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When Nigeria Celebrated National Identity Day

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By FIDELIS EGUGBO

Who is a Nigerian? This is one question that many people find so difficult to answer. It may, however, become more difficult to answer the question as Nigeria “progresses.” Many do not know that, “National Identity Day (ID-Day) Celebration” has been added to the list of celebrations or festivals to be observed as holidays almost on weekly basis. Just as we are still grappling with the realities that Democracy Day is now June 12 while May 29 could be referred as hand-over day, swearing-in day or whatever name that comes to mind, we now have an ID-Day different from Independence Day.

Yes! Last Monday, September 12, Nigeria celebrated her first annual National Identity Day and in few days time, the nation will roll out the drums again to celebrate her 59th independence anniversary. The approval of September 12 for ID-Day celebration by the Federal Executive Council obviously means that the country may still have to grapple with the challenge of identity.

The Fulanis have been suspected of being responsible for most killings and rape at will in the country, yet, the end of such carnage is not in sight because they engage in such heinous actions without any arrest or prosecution. Only few weeks ago, a ranking Military Officer ordered his subordinates to kill some Policemen who arrested a kidnap kingpin; till date, apart from the officer who was identified, nothing is being heard about those who actually perpetuated the crime. So, who is a Nigerian? This is because, a Nigerian cannot derive joy in killing another Nigerian. It is embarrassing to note that if you are making a simple introduction, the first question you will either ask or be asked is, where are you from?

South Africans were killing Nigerians in xenophobic attack and the country’s Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed was on air telling Nigerians that they should disregard videos been circulated about the killing, engaging in public relations for South Africa (possibly paid for), saying there was nothing of such whereas in other countries that were affected, they were severing diplomatic ties with South Africa. It took an “Ibo man” who believed that his kinsmen may be mostly affected to volunteer his aeroplanes, under the aegis of Air Peace, to embark on a rescue mission; of course, he brought back more than 400 persons to Nigeria.

Certainly, Nigeria is still in search of identity. It is a fact that most Nigerians who are in foreign countries prefer to hide their identity and use other nation’s passports because of the frequently asked question, where are you from? In Nigeria, we ask ourselves such question and when we leave the shores, we are also, confronted with the same reality.

There is no employment or any other form one will fill without answering question that borders on identity, because, probably, your ethnic nationality is your identity. Ordinarily, I would have shied away from writing this piece but, we keep postponing the evil day, living a life of deception. You cannot even contest election in Nigeria based on merit; it is about where you are from – it is turn by turn, zoning, no matter what you have to offer as a patriotic citizen.

Governor of Delta State, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa, in his message during the National Identity Day celebration said, “I am glad that we have a national identity day, and that September 16 of every year has been set aside for the celebration. It is my prayer that as a country, we are going to walk the talk. It is not just enough to have a day set aside; it is about the passion and commitment of everybody involved to ensure that it works for us.

“We know that getting Nigerians to register with NIMC is very important to us as a country. Proper documentation will facilitate all kinds of planning, because the greatest challenge we have as a nation is planning. We can only do properly when we have the figures right; most times, we use projections because various demography needed for planning are not in place.

“It is also very important, and concerning issues of intelligence and security, I think that this makes it very key for us as a nation for everybody to support this course and ensure that it is not a one-day advocacy. Security challenges will be curbed by the time we are able to have Nigerians properly registered and documented. I hope that this recognition and this day will ensure that we put everything in place so that when we celebrate the second anniversary of the national identity day, we will be talking about registration figure that is encouraging,” Governor Okowa stated.

The Director-General of National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) had said the Commission has issued 36.6 million National Identity Numbers (NIN) to Nigerians as at September 11, 2019.

“Security challenge is a known problem; so, if everyone is identified in Nigeria via national identity number, anytime somebody commits crime, he or she can be easily identified.

“We can ensure that every Nigerian has his or her National Identity Number (NIN) so that he or she can be identified as a Nigerian because that will go a long way in ensuring national security. One of the problems we have in security has to do with our inability to identify who is a Nigerian or a foreigner residing in Nigeria.”

Historically, archaeologists have found evidence of Neolithic humans who inhabited what is now Nigeria as far back as 12,000B.C.E. in 1486, the Portuguese entered the country closely followed by the British, French and Dutch. They engaged mainly in slave trade until it was officially, stopped in 1807 and in 1861, the British established its first colony in Nigeria through the annexation of Lagos.

It is a fact that Nigeria came into being when Frederick John Dealtry Lugard (22 January, 1858 – 11 April, 1945), amalgamated what was then known as the Northern and Southern Protectorates in January 1914. With the amalgamation, Lugard became the first Governor-General of the country which gained its independence from Britain on October 1, 1960.

ID-Day celebration would have been very good if it was conceptualised for the people to celebrate their culture, their tradition, their true identity, but from what the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha said during the celebration, it is to create awareness for Nigerians to register with the NIMC.

According to Mustapha, the choice of September 12 as the ID-Day was informed by Sustainable Development Goals number 16.9, which advocates legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030.

“The NIMC should think of ways to safeguard the captured data because protection of personal data is a fundamental human right. You have to think faster than hackers. Protection of personal information should be factored into data management,” the SGF said.

As at the time I was writing this piece yesterday, the United Nations put Nigeria’s current population at 202,111,742 equivalent to 2.61 per cent of the total world population with a density of 221 per km in a total land area of 910,770 Km2 (351,650 sq. miles).

It is funny that out of the number, only about 30 million persons have been captured. 59 years after independence and more than a century after it was identified as a country, the people are still grappling with the question of identity. What happened with the previous registrations? Is there no room for updating of data? After President Mohammadu Buhari’s administration, will his successor not introduce another means of identifying Nigerians.

If the ID-Day celebration is to meet with Sustainable Development Goals number 16.9, after 2030, what happens to the ID-Day celebration?

Nigeria is a blessed country, a country that is too rich to be poor but faced with so many challenges, especially some persons who do not see themselves as Nigerians and as such, engage in actions that are most times, selfish, pecuniary rather than what will make the country better, what will make the people fare better.

As Nigerians celebrate ID-Day, we hope that it will be modified for the people to be more united, for them to first, see themselves as Nigerians and work for its greatness.

(As published on page 10 of today’s (Sunday, 22/09/2019) edition of The Pointer Newspaper.)

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