By Clement T. Ofuani
MON, JUNE 19 2017-In an earlier piece, I submitted that Nigeria’s development could be accelerated through a reconstruction process founded on strong values of justice and equity to reinforce the faith of our people in the unity of our nation. I also submitted that this sense of justice can be enhanced through a fair reward system that ensures that talents and drive are rewarded according to their contributions to the nation with the contention that such would act as the impetus to drive national efforts and behaviour.
I further contended in the article that the endemic corruption that characterizes our economy can not be checked without fundamentally tackling the reward system which would then lead to isolation of corrupt acts that are driven by greed and avarice from those that are fundamentally, a response to economic circumstances.
Corruption leads to misallocation of resources and inefficiencies. The damage that it does to the economy is therefore multifaceted. Apart from the waste of resources, it diverts the energies and attentions of our people from noble and lawful pursuits to seeking very narrow selfish advantages. Invariably, checking or tackling corruption conclusively would lead to massive change in behaviour within the economy towards more noble values of fair competition, integrity, honesty and fair rewards.
A lot of people believe that Nigerians are generally very corrupt but the truth is that no nation was created with more corrupt people than another or more good people than another. The natural law of distribution works everywhere and ensures that every nation is filled with saints and sinners. The difference between the moral standing of nations lies in the quality of institutional structures in place to guide behaviour. Every human being would try to take advantage of situations for personal benefits if they can get way with the act. Strong institutional structures raise the bar for adverse consequences arising from unacceptable behaviour.
The reason why Nigerians are therefore perceived to be more corrupt is thus traceable to the weak institutions for identifying and tracking corrupt acts. A critical weakness in our national development is our poor identity management which allows people to act without being traced. It is also one of the reasons why we remain underdeveloped. No modern society can be run when the identities of its members cannot be easily determined.
Perhaps some examples would put this assertion in proper perspectives. In order to operate within the formal economy in the United States, you require a bank account and credit and debit cards. Cash transactions are thus limited which serves as a huge deterrence to corrupt acts. To open a bank account or obtain credit cards, you require a National Security number. This is everyone’s unique identity and it helps them to deal with issues such as taxation, crime investigation, credit assessments that drives the economy etecetera, as practically every transaction is linked to the unique number. With such a powerful tool in the hands of government, control of unacceptable behaviour is enhanced and hence the confidence that investors have in the economy.
In the United Kingdom, you require the National Health System (NHS) number to enter into any transaction in the formal economy that requires the financial system. Accordingly, consumer credits, mortgages, vehicle licensing, driving license, insurance etcetera are all linked to the unique number. In this system, if a person breaks traffic regulation and his car is photographed by a security camera, the information is fed into the national data system and a penalty ticket is sent to his residence. The system updates his profile and he even has to pay a higher vehicle insurance premium since there is evidence that he is a riskier driver. All of these possibilities act as powerful tools to control commission of offenses.
As big as China is, they have an identity management system that helps them track internal migration from rural to urban centers and thus keeps the society under a tight check. Therefore a robust identity management system is a primary building block for a modern functional society and economy. The benefits far outweigh the costs especially in the modern times when we can leverage on very robust technologies that have been developed.
Indeed, in our country tax collection efforts can be enhanced very significantly by deploying a robust identity management system. In addition to raising more revenue for government, income distribution patterns can be better ascertained and proper economic models developed to guide economic policies. In effect, it would empower our government with greater control over economic management and therefore growth performance. From the foregoing, it can be adduced that every Naira spent on leveraging on today’s technologies to enhance our identity management would generate benefits in excess of the expenditure.
Further more, a robust identity management system would also help us in tracking corrupt acts, because the proceeds would have to reflect in bank accounts, assets registration or in tax returns. Of course, this is in addition to enhanced security management. The efforts being made today to obtain biometric data of militants would have been unnecessary if a robust identity management system were in place.
As it is, we have made significant progress with the National Identity management Commission in terms of an enabling Act and significant investments under the defunct Department of National Civic Registration. What is required now is a critical push to fully install the system and for the nation to begin to reap the benefits.
The time has come for our nation to give National Identity Management – a critical building block of development – the priority attention it deserves to enable us leapfrog our development in realization of Vision 20:2020.
Ofuani is the DIRECTOR GENERAL, DELTA STATE CAPITAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY, ASABA