Mr Kareemu, an elderly man of over 60 years, hissed as he continued to gaze at the list of names posted on the wall. His wife, who had given up, reclined against the wall with a sad face while imploring her husband to join her to leave. The elderly couple had put down their names to indicate interest in obtaining the National Identification Number (NIN). After having waited for over a week, however, they were yet to see their names in the released list.
To obtain NIN at the Ogbomosho North Central Secretariat, citizens are required to arrive early on a day of the week, put down their names and wait for a minimum of two weeks for their names to turn up on a list posted outside the office. Most people do not know what date they will be given. So, many like Mr and Mrs Kareemu, returned severally to know specifically when they will be attended to.
These couples are not the only elderly persons at the local government secretariat. Many others turned up to obtain their identification number for different purposes. And in the end, they either faced the same plight as the Kareemus or, on finding their names, wait their turn amongst many others to be attended to.
On the day of this reporter’s first visit, Jan. 22, there were whispers of the centre having issues with their server and computers. The wait was longer than usual and nothing moved. On this afternoon, some of the elderlies dozed off in a chair while waiting, few others engaged in conversations, while many looked on waiting with hope as they were too tired to do anything else.
On approaching the coordinators for clarification about the delay, one replied that network issues weren’t uncommon anywhere in Nigeria. “It is beyond our capacity,” she said.
In subsequent days too, the centre had either one problem or the other, leading to delay and an endless queue of people.
Grace Gbadebo, 55, is another elderly citizen who had tried numerous times to obtain her NIN but to no avail. She complained that she lost her SIM card alongside her phone a couple of weeks before, and needs the NIN to retrieve her card.
She came to the centre on Jan. 6, and up until Jan. 25, she had not been attended to, despite having had to revisit twice.
“I wait out here and stand all day, hoping they’ll at least take pity on me. But no, they tell me nothing can be done unless I see my name. Now they’ve torn the list off the wall. No turns again and they can control it anyhow they like,” she lamented.
Truly, the list which was the usual way of determining schedules had been removed and an unspoken system adopted. Efforts made to discuss with the officer in charge about this proved futile as he said he was in no position to talk.
Mothers are not excluded
While the elderly citizens managed to cramp themselves in various positions inside and outside the office, mothers tried to handle not only themselves but also kids throwing tantrums. One of them was Mummy Inioluwa. The woman, who shared in her son’s pain, complained bitterly about how she had been kept waiting for over 4 hours for the reprinting of her slip.
“My son is tired of the stress of being out in the sun since morning. I am tired as well and will have to leave soon because school closes early today. I have to go and pick my other kids soon,” she said. The faulty system meant that she had had to wait for more than four hours hoping for some sort of miracle.
Another mother who spoke to this reporter complained bitterly not only about having to bring her daughter all the way, but also about the cost of transport down to the centre.
“Whenever I come, I spend nothing less than N700 on transport and feeding for myself and my kid, not to leave out that we still spend time here,” Mummy Titi said with controlled anger.
Some others expressed their emotions more freely as they told tales of how they had to leave work for the registration which had never been a success.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Nigerians have been mandated to link their SIM cards to their NIN. As a new deadline was announced, Feb. 9, there has been an increase in the number of people trying to register. As of May 2020, only 41.5 million people had obtained their NIN in a population of over 200 million. So far, the number of people trooping into various centres across Nigeria to register amidst many unfavorable conditions keeps increasing.
Safety measures amidst NIN rush
The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020 announced that older people are at significant risk of developing severe illness if they contract COVID-19 due to physiological changes that come with ageing. Therefore, utmost care and attention is needed for their safety.
Despite all of these, no special announcement or care has been announced to protect the senior citizens during NIN registration. They join people within other age brackets on queues and mix freely at the registration centres.
Entrance into the office at the Ogbomosho North Central Secretariat requires that everyone puts on a facemask. However, other than this, no measure was in place as everyone sat closely on the available benches. The requirement was also not enforced strictly.
Is online registration an option?
The option of making the NIN registration fully online has been in talks. However, on opening the discussion with the elderlies at the centre, many did not subscribe to it because of various limitations.
Mr. Ajadi, 72, said he could count on one finger the number of his friends who could operate smartphones.
“Illiteracy is affecting a good number of us, so we don’t really have the option of opting for self-service,” he explained.
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