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

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.

Day 2 Tuesday, January 5th, 2021

"Another day, another crowd"

I get to the secretariat gate at 8:19 to meet a larger crowd than that of yesterday. A longer queue had been formed and extended even to the American Polytechnic near the NIMC premises. As I advance nearer to the gate, those in the queue call on me to join. Whether out of concern or they didn't want to be cheated, I'm not sure. I get to the gate and move near the signpost where the appointment list is today.

The number is already 532 when I get there and the dates had not yet been assigned, unlike yesterday. I would later learn that they were told to come anytime from May. Those of us who wrote our names down yesterday were assigned April to June, so how would those who wrote their names down after we be told to come back in May? Were these people taking note of the names at all?

The crowd- an assorted mix

I don't bother to mix with the crowd trying to force their way in at the gate. Alhaji is there giving his usual pep talk again, assuring us that once our names are written down and we come back on with appointment dates, we'll have no issues getting it done. A fable many believe and leave for their homes. The NIMC officials are respectful to the aged and elderly, allowing them to come in with their children for the registration. No one protests at that. The crowd is even more than the previous day with some hoodlums taking advantage of the occasion to steal. A guy narrates how he lost two phones the previous day and as he talks, I rearrange myself.

He tells us that many people have not come for the registration but to steal from unsuspecting enrollees. Truthfully, another lady also loses her phone that day. Asides from the thieves, a lot of old people who already have the slip and the identification number are at the secretariat. Many of them do not understand what the linking is all about and think that they have to get their plastic ID card to complete the process. It takes some enlightenment from those of us around and the officials at the gate to convince them that they have no business at the secretariat for some time.

I eventually spot Israel at the back of the crowd. He is putting on an Adire patterned tee- shirt and is sporting his wine cap. Jackpot! I move to him and greet him. He responds and informs me that he did not think he would be coming today. He says someone called him and pleaded with him to come today. I'm sure the pleading must have involved some motivational spending but I thank him all the same. An old lady later informs us as we wait that she called him and sent him five hundred naira for transport to get him to come. I ask him if yesterday's 'level' is still available and he tells me to calm down.

The testimony of Baba Soldier

A few others who had been at the office the previous day also gather around and receive the same reply. He tells us to stay around and that he would not look for anyone when it is time to write the list. Some of those I recognize from yesterday as the fuel list enrollees come around to express their gratitude to Israel and one of them, a retired soldier expresses his displeasure with how the FG does not care about the welfare of old veterans.

Baba soldier says in Yoruba, "Someone who is in uniform came, he is junior in rank to us yet they instantly attended to him. how about we, the retired soldiers?" He insists that men of the force should be given special treatment compared to others, "Is it those who did not go to the war and don't know what is going in in the streets?" He says.

Others remind him of how he lamented about his service to the country. He says he will call Obasanjo and other top officials to inform them about the way the process is going. In his opinion, soldiers should be "categorized" differently. Others protest asking if we are not all citizens of the same country but Baba Soldiers explains how military men differ from civilians.

As he talks, I spot another official who has come from inside the building to attend to one of his beneficiaries, most likely. He is holding a form that looks like the pre-enrollment form and goes back in shortly after. It's not as if no one is going in or coming out, only that they have to be "connected" or be with a "connection".

As we wait for Mr Israel's men within the premises to give him the signal, I watch other enrollees oblivious to the fact that another arrangement was already ongoing. Even if they were able to force their way into the premises, they would not still be attended to.

Fuel list kickstarted

Eventually, when it is some minutes after 10 am, Israel instructs me to begin the fuel list. He writes down my name first on a sheet of paper and instructs the others around us who are interested in getting into pen down their names. He has counted us and sees that we are five in number. He tells me he has noted in mind others who have spoken to him that morning and looks for them in the crowd to notify them. The 'fuel list' was in motion.

However, one of the women on the list is not discreet in writing her name and soon many others flock around her to put their names down as well. Most of them are unaware of the fact that we would be contributing some amount to buy fuel and that would get us into the premises. When Israel saw the crowd around the list, he quietly told those of us around that we would have to write a new list.

So together, we cross the New Garage road and start a new list at an out of service filling station. Not many noticed that we had left. Some even thought it was the woman that was in charge of the list. When we cross over back to the front of the secretariat, he asks me to stay put under a tree that is at a distance from the main gate. Then he gets across to tell me which name to add to the list. "Not more than fifteen names", he says repeatedly.

Power available, hike in fuel price

This goes on for about thirty minutes and when the list is complete, we have to make a payment. He tells us that the officials inside are refusing to collect fuel today because they have electricity adding that today we have to pay more; one thousand, five hundred naira (₦1500). What choice do we have? And so the money is gathered together, a total of twenty-two thousand, five hundred naira (₦22, 500). Two names are removed from the list because they do not have up to that amount with them. He is strong on not collecting money from those whose names are not on the list. "If your name is not on the list, don't pay."

The pot-bellied man from the previous day now shows up and comes out of the premises with the two kegs (25 litres each) for the fuel. I would later go to the filling station not far from the secretariat where the diesel was bought to enquire for the price of a litre. The attendant told me it was two hundred naira (₦200) per litre. That's ten thousand naira (₦10,000). What happened with the remaining twelve thousand, five hundred naira (₦12,500) will forever be a mystery. Whether it went into the pockets of Mr Israel and his partner or the NIMC officials also partook of the contribution, I couldn't find out.

As they buy the diesel, Mr Israel collects the money and they count it to confirm. He converses in Hausa with his partner. He then tells me to go ahead and gather the rest of us. It is a covert mission that I must carry out with due diligence so as not to attract attention to us.

The kingdom suffereth violence…

As we sight them coming back with the fuel, we are ready to enter with them. As with the day before, our names would be called from that list at the gate. The only issue was getting through the crowd. I join one of the men carrying the fuel and only allowed myself to be pushed together with it. The fuel would enter and so would I.

After much struggle, I enter the gates and wait for one of the officers at the centre, Mr Femi Aniye to call the rest of us in with the list. He is aware of the fuel list, after all. By the time we are moved from there to the enrollment office, I notice that the fuel has been taken away. I recall that Mr Israel told me that they had electricity inside, that was why we paid an extra five hundred naira. So I'm surprised to see that the office is being powered by a generator. The time is 11 am

Inside the compound, we still meet the old men who had been allowed in earlier. They are still waiting to be attended to. Not too long after, Mr Israel's partner comes with the enrollment forms. He calls our names as he hands them over to us. I hold the form with joy, a prized possession many are waiting to get at the gate. Some stay overnight while others arrive as early as 6 am from far-away places. A form I gained access to all by paying for fuel, 1,500 naira.

Afterwards, Mr Femi comes over and signs our registration forms. This, Israel explains is so that they can be collected from us and so that we would be attended to. It was here I realized that more than getting into the premises, it was another thing to get the form, and another to have it worked on upon submission. Our fuel had cleared that out anyways.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three-part series. you can read the third 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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