If the body languages coming from both the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) on who should have full control on the ongoing Biometric Bank Verification Number (BVN) scheme are anything to go by, it therefore follows that all is not well with the scheme.
Indications are rife that the ragging cold war may soon escalate to a protracted legal battle to determine which of the two bodies has jurisdiction over the scheme.
BVN is a scheme which gives each bank customer a unique identity across the Nigerian Banking industry that can be used for easy identification and verification at point of banking operations.
Daily Champion recalls that CBN had earlier in the year commenced the BVN as answer to calls by the Bankers’ Committee to help in tracking money laundering through multiple account holders. The apex bank went ahead to budget $55 million, approximately N8.579 billion for the project expected to last for 18 months.
But NIMC, currently relying on its establishment Act 2007 which empowered it to, amongst other things “Create, manage, maintain and operate the National Identity Database established under section 14…including the harmonisation and integration of existing identification databases in government agencies and integrating them into the National Identity Database,” claims that the CBN and the Bankers’ Committee are not constitutionally empowered to manage the BVN scheme.
The rift between the CBN and NIMC appears to becoming deeper. At different fora in Lagos recently, both federal agencies expressed the right of control over the biometric registration.
Whereas the Director General of NIMC, Mr. Chris Onyemenam said that any biometric registration, especially, after the Presidential directive on harmonization of existing database by different Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should be regarded as null and void, Mr. Kofo Abdusalam-Alada, head, International and Development Law at CBN speaking at the 5th annual e-fraud in Lagos said that “BVN will not go the way of other attempts.
“CBN will need to put up a fight in certain direction. I’m not going to mention that direction, but BVN has to succeed. I used to get emails from my banks for the registration. BVN will help to solve many challenges such as one with 24 accounts; we will track all of them down”
Details show that at a media parley in Lagos, Onyemenam, argued that “by implication any other biometric capturing that involves Nigerians, outside what NIMC project should be regarded as null and void. We have explained this at different fora. NIMC Act 2007 is coherent on this; it is an issue that ought not generate problem, let’s do the right thing and stop duplication of biometric data”
But placing the facts of the matter on the table, Ms. Bukola Smith, chairperson, Payment Sub-Committee, Committee of Chief Internal Auditors of Banks, said “Initially, we all know there is an agency for national identity management, which has taken up the project of having biometric registration for Nigerians”.
According to her, “That has gone on for a long run; a lot of money has been spent. At some point in time, the banks got frustrated and I understand that at one of the bankers Committee meetings, heads of banks started asking, ‘when are we going to complete this project?
“We are talking about fraud issues, a number of things-standardization, we need to progress this project’. So, my understanding is that it was the Bankers Committee been spearheaded by managing directors of various banks that said, ‘look, we need to start this project’. Then, they put down money and said, CBN, you need to also come on board. They appointed a number of people that will work. NIBSS was appointed and another consultant, for this project. I don’t know what Kofo is trying to get at, but all the same, it is not as that CBN initiated it; CBN appears to be driving it now because they are the center coordinating body.
Experts say both the CBN and the NIMC had for several months on the appropriate supporting policy on the national identification number, the ‘NIN’ as a minimum know-your-customer (KYC) instrument, but the policy was withdrawn by CBN barely three weeks after it was released in 2012 and the apex bank gave no reasons. Although the CBN later agreed to share its database from the BVN with NIMC, emerging fears are that this will take some time to harmonise as both federal bodies are not looking at the direction of compromise rather apparent confrontation.