Unified Identity: Why Mobile is the key to unlocking Nigeria’s data potential

by | Mar 21, 2018

We probably all know that there are myriads of biometric data sets currently available to the Nigerian government. If you have an international passport, driver’s license, voters card or national identity card, your unique biometric data exists in all these disparate data repositories.

Of all the identity data repositories, the telecoms subscriber database is the largest data set currently available. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), as at December 2017, there were about 145 million active GSM subscriber lines. Factor in that most Nigerians have at least two numbers, and we can estimate perhaps about 75 million unique identities captured in the biometric databases, representing about 40% of the total Nigerian population.


sim registrations

The regulatory requirement for registration and biometric data capture for all GSM and telephone lines could be seen a step in the right direction but we should have gotten a lot more out of it.


With a bit more strategic thinking and planning, this exercise could have been conducted with the same approach as the Banker’s Verification Number (BVN) exercise and in this case would have produced what I call a Mobile Verification Number (MVN).

Considering that the current BVN database size is just over 31 million, it is obvious that the MVN represents a much larger sample set and is in actual fact a superset of the BVN database, since we can safely assume that every bank account holder has a registered phone number.

The logical conclusion of this is that if we had a consistent, verified Mobile Verification Number system, the entire BVN exercise with its associated costs would have been unnecessary. All that would have been required was to get all bank account holders to VERIFY and LINK their bank accounts with the existing biometric identities as captured in the MVN database.

Better late than never

So, maybe the NCC didn’t get that one right, but it is not too late. Advanced deduplication technology is available to merge and harmonise the disparate biometric data from all the various GSM and telecoms providers into one consolidated database. Indeed, this deduplication technology was applied successfully to remove identical records during the voter’s registration process for the 2015 elections, and will be also be used by the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission towards the 2018 elections.

If the NCC, in collaboration with National Identity Management Commission, can succeed in producing consolidated biometric identities, each of which we can describe with a unique Mobile Verification Number (MVN), then this can form a ‘master’ National Identity Management base-line, within which the BVN can either become a single data field, or be replaced by the MVN and become obsolete.

Registration/application for all other identity related documents like the International Passport, driver’s license, voters card or national identity card would be verified against the master database simply by placing fingers on a fingerprint scanner.


The benefits of a consolidated, ‘living, breathing’ identity management system for the Nigerian economy are innumerable: Everything from government social intervention schemes, universal healthcare, access credit, national security, law enforcement, the electoral process and pretty much every aspect of the economy is dependent on an efficient Identity Management System.

About the Author

Bolarinwa Durojaiye has worked in the Oil and Gas industry for over 10 years in the role of Information Systems Infrastructure Administration, with a particular passion for leveraging technology innovation for business process/workflow optimisation. Bolarinwa is co-founder of Megacity Technologies, a startup with the mission of leveraging smart technology/smart city solutions to enhance the quality of life in emerging economies.

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