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III. Privacy issues

National ID
A national identity card system was first conceived in 1979 by then-Military Head of State, General Obasanjo.1 The Department of National Civic Registration was established at that time, with the responsibility of issuing national identity cards.2 Since then, however, there have been many bumps in the implementation process.3 In February 2003, the Nigerian government, headed by President Obasanjo, launched an extensive National Identification Card Drive in which everybody over 18 years of age was eligible to participate.4 While registration for the identity card is not compulsory, those who choose to participate are required to provide information that includes name, age, sex, address, occupation, state of origin, local government area, height measurement, thumbprint, and passport photograph.5 While possession of an identity card is not required, it may be necessary to have a card to obtain government services including health insurance.6 Of Nigeria's estimated 120 million inhabitants, about 60 million citizens are eligible to register for the national identity card.7 During the registration period from February to March of 2004, 52 million Nigerians registered for the cards.8
Fifteen million Nigerians were issued fingerprint-embedded ID cards in 2006. Alhaji Shuaibu Sabon-Birni, the director of Civic Registration in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, said that the estimated number of Nigerians between the ages 18 and above is 60 million, and he hopes that every eligible Nigerian will be issued an ID card in 2007.9 As of June 2007, the cards have been distributed in 27 states.10 The latest identity card scandal involves allegations that millions of aliens have registered for national identity cards, thus defeating one of the objectives of the system.11 To respond to this, the Minister of Internal Affairs has requested that the Nigeria Immigration Service strictly monitor identity card distribution.12
The government‚ National Identity Management Commission is also trying to establish a National Identity Database to centralize the data contained within the identity cards.13 The database will "provide a medium for the identification, verification, and authentication of citizens of Nigeria."14 No person or corporate body may access information in the database about any individual absent explicit consent by that individual.15 However citizens will be required to supply an identification number in order to receive a passport, transfer land, open a bank account, use credit cards, acquire insurance of any type, register to vote and pay taxes.16
The identification card system was intended to provide data for government planning, to assist in identification of illegal immigrants, and to enhance national security and cohesion.17 The identity card may also assist the Nigerian Police in investigation and control of crime.18 In addition, the Ministry of Internal Affairs anticipates that the identity card project will resolve the conflict between the north and south over which region is more populous.19 The system is opposed by some northern politicians who fear that the identification card may be used to verify other population records, including voter rolls.20
Many Nigerians, especially those in the northern part of the country, objected to use of the national identity card to obtain voter cards for the elections of April and May 2003.21 However, because the methods of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) produced a tally of validly registered voters that was almost identical to the number of persons registered under the national identity card program (about 61 million), it turned out there was no need to use the national identity card to obtain a voter card.22
To enhance security at the University of Lagos, in March 2005 the University administration announced that its students would be required to carry fingerprint cards.23 This development is partly in response to a violent student protest at the University in January 2005.24 The school was closed for two months, and reopened in March following a re-registration process that included issuance of fingerprint cards.25 To be issued a card, students were required to supply photographs of themselves and their guarantors, provide personal data, and sign an undertaking to be of good conduct.26