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BVN: Why I Will not be Enrolling in London Anytime Soon

A few years ago, I met up with a childhood friend who had become very senior within the NNPC hierarchy. He was staying in a pricey London hotel and I had agreed to meet up with him. In the course of our brief conversation, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the way in which Nigeria, and the NNPC, used money. Particularly galling for him was the fact that Nigerian money hardly ever passes through Nigerian hands, once outside the country’s borders. Illustrating this with the taxis that he and other NNPC executives used. He wondered why a Nigerian-owned cab company could not be retained to NNPC executives around London, rather than the current practice of hiring from non-Nigerians on a piecemeal basis.

Biometrics: courtesy Lockheed Martin

Courtesy Lockheed Martin

He presented a compelling argument that deploying Nigerian money to enable and promote Nigerian businesses outside Nigeria would strengthen Diaspora ties to the motherland and empower Nigerians abroad to reinvest at home. A policy such as that would also burnish the image of Nigeria and Nigerians in the country of their residence. His sentiments bore strong resonance with my own position on the issue. Nigerians, like many other black nations and communities, instinctively spend their money outwards to other nations and groups, rather than holding the money, or transacting it, within their own circle. The consequence is that black nations and communities end up as financial/economic baskets that struggle to hold money.

Biometric (BVN) enrollment was launched last year, and banks and account holders were mandated to comply with the new directive. Now, I have huge problems with the idea of placing biometric data in the hands of multiple private companies, especially where the regulatory framework is still very weak. I also think it is counterintuitive to maintain multiple biometric databases across sectors. Our biological identification details are retained in the passport office, driver licensing office, the electoral commission, the national Id commission, telecommunication companies, and now, banks!

I must be an IT simpleton, so how could I understand the esoteric reasons for multi-site, distributed repositories of redundant data sets. This surely is some advanced availability+DR strategy that is far beyond my pay grade! I really should not dabble in things too high for me. There I was thinking, in my simple mind, that such sensitive data must be very tightly regulated (procurement and access) and that one backed-up master set should suffice, especially when money is tight.

Be that as it may though, my main grouse is not with the technological aspects as to the operation aspects of this thing. The timeline allowed for compliance, for those in Diaspora was rather short. No one anticipated this constraint when opening accounts all those years ago. So, to suddenly be required to pay a visit to Nigeria, just for the sake of giving up another set of biometrics was, to put it mildly, most unreasonable. To its credit, the CBN soon realised this and acted quickly to address the issue; giving Diaspora account holders two extensions to the deadline. That is to be commended, but the matter is not that simple.

In the haste to rush this policy out and the hurried palliatives deployed to patch up intrinsic faults, the CBN created another, albeit lesser problem. How to enable Diaspora account holders who have no plans of visiting Nigeria in the next X years? Now, this Hydra could have had all of its heads severed in one go, by cutting close to the neck! Most Nigerians living abroad have a Nigerian passport, and almost all will incorporate biometric data, since the old ones have now expired. Why not ask such persons to provide the banks with their passport number? If your passport number is genuine and known, your identity is certain. Indeed, but for that green book, many Nigerians in Diaspora would not be permitted to open bank accounts in the countries of their sojourn. If it is good enough for foreigners, one wonders why it should not suffice for our own local banks.

Once again one is left scratching the head and wondering who comes up with these half-cooked ideas anyway. And why make the compliance window so short when it is clear that there are millions of Nigerians living abroad and many have accounts at home! But that leads on to the elephant in the room. When the CBN finally decided to provide a solution for those Nigerians outside the country, guess who they “selected”! It is not an organisation that you would have heard of before: the name is OIS. Who or what is this OIS, who owns this organisation and what is the composition of its shareholding and board? Why is such an organisation given carte blanche to charge Diaspora Nigerians $45 USD equivalent for a service that lasts less than 10 minutes and involves zero personalisation?

A quick search on the Internet led me to a website with no verifiable contact details. An organisation that prefers to hide/mask its identity. On closer scrutiny though, it becomes clear that this is most likely a non-indigenous company, or one with tenuous links to Nigeria – going by the profile of their business and the geographic spread of their operations. Now, I don’t know if the problem is one of an inferiority complex; short sightedness, or perhaps personal interest, but it hurts to think no indigenous firms were found suitable! These decision makers should have thought long and hard on how they could engineer this undertaking to alleviate some of our present challenges, e.g. unemployment, capital shortages, etc.

What if a conglomerate of Nigerian banks/IT-service-providers were given this task instead, or ask our embassies and high-commissions to facilitate and oversee Nigerian IT companies in Diaspora in completing the exercise. These are just some suggestions, but there are others that we could think of. All that money, running into millions of USD is now gone out of our economy and fallen into foreign pockets – except for my $45 of course. This, January the 31st of 2016, is the last day for registration of BVN details. From tomorrow, I will be unable to transact any business with the meager funds that I have left in my GTB account. The inconvenience is a little price to pay for the sake of nationhood. My widow’s mite is insignificant in monetary terms, but as a statement, it counts for a lot. I have decided to keep my £30 ($45 equivalent) and suffer the inconvenience of restricted access to remote banking, until I am next opportuned to be in Nigeria.

I am persuaded that said £30 will do far greater good as actus humanus in caritate than as contribution to a corporate baseline. If only the presidency would adopt that thinking as the debate on the 2016 rages on. It really is time for change! We must change our thinking, change our actions, change our economics, and keep our money to ourselves.
May God bless Nigeria and help our leaders to think more clearly in light of our present circumstances, amen.
Viva New Nigeria!

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