Tuesday 24 November 2015

Bank Verification Number (BVN) and Nigeria’s data management malaise

Bank Verification Number (BVN)
by: Israel Ebije

The importance of the Bank Verification Number cannot be over-emphasised. It is however important to alert banks in Nigeria on the need to pay keen attention if we must avoid the usual impunity involved in data management and subsequent prevalence of identity thieves.

While we must credit our banks for efforts so far in linking over 14 million bank customers’ BVN, very soon, we may realise that the real reason we must be careful extends beyond registration and linking of accounts. The malaise of poor data management is indeed a matter that must be harped on especially as it concerns the repository of Nigerians’ livelihood.

The need to police our banks is largely to wake them up from any possibility of data meltdown the BVN integration may have on customer accounts. The process is ongoing but the emerging crisis of data management challenge only enforces the stereotype that Nigerian institutions – banks inclusive have yet to attain maturity in setting up and maintaining demographic database.

Already, claims are coming in on allegations of fraudsters hijacking the gaps created by poor data management culture to defraud unsuspecting customers of their money. It is however not clear whether or not to leave the blame on the usual lackadaisical approach of Nigerian institutions on data management – banks inclusive or to split the blame between insiders conspiring with miscreants to dupe people.

Until the BVN is well-understood, data management challenge and activities of fraudsters must be seen as immediate source of worry. It is therefore instructive to intimate that poor data management culture and insider hacks may characterise the operationalisation of the BVN in its first phase.

Not many bank executives may want to take this bitter pill to cure the lapses in the banks but the truth must be told, whistle must be blown where there are red flags. It is common knowledge for customers to wait for bank servers to load endlessly just to check bank balances.

Many customers find themselves in difficult situations where money is mistakenly credited to the wrong accounts. Out of 10 of such errors, seven customers end up losing their deposits, which sometime run into millions. All this reeks of poor data management culture of banks, public and private institutions.

Therefore, most of the customers who are victims to false bank help lines on the BVN integration are those who have attempted integrating their accounts more than once. The fraudsters are aware of the confusion; they quickly work on the psyche of their victims to clean their accounts.

While it is true any identity thief can independently rob customers, there is no doubt many have help from bank officials. Those who have been allegedly robbed after the BVN registration deadline reveal they receive dedicated text messages similar to the ones used for alerts. Once they call the help line, the unsuspecting customer is already on a long walk to losing his/her money.

Banks are expected to send fraud alerts to their teeming customers to intimate them on the activities of these criminal masterminds. They may not necessarily need to place an advert, a bulk messaging will help reduce the ongoing malaise. Sadly, many customers continue to grope in the dark.

In compliance with the October 31, 2015 deadline set by the Central Bank of Nigeria for bank customers to register and obtain their BVN, five million bank accounts were deactivated. Interestingly, the poor data management culture characterised the deactivation exercise.

There are however bank accounts still operational without the BVN integration after the deadline. There are also customers who are among the five million accounts deactivated that have indeed linked their BVNs to their accounts.

The usual poor data management attitude of Nigerians should not culminate in the importance of the BVN. Citizens have witnessed an era of poor voter card records, unreliable census records, irregular and exploitative electricity tariff, SIM card registration malaise, frequent challenges of data management in public and private organisation with particular reference to university academic record missing or wrongly recorded. The most painful is the National Identity card.

Nigerians may recall that Olusegun Obasanjo in 1976 initiated the National Identity Card project. It was however until 1981, under the Shehu Shagari administration, that the contract for the project was signed.

Sadly, almost 40 years after the project was conceptualised, Nigeria has spent over N121bn, yet no data to authenticate the true identity of every Nigerian.

It is therefore curious and indeed unbelievable that Nigeria existing in contemporary times is just about to saddle itself on the race to put the bio-data of its citizens in a data base. Not many will realise what poor data management has done to the economy of the country. Not many are aware of what absence of data has done in the aspect of forensics in criminal investigations.

Nigeria’s economic planning has been based on poor demographic figures, which appear more like statistically generated figures based on abysmally wrong permutations. Criminals are also given the impetus based on existing impunity to unleash Satanism on the hapless citizenry on account of absence of CCTV and bio-data.

Before the crash in oil revenue, Nigeria had the money, the brains to set up and manage good data base, unfortunately, it serves some of our leaders lugubrious financial good to keep us back in the Stone Age.

It is indeed heart-wrenching that N75bn spent on the CCTV cameras, to generate the much needed audio-visual data for security surveillance, was never activated. Cameras bought were either brought into the country broken, some with incomplete accessories, while some subsequently stolen from where they were abandoned.

This is an era of change, this is indeed the right time to correct past gaps. The BVN must not fail. Already, Nigerians whose bank accounts have been deactivated on account of bank officials’ ineptitude are in a serious dilemma. Some may lose what is more than money if the clumsiness is not addressed.

This should sound as a clarion call for all Nigerian establishments to ensure the identity of every citizen is captured in a data base for use at anytime. Having a comprehensive data-base helps economically, politically and socially.

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