REPORTER'S DIARY: In Ibadan, 'pay for fuel, get your NIN' I

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) in December 2020 issued a 14-day ultimatum to network operators to block SIM cards that were without a National Identity Number, (NIN). This ultimatum was shifted by 10 weeks to give more Nigerians to submit the NIN to their network providers. Nigerians flocked the many NIMC centres across the country with a sense of urgency to bid the deadline. This however provided some government officials with an avenue for illegal extortion. This reporter’s diary is a part of undercover reports of the registration process by ABIOLA OGUNLEYE at the NIMC centre at Challenge in Ibadan, Oyo state. You can read the comprehensive report here.

The moment I heard the news that the Federal Government had directed the Mobile Network Service Providers to block lines that were not linked to their National Identity Numbers (NIN) by December 30th, 2020, I sincerely wanted to get one before the deadline. I asked around for information regarding the registration procedures but the various responses I got were similar, "Be prepared to drop something."

The average Nigerian lives and grows with a programmed mindset that with money everything is possible and can be made easy. That there are laws against graft and bribery in this nation are of no importance to him. Settle the officers, buy something for the receptionist, credit the secretary, give the nurse small change and all that you need will be attended to in a jiffy. In a matter of time, you would be leaving the premises with your job done and you feeling like a superhero at your amazing feat.

Knowing fully well that the registration process was meant to be free, I went to the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) state office in Ibadan, Oyo state. The compound, beside Adegoke Plaza, New Garage was large enough with several buildings inside. One thing I however noted was that there were a lot of bushes and vegetation around some of these buildings, except the main offices used by the officials. I am not certain if this was because of periodic use or because the rains last year were so heavy. Okra, cassava plants lined the little plot of land near the gates.

The signage at the Oyo state NIMC office at Challenge 
I arrived at the NIMC secretariat on Friday, December 18th, 2020 expecting to gain an insight into the process. I entered the premises with a slight hope that it would be stress-free and that I would hopefully not have to pay any amount to get the NIN registered. I had not gone far from the gate when I spotted a group of people arguing very intently.

Upon enquiry from a bystander, I learnt that the officials at the centre had refused to begin the registrations for anyone, (This was already some minutes after 10 am). They required all present to contribute a sum of a hundred naira (₦100) to fuel the generator. They had been assured that if they did this, they would all be attended to that very day.

However, some folks who had come for the registration protested on the premise that as a Federal Government directive, the commission would have been provided with all that was necessary, fuel inclusive. The fuel contribution was just a tag to extort people. One of them even suggested that it was not certain that not all those who contributed would be attended to that very day.

"The lonely Nigerians"

"It is a trend. Volunteer is just a tag that they use to extort people. Let us not deceive ourselves. This money has no meaning. If people pay on Monday, on Tuesday, every day they would make sixteen thousand naira (₦16,000) minimum. We need to stop that evil culture." One young man said.

Another man adds in support, "Fifteen people contributed yesterday, but they still didn't attend to everyone. I was here yesterday. The gate was locked until 1 pm. (The) federal government cannot give you something to go and do and they would not back it up. This is Nigeria. Everything now is money."

Others didn't seem to agree and just wanted to get through with the registration. A middle-aged woman with a punk haircut who said that she left her baby at home to attend to the registration even said, "We chose to be extorted".

Judging from the population that day, if everyone contributed a hundred naira (₦100) each, the amount would be nothing less than ten thousand naira (₦10,000). I left the secretariat that day with mixed feelings. It was good to see that certain Nigerians were still open to due process without unnecessary cash influence. On the other hand, the loneliness of these Nigerians amongst the larger populace is overwhelming. The place I had just left had a majority of other citizens condemning the few guys who protested against the 100-naira fuel money.

 Well, I figured that I would have to get my NIN done to understand the concept behind this fuel list and how it fast-tracked the process. And that is exactly what I did.

Day 1- Monday, January 4th, 2021

"An appointment list"

I resume at the NIMC office on the first working day in the new year. I get to the centre a few minutes to 9 and meet a massive crowd at the gate. The crowd, trying to force their way into the premises without help from the security guards who kept the gates shut and opened occasionally when folks that they 'knew' approached. I asked around for the situation on the ground and was informed that I had to put my name down on a list. Afterwards, I would be assigned an appointment date to come for my registration.

I already know the scam has begun, but I want to see where the name writing leads to so I join the queue to put my name down on the list with many other people. I am a few numbers after 1000 on that list and I wonder how the officials intend to attend to us all on a single date.

The general list
Numbers 1 to 1000 had been assigned dates already with the earliest dates as April to June 2021. Although the FG had extended the earlier deadline to February 9, 2021. But clearly, something was up with how appointment dates were allotted for months after February. My appointment date would most likely have fallen in July too.

Unsuspecting individuals who had their names on the list simply checked their appointment dates and left. If only they had stayed around a little longer to see that individuals who had written their names down the previous year and were given that day to come, we're still not allowed into the premises for whatever reasons.

"COVID-19 on leave"

After putting down my name, I join the massive crowd. Whether the people there were immune to the Corona Virus or they had been vaccinated ahead of time, I did not know. The way we were all mashed together and pushed would have made the virus spread effortlessly in a little time. I recall the various appeals made to the government as regards postponing the registration until a later time because of COVID -19 and I see clearly why that made sense. Here, it's like the virus is on leave.

Many are with face masks that only adorn their chins and necks just to be put on when a NIMC official allows them into the premises. I don't see any washing hand basin or sanitiser stand at the gate entrance with the security guards as well. I made a mental note to refrain from touching my face till I got back home.

Citizens muddled together at the gate
While we all protest at the gate and try to enter, an official whom everyone called Alhaji addresses us for a short while. He calls out those who were given an appointment for that day and I am amazed to see that it was such a short list considering how many names were on the list I had written my name in. I however brush it off thinking that not many people were aware of the registration at that time.

He informs us that the secretariat is yet to attend to anyone because the crowd was not cooperating with them. I would never understand how a crowd that was outside the gate, some distance away from the main office was preventing resumption. He allows some folks who were closest to the gate in, after some silent discussion with them, a promise of settlement was probably initiated. Afterwards, he leaves the gate and heads back inside leaving us with no clue on what next to do.

"If your name is not on the list, you have to wait for another list..."

It is after he leaves that a younger man, in his late twenties comes out of the premises with a wine-coloured face cap on. I notice that he goes straight to the back and before I know it, some folks had started trailing him around. They speak in hushed tones and appear to be writing their name down on what seemed like a different list from the general one.

An older man most likely in his early fifties comes out with two kegs and together with the guy with the wine cap, leaves with some men following them. A woman beside me commented that this probably meant they had not even started the registration at all. Little did we know that he was going to buy the fuel that would start the day's work.

They return about 15 minutes later with the two kegs filled with diesel. Some of us try to tag along into the gate. We were wrong. These guys already had a sure pass. It turned out they had just paid for the fuel that was being carried in. I asked one of them as we struggled to enter the gate and she confidently told me not to stress myself, that their names would be called before they entered. "If your name is not on the list, you have to wait for another list." She bragged.

This confirms my earlier speculations that the 'appointment list' was not valid. I had found a list with more authenticity and all I had to do to enter was to contribute a thousand naira for the fuel. There were at least fifteen people on that list, so that totals fuel worth fifteen thousand naira.  The lady was right. When they eventually made it through with the fuel, 'Alhaji' is back and he only calls the names on the list in. I'm certain a lot of us who were outside still thought he was calling those who had appointments but I knew better already. So I leave to make a withdrawal.

When I return, the crowd had somewhat reduced. People have other things to attend to than stand at a gate with no access. Two hours later, the security guards allow us in at noon. We dash into the premises only to meet those folks with the hope that we could get things done but no one attended to us. The day's list was complete.

I try speaking with Alhaji to no avail. He had folks he was yet to attend to. Those who came in with the guy with the wine cap, whose name I would later learn to be Israel were later given pre-enrollment forms to fill and afterwards were taken in for the enrollment exercise.

Here is how the registration is meant to go. One goes to the NIMC office, picks up an enrollment form, which is meant to be free, fills the form and then submits. He is then called in for capturing and filling in biometric data within the enrollment office. At the end of the capturing, your NIN number could be generated immediately and a slip is printed out for you. However, because of the crowd at this time, a tracking code is generated for enrollees and is written on a slip. Enrollees can then come the following day with that slip to generate their NIN. Easy! You would think.

"But it's not that easy"

First, you should get the enrollment form at the office, but how can one do that when the gates are locked until around noon? Secondly, to lay hands on the enrollment form, you have to be affiliated with someone. The only ones who get the form are those on the fuel list and a few others who had 'connection'. Someone suggested that we make photocopies of the form and fill it but it didn't eventually work out. Also, there was the dilemma of how to submit the form became those who gave out the forms only collected from those they gave.

Israel tells us in Yoruba, "They (NIMC officials) said we should not collect names again today. Getting the form now is not easy because it's late. I have written the names."

The older man says, "Please let them give them (those who paid) the worth of their money. They are the ones that bought the fuel." Others plead saying that they can buy fuel. He replies, "You can buy fuel. Come tomorrow, talk to Mr Femi." Mr Femi is also an official at the centre. He shows us his National Identity Card and explains that he is not a staff but that he is working for himself and his children.

"I tell you the truth, they are not collecting bribes. All the money was eighteen thousand naira, (₦18,000) and I have used all the money to buy fuel."

I left the secretariat at 1:56 pm seeing that the only way to get the enrollment done was to get on that fuel list. Before leaving, I tag along with others to ask Israel what time he would be coming tomorrow. He tells us he's not sure and that he doesn't work with NIMC. His colleague, who is also a worker at British American Tobacco (BAT) tells us he came for his children's registration and that he is not certain he would come the next day. They converse in Hausa amongst themselves and that gives those who can speak Hausa some leverage.

Whichever way, I decide to arrive early the next day and watch out for who would be starting the new fuel list. I must gain access to the premises early.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series. you can read the second part here. This investigation was published with collaborative support from Cable Newspaper Journalism Foundation (CNJF) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). You can watch a video report here.


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