, NIMC requires significant assistance to extend the programme to the diaspora to ensure that Nigerians in the diaspora do not become disenfranchised and left behind.

Due to the complexities of conducting such a large-scale programme across multiple jurisdictions it is not practicable for NIMC to implement the service outside the shores of Nigeria. NIMC does not have the financial muscle to undertake a global initiative of such magnitude, NIMC is also not licensed to capture the biometric data of anyone outside of Nigeria.

As a result, companies, such as NeA have been licensed to provide the Front-End Services on NIMC’s behalf globally.  NeA works alongside its partner OIS to engage with the public whilst ensuring compliance with the law, and the data protection and regulatory requirements of each geographical location where its NIN enrolment services are provided around the world.

The approved fees that are payable for NIN registration in the diaspora are therefore levied to cover the cost of infrastructure, technology, license, data protection, manpower overheads and other operational costs associated with delivering the service outside of Nigeria.

The Benefits of NIN to Nigeria’s Economy At Large

NIN not only has benefits to an individual; it also benefits the country at large by helping to;

  • Facilitate access to government services and safety nets
  • Combat identity theft and cross-border terrorism
  • Promote and facilitate transparency in behavioural patterns
  • Support a Cashless and credit-based economy
  • Facilitate verification of individuals for passport, drivers Licence and bank account opening
  • Eventually provide access to the democratic process that enables people to exercise their franchise