Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nigeria ID Card mess
Nigerian ID, courtesy,

You cannot make this up! A few days ago the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan rolled out the much-awaited and controversial national ID card project, with his own oversized card--like those made-for-TV lottery winners checks. Nigeria and Nigerians, we are told, can now be effectively connected to the global cashless economy. And I thought, National ID and cashless economy? Anyway. The ID card has a smartcard chip in front, along with all the usual info you would expect on electronic ID cards these days. But when you turn the back, Lawd a  mercy! What do you see but a Mastercard logo visibly set below the magnetic strip. When in May this year the American company announced gleefully that "Mastercard to Power Nigerian Identity Card Program," I thought it was some bad joke. Well, it turned out to be a very bad joke. And I cannot but ask: what has the Nigerian government been drinking?!

You see, it appears that Mastercard is in the process of securing for itself an unprecedented market in Africa, and it is doing so through national governments in the guise of the so-called National Identity Cards. These cards, we are told will store basically every important personal--biometric, financial, demographic--information of the bearer and can be used as--and here is the point of my outrage--Debit and Credit card! So, an American company whose data, as the Edward Snowden leaks revealed, is constantly scoured and archived by the secretive American NSA is given free pass by the Nigerian Government to all the personal and official data of the 100+ millions of Nigerian citizens/residents that the government expects to have these ID cards. And since this ID card is yoked to the Mastercard platform, the information contained in it is subject to US legal (and pseudolegal) regimes much of which take place beyond the bounds of known laws. When other countries are seeking for ways of unbinding their data traffic from the reaches of the NSA, Nigeria is packaging and offerings its citizens in a platter of plastic.

And my question is this: How much did Mastercard pay the Nigerian government (officials) to pretty much turn most of its citizens to clients of this self-described US "technology company in the global payment industry"? When did the debate take place to establish this supercard, rather than a real government-managed Identity Card? And why must our national ID card double as a credit/debit card, mixing in a troubling way the need for identification of Nigerians and residents for official transactions, and the more fraught business of the credit card industry? This is the crux of the matter.

If getting this Nigerian ID card means signing up for a Mastercard, I am having none of it, and I don't see why Nigerians should accept this blatant attempt to hand over all their personal information to a private company that answers to the laws of another country. If Nigeria cannot develop or establish its own secure information management system or agency, away from the prying eyes and tentacles of foreign interests and commercial businesses, then it is not yet ready to embark on an ID card project. And by the way, why is it that my Nigerian passport does not have a Visa or even American Express logo?

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