Anger as NIMC strike stalls NIN registration

Hopes of meeting the February 9 NIN to SIM registration and verification deadline may have finally hit the rocks as workers of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), yesterday, stopped work across the country.

The workers hinged the strike on several challenges, including their exposure to COVID-19 risks, lack of personal protective equipment, irregularities in promotion and poor funding.

Consequent upon the strike, thousands of applicants were, yesterday, locked outside NIMC premises in Lagos, Abuja, Imo, Abia, and other parts of the country.

The implication of this is that apart from compounding the woes of Nigerians, who have been bombarding the 1000 NIMC offices across the country on daily basis to enroll for the National Identification Number (NIN) to avoid being disconnected from telephone networks, the opportunity to provide Nigeria with a database of its population has been slowed down.

The notice of strike, which was signed by the President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), NIMC branch, Lucky Michael, and its Secretary, Odia Victor, stated that the action would begin yesterday, Thursday, at offices of NIMC nationwide.

The directive read in part: “Consequent upon the just concluded congress of the above mentioned association that took place on January 6, 2020, the unit executive directs all members of grade level 12 and below in the head office and state offices to report to their respective duty posts tomorrow January 7, 2020 and do nothing.

“All members at the local government offices and special centres are advised to stay away from their various centres as task force and implementation committees would be on parade to ensure total compliance to the directive.”

Recall that the Nigerian Communications Commission had last month asked all telecoms firms to disconnect SIM cards of persons who had not integrated their National Identity Numbers with their phone lines by the end of January.

Over 100 million Nigerians are yet to do so. This has made huge crowds gather at various offices of NIMC in breach of the COVID-19 protocol.

According to a statement issued at the end of the meeting of the ASCSN, NIMC branch, the strike has become necessary due to exposure of staff to COVID-19 infection, lack of personal protective equipment, irregularities in promotion, poor funding, lack of overtime remuneration and adequate tools to work with.

“Staff members were infected with COVID-19 and adequate measures have not been taken to curtail the spread. The meeting resolved that safety of staff should be prioritised. Furthermore the office environment should be fumigated immediately.

“The congress agreed that the NIMC staff salary structure approved by the Federal Government vide Presidential assent be implemented in the personnel appropriation of the 2021 annual budget effective January 2021.

“That the lopsided and irregular promotion done in 2017 and 2020 be reviewed, regularised and gazetted in accordance with public service rules,” the Congress said.

THE strike has left anguish and frustration on faces of Nigerians, nationwide, as they lament the stalling of their efforts to procure the now all-important NIN. This is the finding of The Guardian.

In Lagos, residents that thronged registration centres very early waited for long hours and eventually left unattended to. A young man at a registration centre in Agege, who expressed great disappointment, wondered why government would claim it was committed to stopping coronavirus spread without making adequate arrangement at registration centres.

The experience in Taraba State was the same. The gate to the office of the NIMC, which is located in Jalingo the state capital, as of the time The Guardian visited yesterday was under lock and key, against large number of persons seeking registration.

Ignorant of the strike, they expressed sadness that the commission did not deem it fit to address them on what the problems were.
When The Guardian visited some centres, yesterday, in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, including the University of Calabar(UNICAL), Ambor Centre, (Brotherhood of the Cross and Star) and the Cross River University of Technology (CRUTECH), no employee of NIMC was seen, even as on ground, applicants milled around.

One of the enrollees, at UNICAL small gate, Mrs. Jane Chike, said she was there the previous day and was asked to come back after they collected N3000 from her.

Some enrollees, who spoke with The Guardian, in Bauchi State lamented the development. Abubakar Usman, who travelled about 220 kilometres from Azare town, said: “How can the same government that asked us to enrol allow this strike to happen?”

Reacting to the development, the Chairman of Mobile Software Solution, Chris Uwaje, said definitely, due to the current NIN regulations, NIMC workers are now exposed to large public mobility, and “such workers should be classified as essential workers and given required incentives.”

Uwaje said the strike would significantly slow down the pace of work and prolong compliance timeline.

The former President, Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON) recommended a twin strategic approach to resolving the issue.

First, he urged the Federal Government to equip workers with digital infrastructure to enable them work from home. He said this will require NIMC to deploy a Virtual Private Network for security.

Secondly, Uwaje said NIMC should deploy secured Mobile (Vehicular) Registration Centres equipped with Internet connectivity and access to the VPN to increase productivity.

He stressed the need for more funding of the Commission and more media funding for more awareness in indigenous languages to reach millions of users in the rural areas.

Further on implication of the industrial action by NIMC workers to the enrolment exercise and SIM verification, the Nigeria Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), Olusola Teniola, said: “I had advised right from the beginning of this NIN-SIM project that due to the second wave of COVID-19 it would be very difficult to achieve the initial dates set by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and this has been proven to be the fact. It still remains a fact that simply abiding by PTF’s COVID-19 guidelines and recommendations effectively means that a new timeline based on scientific evidence that ensures the absolute safety of both the data capturers and the general public are utmost in minds of the project implementers, considering health and risks should now be a priority.

“It is further obvious that even with the NIMC booking system in place that NIMC staff are uncomfortable and overwhelmed. These events now bring into play a significant setback to achieving the revised deadlines of Jan and Feb 2021.

“The best Project Management practices would indicate that with contingencies put in place that a Q1 2022 is more realistic timeline to avoid the mad rush. It has always been best to perform the linkage of both NIN-SIM using back end technology and systems to reduce the pains inflicted on those that are seeking to ensure that their mobile lines are not disconnected by the directive put in place by FMoCDE and that more human friendly approaches should be considered alongside empathic messaging during these trying times.”

HOWEVER, the commission in a public notice on its twitter handle, @nimc_ng, appealed to Nigerians, and assured that every challenge that revolve around the exercise will be adequately addressed.

The notice reads: “The National Identity Management Commission wishes to assure members of the general public that glitches experienced in the enrollment process are being resolved and normal enrollment would resume shortly.“We apologise for any inconveniences caused and wish to assure you of our continued excellent service. Thank you.”

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