THE CRUEL IDIOCY OF NOW, By Nosa Igiebor, Guest Writer
There are many countries where the governments function for the sole purpose of inflicting misery on the people. Policies are rolled out without any consideration of how they will impact the public. Even if the policies have little utilitarian value and increase their pain, so be it. After all, the government knows best even when it’s run by incompetent, corrupt and selfish officials. And led by an infallible big man whose whims and caprices must always supersede the national interests.
Nigeria exemplifies such a state where the people barely matter in the general scheme of things. The cruel idiocy of the policy of compelling all Nigerians to link their phones to their national identity numbers affirms what we already know. The Muhammadu Buhari administration has a fiendish streak and seems to take maximum pleasure in making our lives more miserable every day.
If the government doesn’t have a fiendish streak and a huge disconnect from the grim reality of life for millions of Nigerians, why would it sanction such a policy? More so at a time a second, more deadly wave of the corona virus pandemic is steamrolling all across the country.
A two-week deadline for all phones to be connected to NINs was first issued last November. It was a decree – that’s certainly what it was – that again advertised the sheer incompetence and callousness of the government. Even when there was a huge public outcry about the cruelty of the decree, Dr. Isa Ali Pantami, communication and digital economy minister, first doubled down on it. He warned that, whoever failed to comply with the directive would have his phone disconnected. He finally buckled after much pressure from many quarters that are superior to him.
To show the government can sometimes be magnanimous and pretends to listen to the people, the deadline was extended to February. And this was followed with the announcement that scores of private companies, including the major telephone companies, have been licensed to help with the registration of millions of Nigerians for the national identity number. That none of the companies licensed to help implement the policy has started doing anything in this regard shows the whole gambit was just an afterthought.
Getting registered to obtain the NIN has now become a nightmarish experience for Nigerians. Offices of the National Identity Management Commission, NIMC, are practically under siege by desperate people seeking to meet the impossible deadline of synchronizing their phones with the NIN they are yet to get. And NIMC officials are getting overwhelmed by the huge surge of people they have to deal with every day.
By insisting that the policy must stand, despite the overwhelming evidence that the structure to implement it successfully and less stressfully is absent, the government has unwittingly created fertile grounds for the pandemic to spread. This is why the soaring number of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the past few weeks all over the country is not surprising. And the situation is only going to get worse.
Everyone, except those behind the insane policy in the government, knows that even the next month deadline for compliance is not feasible. If the government sticks to its guns, millions of Nigerians would no longer have telephones. The ramifications of such a scenario are all devastatingly negative.
For starters, businesses, big and small, would be badly impacted when millions of telephones are disabled. This would become immediately apparent in the banking sector.
The GSM revolution has helped to evolve new ways of providing banking services in the country. Hundreds of billions of naira are transferred every day via mobile banking on internet-enabled telephones. One of the consequences of arbitrarily cutting off millions of phones would be crowded banking halls and ATM machines. This at a time the pandemic is having a free reign and most Nigerians, exhausted by the daily grind of surviving these very tough times, hardly care about observing the protocols to mitigate the spread of the virus.
The repetitive demand for Nigerians to have all kinds of identification tags is beyond insane. In fact, it is perverse as the people are punished again and again for government’s inexcusable failure to organize a credible national data base of Nigerians.
The information required for obtaining a passport, driving license, bank verification number, BVN, voter’s card, NIN and registering a phone SIM card are virtually the same. In every instance your biometrics, including digital imaging and fingerprints, are captured. But there’s no central data base to warehouse all this information. This is why, periodically, the government subjects all of us to strong bouts of anxiety for no logical reason than to remind us it’s powerful and can do whatever it wants. Like depriving you of your phone if you don’t or are unable to align your phone with a NIN that you don’t have and cannot get.
Even before now, it was far less daunting for the proverbial camel to wriggle through the eye of a needle than obtaining the NIN. When you succeed in getting registered, what you receive is a paper slip ascertaining your status of being officially in the books of the NIMC. You may not even get the slip immediately after you’re registered. That could take weeks and months to get. As for the real NIN card, very few people have it. And that will not change at the end of the current mass registration exercise.
The rationale for this policy of phone/NIN alignment is the need to stem the ever-growing insecurity in the country. That’s the government’s justification for inflicting us this latest round of mass hysteria and debilitating stress. It’s much easier for the government to punish us than President Muhammadu Buhari changing the military chiefs and other security and intelligence agencies’ heads who had performed woefully in the fight against terrorism and banditry.
Even if the NIMC succeeds – and this is a big if – in capturing the data of all telephone owners, very little would change in the fruitless efforts so far to arrest the run-away train of insecurity. This is because of the seeming ambivalence of the president himself over the insecurity challenges and what needs to be done to arrest its constant deterioration.
This ambivalence has been further amplified by the rather thoughtless reaction of the Buhari presidency to the Ondo State government’s ultimatum to herdsmen to vacate the state forest reserves that they are occupying illegally. The statement from Aso Rock says that the herdsmen have the right to free movement in any part of the country, which is true.
But does their right to free movement also extend to illegal use and occupation of other people’s land? The state government is demanding that the herdsmen should apply for permit to be in its forest reserves. There’s nothing menacing or wrong about this.
Rather than finding ways to enable the herdsmen meet the requirements of legally grazing their cattle in the forests and living there, the presidency chose to play dirty politics by trying to demonize the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu.
The presidency’s defence of the herdsmen once again underscores its belief that they’re special and, therefore, above the law. It’s the same herdsmen, after years of leaving trails of blood and mayhem all over the country, that the president wanted to gift specially built cattle settlements on other people’s land and at public expense.
This is in spite of irrefutable evidence that many of the herdsmen are working hand in gloves with some renegade Fulani who have turned kidnapping into a very lucrative criminal business everywhere, particularly in the north.
The recent kidnapping of over 300 Kankara school boys in Katsina State was carried out by these bandits. And the negotiation for their release was fronted by Miyetti Allah, the umbrella organization for Fulani cattle rearers and their unapologetic defenders, no matter how outrageous their crimes.
Here is what’s really disturbing and affirms Buhari’s reluctance to decisively curb the excesses of the renegades and call them to order. Nobody was arrested over the Kankara kidnapping, even though the security agencies knew the group of bandits who did it and where they were based. To rub our collective nose in the mud, a huge sum of money was paid in ransom for the boys’ release.
So, connect the dots between the Kankara incident and the presidency’s nakedly partisan defence of the herdsmen in Ondo. And the picture of the government’s complicity in making insecurity worse becomes clear and irrefutable.
This is why the current frantic and ill-thought effort to link all phones to national identity numbers won’t change anything. The spiraling insecurity will continue unabated. Because the problem is not the phones. They are all registered without which they can’t work. The problem is the government. Or more specifically, Buhari, who has completely forgotten why he’s president.
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