INVESTIGATION…. Corrupt NIMC staff breach COVID-19 protocol to extort Nigerians registering for NIN
The process of procuring the new national identity card has been fraught with complaints, with many alleging extortion by staff of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC). KELECHUKWU IRUOMA goes undercover to investigate these claims and files this report for Ripples Nigeria.
On a sunny Monday morning in mid-July, Fidelia Okonkwo (not real name) had left her house in Yaba, a suburb in Lagos to Shomolu local government to enrol for the National Identification Number (NIN) being issued by the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) .
“I went directly to the NIMC office in the local government but I was told by a male officer that NIMC was not enrolling people for NIN due to the COVID-19 lockdown,” she said.
The emergence of the COVID-19 global pandemic had affected socio-economic activities globally. Cases were rising. Nigeria recorded its first positive case on February 28. Subsequently, the number kept growing.
The COVID-19 lockdown
This made President Muhammadu Buhari
Because of this, NIMC head of corporate communications, Kayode Adegoke
“As part of the measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, the National Identity Management Commission has ordered the immediate shutdown of all its enrollment centers in Lagos, Ekiti, Ogun, Katsina, and the Anambra states. The move becomes necessary to prevent our Staff and applicants from getting more vulnerable to the pandemic,” the statement said.
“Consequently, all enrollment activities, card collection, and other identity-related activities are hereby suspended in the aforementioned states until further notice. The closure is not intended to create panic but to arrest the spread of the disease, which has become a global threat.”
But the reporter’s investigation revealed that NIMC officers in some NIMC centers enrolled Nigerians during the lockdown and charged them exorbitant fees for a completely free process, ignoring the NIMC management’s directive and breaching COVID-19 protocols.
Okonkwo needed the NIN urgently to open a bank account and the NIN was requested as a compulsory requirement to complete the process.
When Okonkwo was about to leave, the NIMC official called her back affirming he could enrol Okonkwo but she would have to pay a huge fee.
“He called another NIMC official, who confirmed the registration had temporarily closed but he could still enrol me. He asked me to pay N25,000, which he later reduced to N7,000,” she said.
Okonkwo agreed to pay because the officials insisted she must pay. She was then taken behind the building. There, she was given the enrollment form to fill at N100 as the officers said the commission did not provide registration forms. Okonkwo was told to return the next day for biometric capture.
“I was taken to another office [not NIMC] for the registration and capturing. When I got there, I noticed I was not the only one. There were four people who said they were from other local governments to enrol for the NIN. When I spoke with them, I noticed they paid higher than I did.” she said.
She was captured and asked to return the next day to receive the NIN slip.
Extortion during COVID-19 lockdown
“Because of the COVID-19 lockdown, the officers used the opportunity to extort and collect money from me,” Okonkwo lamented.
At the immigration office at Obalende, a 23-year-old female who preferred not to be mentioned said she was extorted by NIMC staff in a bid to enroll for the NIN. She had initially visited the immigration office to get an international passport.
“It was raining but the officers were strict with the covid-19 regulations, which included a temperature check, social distancing, which was partially non-existent and using face masks,” she said.
She had concluded her passport registration and asked an officer where the NIMC office was.
“She responded that I had to go to Awolowo road in Ikoyi to get enrolled,” she said, “After hearing this, I endured. I called someone who was an officer at the immigration office. This officer had assured me that the NIMC stand at the passport office was still functional despite the Covid-19 restrictions and I would get the NIN application done the same day.”
“When the officer arrived, he took me to the next compound which I didn’t even know was an extension of the immigration office. He introduced me to a NIMC official at the office and assured me once more that I would get everything done the same day. He gave me the form to fill and asked for N5,000 to process the procedure,” she continued.
“You no fit price this one, na standard price I give you,” the officer told her. “After much haggling, he settled for N4,000. The biometric capture took less than ten minutes to do and after another fifteen minutes, I had a copy of my NIN slip.”
She was furious she had to pay the officer N4,000 to enroll for NIN that was free.
On July 6, Frances Odochi, an undergraduate student in one of Nigeria’s federal institutions had issues with her bank account. Her account name did not correspond with her voter’s card, so she needed another means of identification to show the bank she was the owner of the bank account.
“So I went to Ajeromi/Ifelodun local government to get my national identity number because that was the only means of identification I could bank on,” she said.
“When I got to the local government, a man I met outside directed me to the NIMC office. When I entered, I saw three women in the office and a man who was attending to them.”
She introduced herself and told the officer she wanted NIN and he asked if she wanted it soon, to which she responded in the affirmative.
“He told me to get the national identity number, it is N10,000 if I want it in four weeks but if I wanted it immediately, I would be paying the sum of N15,000,” Odochi said.
“I did not expect [to pay] because I knew getting the national identity number is free,” she said. “He later told me to pay N8,000,” she lamented.
When Odochi asked him the reason she was paying for a free service, she was told there was a lockdown, and to get the NIN was not easy as NIMC offices were not opened yet for operation.
“He said they are not going through the normal route to enroll people, they are going through another route because offices are not working due to COVID-19 but if I pay, he will maneuver the process,” Odochi explained further.
As a Nigerian student whose education had been affected by the pandemic, Odochi was jobless to raise money to pay the staff N8,000 to enrol for the free NIN process.
“I did not have the money, so I had to go and do an affidavit instead,” she said bitterly.
The reporter’s experience
As the allegations were many, the reporter decided to visit Shomolu local government in August to also enrol for his NIN having not enrolled in the past. By then, the NIMC had resumed operations.
It was cloudy that Friday afternoon. I got to the gate of the local government and saw three men asking me what I wanted. I ignored them and continued my journey to locate the NIMC office. On the way, I saw a NIMC banner that read “Do not patronize touts.” “Do not pay anyone for your national identity.” But was it the reality?
I got to the NIMC office and saw over 20 people who also wanted to enrol but there was no form of social distancing. Registration forms were being given to individuals but not for free. I asked for it and I was told to pay.
“The form is N100 per copy,” an officer who revealed himself as Taiwo replied. “Are we paying for the form again?” I asked. “Is it not the NIMC duty to provide the forms. What they [NIMC] said is to visit the website and fill out the form,” Taiwo continued.
At this point, a lady who was requesting the form interjected. “It is not supposed to be N100 but N50. N100 is too much.”
I paid the officer and collected the form. While waiting for my turn for biometric capture, I noticed the officers engaging in corrupt activities. They had agents, who asked people to pay to get the NIN immediately. In my presence, a family of four entered, captured, and were issued the original NIN slips immediately. Others waited until it reached their turn.
I filled the form, did the capturing and was given a tracking number written on a piece of paper and asked to return a week after to collect the original slip.
“Network is bad,” one of the female officers told me. But they were people who paid exorbitant fees and were issued the original NIN slips.
Nigerians must pay to receive the original NIN slip
A week after, I returned to the NIMC office at Shomolu to receive the NIN slip. When I got to the office, an officer known as Aunty Titi was seated in front of the desktop computer printing out NIN slips for those who had registered. I went to her and gave her the tracking number issued to me when I registered.
She collected the piece of paper, inputted the tracking number on the website and my details appeared. She then brought out an A4 paper cut into three and put one into the printer. Soon, my slip was printed and handed over to me but it was an ordinary piece of paper with my NIN details on it.
The NIMC original NIN slip has the NIMC logo and name watermarked and has a design of its own. I saw another slip other than mine with a young lady who had just been issued her slip. I told Titi the slip she gave me was quite different from the one issued by the lady.
“Ask her how she got that one,” Titi told me. I asked the young lady but she was not willing to speak to me about how she got the slip.
I went outside and asked Taiwo the difference between the two slips.
“There is no difference,” he replied. “The particular [NIMC original] paper is not in circulation. Provided you have the NIN, you are good to go. But it is the same. It is authentic,” he said to me regarding the A4 paper.
But the original paper was available and being issued to people who paid. Still not satisfied, I went back to Titi and asked her the difference between the two slips.
“This one [ordinary slip) is legit. It is the real one,” she said. “Just that some organizations used to insist on the other one [the slip with NIMC logo and name].”
I told her I needed the slip with the NIMC logo and name.
“It is N1,500,” she told me.
I saw the slips being issued to people who paid for it. I told her it is supposed to be free since it was available. But she said she would not issue it to me unless I pay her the amount she requested.
I pleaded but she insisted I pay her. She later accepted N1,000 from me.
Many Nigerians enrolling for the NIN have been complaining of extortion by the staff of NIMC at enrollment centers before the COVID-19 lockdown. Despite the economic effects of the pandemic, the staff still compelled people to bring out money to pay them to get NIN slips. Some of them go to social media to register their displeasure towards the staff who demand between N5,000 to N25,000 to enrol Nigerians for the NIN.
In October 2017, an investigation
The NIMC has always come out to deny the allegations of extortion by its staff. The recent statement released by the commission was on August 13 refuting the claims by Nigerians that its staff requests for money.
When Adegoke was contacted on this matter, he said none of their staff would ask Nigerians to pay any money for enrolment services.
“The Commission has not asked anyone to charge for [enrolment] services that are free. 1st NIN slip issuance, 1st card issuance is absolutely free. The law is clear on graft: the giver and receiver are guilty of the law. So, don’t pay to avoid running foul of the law too,” he said.
When told that those who want to enrol are refused to be registered unless they pay the fees demanded by the staff, Adegoke said there are other centers around that people can go to enrol without being charged to pay.
“We’ve informed Nigerians to report any infraction without compromising the system,” he said.
Adegoke said the NIMC has zero-tolerance to issues bothering on extortion and gratification.
“We have sanctioned some of the staff – dismissal in some cases; termination and suspension. But we need Nigerians to feed us with accurate and verifiable information on extortion involving any of our Staff,” he said.
“Please get the identity of the staff that asked you to pay or collect money from you,” he told the reporter. Any staff that extorts or applicants that induce our staff would be made to face the full wrath of the laws. It’s a two-way fight against extortion and corruption. Let that resonate in the minds of all,” he said.
Okonkwo is sad that bribery and extortion are eating deep into NIMC enrolment centers and she is worried that many indigent Nigerians are compelled to pay to be issued NIN slips by NIMC staff.
“I hope the corruption in the NIMC centers is addressed because the money they are collecting is too much,” she said.
This report was published as part of the BudgIT/Civic Hive Media Fellowship 2020