The Price for Nigeria’s Indifference to Maintaining Records

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An Alleged Rogue Doctor, a Federal Licence

When I was practicing as an attorney in Nigeria, a certain medical doctor frequented the courts. Before then, I knew him for his successful medical practice. I passed his five-story building at Okigwe Road each morning to get to work. But then, I would see him in court, seating on one of those hard uncomfortable benches. He had fallen so low, from grace to grass.  It was rumored that the Catholic Church had stripped him of his honor as a knight of St Mulumba. His wife had divorced him. He was being investigated for human trafficking, for harboring unwed pregnant teenagers and  paying them money for their babies which he subsequently sold to wealthy couples. A different version of the story had it that he actually encouraged and enticed the young girls to get pregnant for his profitable venture while posing as an orphanage that offered succor to pregnant teenagers with unwanted pregnancies.

That was about five years ago. Recently, I read that the Doctor had been arrested for child trafficking in Owerri. My first thought was: Again?  I scoured many sources to confirm it was a recent incident, that it was not the one from  five years ago. It was indeed recent. The police in Imo State raided his ‘Homeless Babies Home’ in Owerri where sixteen pregnant teenage girls found living in two rooms in unsanitary conditions were rescued. The young  girls were said to give birth without pain relievers and sometimes labor was induced prematurely to satisfy waiting patrons. After delivery the girls were coerced to give up their babies for between N50,000 to N200,000. While all the articles I read on the incident did well in giving graphic details of the event, none but one mentioned that he had previously been indicted for the same despicable enterprise in Aba,  a city less than 30 miles from Owerri. He relocated to Owerri after his brush with the law in Aba, then got a license to run the home. How did someone who had been investigated for child trafficking in Aba successfully get a Federal license to run a homeless babies home in a neighboring town? Either there was a corrupt official involved or there were no background checks done. From my experience, it is unlikely there is a system in place for the latter in Nigeria.

I do not know the doctor’s motivations when he opened the home in Owerri. It could well be that, on the advice of his lawyers, he got the license after his indictment in Aba to comply with the laws on adoption in Owerri. However, with the subsequent police raid of the homeless babies home and the findings made, it is obvious there was lack of due diligence in the issuance of the license.


Getting a Nigerian Passport

When I applied for a Nigerian Passport, I didn’t need to prove my citizenship. Once the officials talked me into paying N18,000 for express service, N8.000 above the oficial fees, they couldn’t care less if I was from Mali or Ghana. There was no way for them to find out anyway since most Nigerians have no birth certificate issued to their parents at birth.

Nigeria has no record, no database of its citizens, we are all undocumented and that is why corruption will continue to be our undoing. Without fingerprints to identify its citizens, Nigeria will continue to be home to terrorists, hoodlums and yahoo boys. Any one can open multiple bank accouts with different names and swindle single white women of their hard earned money.

A Convicted Cashier, a Nigerian Governor

A few years ago, facts came to light that a sitting governor had been convicted for theft by a Nigerian court – a fact that if true would have disqualified him from contesting the governorship election in the first place. His opponents sought to impeach him. The only evidence they had was the magistrate that reportedly convicted him: his testimony that from his recollection, the governor was in fact the man he convicted years ago. Does it mean that Nigeria doesn’t keep record of even images and date of birth of its prisoners? The governor’s attorneys successfully argued in the court that heard the case that sought to remove him from office that the only proof that was reliable enough to prove identity was fingerprints. The Nigerian Prison Service could not produce it. The governor continued to be in office in Nigeria. It was later discovered, in an unrelated event, that he had been convicted in UK twice, once for involvement in theft from a store he was working and another time for handling stolen credit card. His forgery of a new birth certificate and passport to cover his past crimes were uncovered through a fingerprint check by European authorities.

Needless to say that our ineptitude at keeping records jeopardizes the efforts of other foreign governments who take their duty to fight crimes seriously. Unfortunately, foreign countries have to rely on our unreliable police reports to decide people who are eligible to visit their country. I doubt that any such Nigerian Police Clearance Report has returned unfavorable to an applicant. There is hope in the horizon as foreign governments are stepping up and doing what they can to curb corruption globally. United Kingdom in 2012 sentenced James Ibori, the ex-convict turned governor, to 13 years in prison for money laundering in connection with his corrupt practices while a governor in Nigeria.

And Still…

While writing  this article, I checked online to see if Nigeria prisons now fingerprint inmates. I didn’t find the information I needed. I contacted someone who works with the Nigerian Prison and he told me that inmates do get fingerprinted. I was elated but only for a while as further inquiry revealed that the fingerprints are done on paper with ink and that Nigeria Prisons do not collaborate with the Nigerian Police Force to maintain a record that can be referred to when there is need for background check.

When the former Central Bank of Nigeria governor Sanusi Lamido mandated all banks to operate a biometric data identifiaction for all bank customers, I thought that finally, Nigeria was making effort to solve its identity problems. But just few months after the announcement , the governor was removed from office. If the past is anything to go by, that initiative will die with the exit of the former CBN governor. Although there is indication that the program is scheduled to go on anyway, one hopes that whoever is currently in charge has the adroitness and integrity to see that the exercise is successful and doesn’t end up being a sham like the National Identification Card project was.


On a personal note, I have ditched my old habits of sending receipts and bills to the trash since migrating to a country where you are doomed if you don’t keep records . For example the US govt in 2012 rolled out a program that grants a deffered action for undocumented immigrants. It involves among other things proving applicants have been living in the US since 2007 and that they came into the United States when they were under the age of sixteen. Many people who qualify are not applying because they don’t have the documents to prove their eligibility. So before you throw away that old receipt, you may want to think twice.

9 responses to “The Price for Nigeria’s Indifference to Maintaining Records”

  1. Grace Benjamin Avatar
    Grace Benjamin

    Lack of records is really a problem in Nigeria. Anyone can commit a crime and get away with it. I believe our leaders are not taking the issue of keeping records seriously because most of them have no clean slates. Am tired of x-raying Nigeria’s problem because it brings hopelesness to young Nigerians. Let’s think more of how these problems can be solved. Let’s profer solutions. We know they maybe ignored. But who knows? It could go a long way. Nigeria, oh Nigeria!


    1. annemmeje Avatar

      Thanks for your comment, Grace. Identifying and acknowledging a problem is the first step towards solving it. As for solutions, we, actually the government, can start by ensuring that there is a digital record of every birth in Nigeria. Unique numbers should be assigned to each person at birth and that number should follow each person to the grave. It should be proof of one’s identity for every important transaction. If someone ruins theirs with bad records, it will haunt them for the rest of their lives. While it may be hard to carry out such a massive project for 170 millions Nigerians, we can start with the little ones born today.


  2. chika nwuzor Avatar
    chika nwuzor

    Lack of records among other lacks is a problem among several. But I don’t think its a piority yet in Nigeria giving other pressing issues eg power, roads/transportation, education, security etc. Yes a problem share is half solved but It doesn’t just surfice to point out problems. We need to pioritise. If/When the basics are met some of these problems will phase out with ease. So let’s crawl before we jump.


    1. annemmeje Avatar

      Thank you for your contribution, Chika. It is good we are having these conversations.


  3. Opurozor Kingsley Avatar

    @Chika Nwuzor, I think keeping records is very key and should top all priorities for the federal government of Nigeria. We need good roads, an efficient transport system, Electricity, safe drinking water, a country free from insurgents etc. I agree quite well with you. but i definitely disagree when you say those should take priority over Keeping adequate records of who and who is in this country. Let me begin by asking you, are you sure we are 170 million in this country? Are you sure those insurgents making trouble up north are truly Nigerians? How can a government plan when you dont know who you are planning for? You dont know how many children we have in the country? you dont know how many youths we have, neither do you know how many women or men you have in the country. How then do we know how to appropriate budgets like the Education budget? How then do we know towns that need roads or towns where people exist and they do not have electricity or good pipe borne water? How then can the government provide a safe country when you dont know if your neighbor is an escaped convicted serial killer and yet pose as a pastor. Unemployment is very high in Nigeria, but can the government tell us the amount of unemployed graduates in the country? Then how do they tackle the issue of unemployment?

    Our greatest problem in this country is corruption! If there are adequate records then people will be very careful when committing crimes! Knowing fully well that records can easily be dug up to establish who and where you are from or what crimes you have committed in the past if any. People will be extremely careful on how they conduct their lives especially when they are in public offices. I believe a proper identification exercise needs to be carried out if we must move forward in this country.


    1. annemmeje Avatar

      Well articulated, Kingsley. Like you pointed out, if we do not fix our Identification system, corrupt officials can’t be tracked down and basic problems like electricity and good roads won’t be taken care of as there will be no resources to fund them. I appreciate your stopping by.


  4. chika nwuzor Avatar
    chika nwuzor

    @Kingsley opurozor . Nice essay. Let’s be practical. Who can take accurate record? The uneducated, unmotivated, youth? Whose record are you taking? The unsecured, hungry and angry masses? And how do you get to majority of the populance leaving in the remote
    parts of the country (ghettos) without roads? How are proper records gathered and kept? On pen and paper? Or as data on a computers ? And comput ers runs on power. Let’s even say that the govt makes record keeping a piority and calls for such exercise. Giving the prevailing security issues expecialling in the north do you think that exercise will be productive?

    You actually hit the nail on the head when you pointed out corruption as our greatest undoing. While I agree proper records may help but its definitely not a solution. Corruption as to do with values. And values are thought. I don’t want to digress from the subject matter. The country at present lacks hope I think our priority is to rekindle it and give the masses a sense of belonging. Let the common man be able to have access to the basic and simple things of life.


    1. Opurozor Kingsley Avatar

      @Chika Nwuzor. You seem like a very passionate Nigerian and I feel your pains at the supposedly hopelessness the beclouds our dear nation Nigeria but i might beg to differ on your position that proper records cant be taken in this country. We can do it if we want to and its very achievable. You forget that we are currently ruled by a federal democratically elected government. Nigeria operates democracy which gives room for representative to be elected right down to the basic communities across the country. Am sure you have councilors from your villages representing you! If the government can get to the grassroots then how is it impossible to have records of every Nigerian living even in the most remote parts of the country? Elections are conducted in these areas and representatives are elected, why will it then be so difficult having a modern database of Nigerians living in the country. The problem is that the government has not seen it as a priority?

      Good, there are no good roads, power is epileptic, and the economy is not giving much hope to the masses but then i will tell you that its not all woes in our dear country Nigeria. Things can still be made better. All we need is to commence that change individually! We need to take up the challenge and decide personally that we will do the right thing, then maybe the future might hold so much good tidings for us all. I still strongly feel that if we had a good data base of Nigerians, crime would reduce, corruption would reduce, there will be better planning on the part of government and life would be so much better. We cant begin talking of social security schemes/programmes like we have in developed country when we cant boast of an efficient data base of Nigerians. I believe that for the common man to have access to the basic and simple things of life then the government must know who and who that common man is.


      1. annemmeje Avatar

        I am very impressed with the conversation @Kingsley Opurozor and @Chika Nwuzor are having. It really gives me hope about the future of our country. Surely, with brilliant minds like these who care very much about Nigeria , I believe we have people who can do well if given opportunity to serve in public office. We will get there!


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