President Muhammadu Buhari’s Ministers Divided Over Cancellation Of NIN Registration

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The ongoing National Identifi­cation Number (NIN) enrol­ment exercise in the midst of the deadly second wave of COVID-19 has caused a sharp divi­sion among President Muhammadu Buhari’s ministers, Daily Indepen­dent has gathered.

A presidency source said the is­sue has thrown the ministers into opposing camps as majority of them want the exercise suspended while the other camp, led by Dr. Isa Ali Pan­tami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, wants the ex­ercise to continue.

Since the commencement of the exercise, there have been concerns as crowds thronged the offices of the Na­tional Identity Management Commission (NIMC) and registration centres after the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) directed telecommunication compa­nies to block SIM cards not registered with NIN.

The rush by applicants is intended to beat the February 9 deadline for registration, verification, and subsequent linking of NIN to Subscribers Identification Modules (SIM) cards. Crowds defied COVID-19 safety protocols such as so­cial distancing and wearing of facemasks which, many fear, may trigger the spread of the virus.

On Monday, Olorunnim­be Mamora, the Minister of State for Health, said the Federal Government may suspend the exercise to avoid the spread of COVID-19 as a result of large crowds. He said the NIMC needs to reorder the whole process so as to ensure that crowds are well-managed and the people protected.

“I don’t feel good looking at the picture where people are gathered in multitudes. It’s like a super spreader event which we don’t like, but I’m also aware that the rel­evant ministry, which is the communications and digital economy, is looking at this,” Mamora said.

Speaking with our cor­respondent on Thursday, our source said the develop­ment and the rising cases of COVID-19 had caused a sharp division among the presi­dent’s cabinet.

“Right now, we have two camps in the cabinet. There is a camp which believes that the registration exercise is not a life and death matter and should be suspended to a reasonable period when COVID-19 would have gone or drastically reduced. This camp is in the majority.

“However, there is another camp which believes that the exercise should go ahead as the registration is crucial to curtailing the rising wave of insecurity in the country. This camp, led by the Minister of Communications, believes that the exercise can continue if people are order­ly. I believe the president will review the situation and take appropriate decisions soon,” the source said.

When contacted, an official in the Ministry of Communi­cations said the exercise could go ahead if the NIMC staff were proficient, noting that the enrollees take responsibil­ity for their health and safe­ty and security agents help maintain orderliness.

According to her, if the In­dependent National Elector­al Commission (INEC) can conduct governorship elec­tions in Edo and Ondo in the midst of the pandemic with­out hitches, then the NIMC should be able to do likewise.

Speaking on the develop­ment, Monday Ubani, a for­mer Second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), said anyone saying the exercise should continue in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic was unreasonable.
He said: “It doesn’t require any person to know that if any person wants this exer­cise to continue, in the light of the deadlier era we are now with COVID-19, it means the person is not reasonable.

“They are saying the ex­ercise is for security, is it not about the security and safety of the lives of Nigerians?

“You are at the same time risking their lives by asking them to congregate and clus­ter in an environment where they will be exposed to the deadlier COVID-19 that is rav­aging the entire world.

“Does it require anyone to know that that is unreason­able? How will any person even support such a thing?

“How will President Bu­hari support the idea that peo­ple should congregate and be made to be infected with the disease? Yet, every day, the govern­ment is reeling out guidelines, asking us to observe safety protocols. You have set up a Pres­idential Task Force that is looking into the matter of COVID-19 and they have given us briefings on what to do to observe protocols, at the same time, you are asking people to congregate and be exposed to the virus?

“The person asking Nige­rians to go ahead with the ex­ercise has an ulterior motive that is sinister. He is the only one that knows the reason why he is doing this.”

On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Lagos State chapter, said the development had clear­ly revealed division, lack of coordination, and internal crisis in the Buhari admin­istration.

While declaring support for the registration, the party’s Publicity Secretary, Taofik Gani, however, said it shouldn’t be done in an atmo­sphere that may endanger the lives of Nigerians.

“To us in the PDP, it is just another reflection of the di­vision, lack of coordination, and internal crisis in the gov­ernment of President Mu­hammadu Buhari. That is why Nigerians have lost hope and have given up on this government. They have made things far worse for the populace.

“How can we have such disagreement in the govern­ment? The other time, Panta­mi said on television that the law on NIMC and the Nation­al Identity Card was passed 13 years ago and everybody must be registered within six months.

“The question he should have been asked is, when did he (Pantami) register? We in the PDP support the fact that people must be regis­tered to curtail the influx of foreigners into the country but it must not be done puni­tively or targeted to punish Nigerians or put their lives at risk of this pandemic,” he said.

Matthew Ogunba, a lawyer and rights activist, said the exercise was to distract Nige­rians from the failures of the Buhari administration.

He also said: “It is disheart­ening that ministers that should put heads together to solve Nigeria’s problems are working at cross purposes.

“The exercise should be suspended. No two ways about it. If you remember, the minister ordered the exercise during the period the Nation­al Assembly asked President Buhari to appear before them. It is just a ploy to distract Nigerians from the failures of the government. Nothing more,” he said.

However, Prof. Tunde Ad­eniran, a former Minister of Education, said the registra­tion should continue but the government must find a solu­tion to the surging crowds at the venues through the use of technology.

“My position on the issue is that it must continue be­cause Nigerians have a way of trying to run away from challenges. When challenges occur, we are supposed to face them. This is the age of technology. We should be able to devise ways, in spite of the pan­demic, to handle such simple issues as this one on registra­tion. The people who are in charge should be resourceful and think through to find a solution to this challenge.

“That is the essence of their going to school. They should use their brains to find solutions to problems, not that they will see a problem, they run away and the problem remains. Nobody knows when COVID-19 will go. We are pray­ing that, by the grace of God, it should go in the next one or two months.

“At the same time, there is no certainty about that. So, we will have to live our lives. We should not shut down our lives simply because we have this challenge. We should find solutions and I believe that Nigerians are creative enough to find solutions to any problem once they are determined to do so,” Adeniran said.

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