Data gathering by states will not render national ID insignificant
Lagos State is set to begin a comprehensive registration and data gathering of residents within Lagos. Touted as a strategic move to provide more accurate statistics on the residents of one of Africa’s most populous cities, the initiative expands the compelling argument for why governments at all levels must automate the processes of gathering data for economic planning. In 2010, Edo State had embarked on a similar drive. It set in motion the Edo State Citizens Identification Card as a first step to knowing the number of people domiciled within it and also to provide the framework for more informed planning and engagement of the citizenry via eGovernance.
What Edo and Lagos states are putting across is that the basis for planning by Nigerian governments in the 21st century has to be a more accurate way of determining people and other resources domiciled within a geographic space. It is unacceptable to plan on imagined statistics when ICT tools are readily available to achieve near accuracy on figures and therefore put across a much more comprehensive and strategic development plan.
While many are commending such moves, there are others who think that data gathering and citizen identification by states may render the national ID project both insignificant and unnecessary. We do not think so. Data gathering at federal, state, local council or ward levels are all geared towards getting accurate figures. No infrastructural or economic planning can be effective without accurate figures. That is why government has seemingly failed to achieve its objectives for economic development because projections are often based on false or assumed figures.
What stakeholders need to focus on now is the critical need to harmonise data gathering at whatever levels they are conducted and across the states. There are more than a dozen such exercises ongoing at the moment. By the CBN rules, biometric data of banks’ customers are to be part of the practice in financial engagement of the citizenry by banks. Administrators of Nigerian security and safety institutions such as the Police and Road Safety have all embarked on collections of biometric data of citizens. The public services across a number of states have all introduced biometric data gathering and in several states, the taxation processes have been automated to necessitate an increased level of data gathering.
But all these are standing alone to make the benefits narrow and somewhat cumbersome. What is needed now is that the servers housing these separate data should begin to see themselves. It is imperative to access citizens’ data across platforms and across states and/or agencies. Stakeholders must begin to clamour for synchronisation of scattered data. There is nothing wrong in statutory bodies to gather data on citizens within the framework of their mandate. But it is awkward for citizens’ data to have no value outside of where they immediately reside. The real value for data gathering is when data can be accessed across platforms by authorised persons. That is what stakeholders must begin to focus on as states take the destiny of economic planning in their own hands.