The engine room of governance in any country is its public service. In most countries, the public service is the single biggest employer of labour and offer the widest range of services to the people. A dysfunctional public service invariably leads to a dysfunctional country. Nigeria is not an exception. The efficiency of the public service is measured by the ease with which citizens can access public services.
A number of factors in turn determine the ease of accessing public services some of which include: the availability of services, the physical and technological infrastructure for delivering those services, the level of awareness among citizens, and the level of corruption and red tape. In Nigeria today, our public service delivery system is still highly dependent on manual processes, which are often time-consuming, error-prone and difficult to standardise, and can lead to delays/inefficiencies thereby opening the door for endemic corruption in the civil service.
Automating manual processes in the civil service through the use of technology can help to drastically improve efficiency by reducing the time and effort required to complete tasks. It is therefore exciting to know that Nigeria as disclosed by the Honourable Minister for Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Dr. Bosun Tijani is planning to build a comprehensive Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) to help streamline service delivery in Nigeria’s public service.
Digital public infrastructure is simply the collection of technologies, systems, and services that are used to provide public services in a digital format to the people. This includes things like government websites, online service portals, mobile apps, electronic payment systems, digital identity management systems etc. This is what Dr. Bosun Tijani plans to create in 2024 in what he described as the Nigeria Stack System, which would be mirrored to the globally acclaimed India stack model.
The Indian Stack is a set of digital infrastructure and services developed by the government of India to improve the delivery of public services to citizens and it includes four key components: the Aadhaar biometric identification system, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) for digital payments, the DigiLocker for document storage and sharing, and the e-Sign service for electronic signatures. Together, these components form a secure and scalable digital infrastructure that can be used to build applications and services that make life easier for people in India. This is what Nigeria wants to replicate in 2024.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu has spoken passionately about reforming Nigeria’s civil service by bringing in technology to make it more efficient and less corrupt. The Renewed Hope administration has started the process of achieving that with a retreat on Digitisation in the civil service that was held earlier this week where permanent secretaries in Ministries who lead the workforce in the civil service came together to make the digital transformation of the entire civil service structure work.
The anticipated Nigeria Stack system will bring under one Digital public infrastructure umbrella various digital solutions that allows citizens to access information and services from anywhere, at any time, and on any device. This will improve convenience and accessibility, as well as reduce the need for citizens to travel to government offices or wait in lines. Already, some individual MDAs have started that transition with the Ministry of Interior the leading light.
The Minister of Interior, Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo has been pushing for a seemless passport application and issuance process by the Nigerian Immigration Service since his appointment. The NIS today is moving towards full digitization of the passport application process to reducing the need for human interface. By next year as announced by the Minister, those applying for passport renewal would not be required to undergo fresh biometric capturing. Equally passports would be delivered to the addresses of applicants who desire so.
For the upcoming Nigeria Stack midwifed by the Ministry of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, one of the massive expectations is the creation of a unified biometric identification system which can be used by many MDAs and the private sector to save Nigerians the stress of going for multiple biometric enrolments. It basically means that once you have your biometric information captured once, you do not need to undergo capturing again even when you apply for a different service. What the new service provider needs to do is just to pull your biometric record from the Unified biometric database and get on with delivering the required service to you.
Also, a Nigeria Stack will potentially create a Unified Payments Interface for digital payments, which the civil service can leverage upon to help people carry out seemless payment of services and confirmation of payment without the stress of being physically present at a government office. A very crucial component of the Nigeria Stack is the identity management component which will unify our various identity management databases. Eventually, the authentic data of every Nigerian can be accessed by authorised personnel at the click of a button.
The good thing about a digital stack for a public sector is that the individual technologies that make up the collection can be independently incorporated by the private sector as well into their various service delivery protocol/portals to help them have access to their customers’ personal data that is in the custody of the government such as identity information. This increases efficiency and reduces stress to the customer. You can easily stay at the comfort of your home or office and carry out major transactions seemlessly, which ordinarily would have required you to visit offices, stay on queues, fill forms and other experience other delays resulting from human negligence.
The sheer significance of the proposed Nigeria Stack will only dawn on Nigerians when things like pensioners verification becomes increasingly digitised with less need to converge at a location for days or when appointment to government offices are scheduled through a digital call up system to maximise time usage and reduce overcrowding in offices begin to be implemented by various public service providers in the very near future. The widespread deployment of a digital stack system in Nigeria will signpost a giant leap to a digitised public service and this will invariably come with the added benefit of drastic reduction in corruption and personnel-induced inefficiencies. This is what the Renewed Hope Era is all about!