For the purpose of this analytical viewpoint, let us hypothetically assume that 40 million people in a country have a Bank Verification Number (BVN) in a population of 200 million. At that level of hypothesis, anytime a stakeholder proposes that the government should adopt the BVN as the identity aggregate of choice, we are always met with resistance because not every Nigerian for instance, has a bank account which is rather a very simplistic argument.
Question therefore arises thus, what is the government doing to ensure that more Nigerians have bank accounts?
There have been programmes that would have ensured a lot of people in rural communities get into the banking system, like the social intervention funds that was disbursed two weeks ago and the TraderMoni scheme in 2019, yet, Ms. Sadiya Umar Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management and the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo respectively gave the recipients cash to the chagrin of some of us. How has their stratagems in any way helped in reducing the number of the unbanked population?
As it stands in Nigeria, the Bank Verification Number (BVN) is the truest form of identity data – way better than the National Identification Number (NIN) and the phone number. How phone numbers became the identity aggregate of choice still beats me hollow till this day and that’s because we aren’t focused on solving the hard problems. With a high churn rate, and the fact that registration of phone numbers information doesn’t have a unique numerical or alphanumeric identifier like the BVN that can be accessed across board, it means that SIM registration information is warehoused in silos with an infinitesimal agency on its centralisation.
If we keep heralding that data is king and it’s the new oil, then the way we go about aggregating those data points matter too. A faulty dataset(s) will produce false insights.
Using phone numbers based on recharge history to decipher who qualifies for a government social intervention is puerile even at its best. It’s so bad a strategy that Dr. Isa Pantami, the Minister of Communications and the Digital Economy on February 6, 2020 in Abuja, Nigeria gave the Nigerian Communications Commission a directive to review the SIM card registration and usage policy in order to fix some shortcomings inherent in it.
We make issues pertaining to identity management seem like an event, when in fact, it should be a continuous process till we are able to onboard a critical mass. BVN registration should not have a deadline. Registration for NIN should also not have a deadline. If the government was ready to be equitable in disbursing social intervention grants, it should have focused on creating a national identity assurance programme that will provide a single point of access system (SPOC) for all government services, from welfare benefits to taxes to passports. Identity is the fil rouge that holds together the different pieces of our digital lives.
A lot of people who work in technology and craft its policies rather seem to be too egoistic and elitist. How on earth can your phone recharge history in Nigeria be used as the Nigerian version of the Equifax Credit Score or the FICO Score? If telecommunications companies use that strategy to compute their Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) statistics, it’s because ARPU is a deterministic variable for the said companies and there will be some lapses in its outcomes if the government adopts this strategy to drive its social intervention programmes.
Telecommunication companies use different billing and reconciliation systems, one from the other, and billing rates for calls, SMS, and data vary for each service provider. In its marked delusion, the government believes that phone numbers provide the lowest common denominator approach to harnessing identity information.