Lagos residents’ registration will go on indefinitely – LASRRA boss
After almost two decades with the UK’s Office of National Statistics and Ministry of Justice, Ms Yinka Fashola returned to Nigeria to head the Lagos State Residents Registration Agency (LASRRA). She tells City Voice the agency is essential for planning towards a more livable Lagos. Excerpts:
Why is the state government conducting census of residents at this time?
Why not at this time? We have moved very far in technology and this not just Lagos, but the stronghold of Africa and we can no longer have people or residents being anonymous. One thing we have found since we commenced the registration is that a lot of people have no means of identification, which means they cannot confidently prove who they are. The actual mandate of the agency is to provide data for government for planning and for efficient and effective allocation of resources. Planning purposes in the sense that, when government is building a school, the school is placed in a right place, where it will get the most use. So if we have a new community and there are a lot of them coming up, if you look at the demographics of those new communities, they tend to be young couple, who are just newlyweds. The kind of facility that they need in such a community tend to be childcare because most of them are just starting their family and when they are building the schools, they need to have crèche, nursery and primary schools. You can’t have such a new community and set up a university there. That’s why planning is essential and you need regular data to do effective planning.
How then has government being running without such?
There is data in Lagos, but the data are in silos. Almost every ministry collects data in one format or another; but there is nothing that unifies that data. So, if I want to find information on a particular area or resource and how it is being utilized, I have to go to each individual ministry, collect it individually and then bring it together to analyse that data.
Is it not possible for government to find a means to unify the data?
That is where LASRRA now comes in
But LASRRA is starting from scratch?
Yes, collecting basic information and that will now be used to link the information that is already existing in all the other ministries and agencies. So by merging all the data, whenever any information is required and requested, not only will we get the number of people living in an area, we can get how people are mobile in terms of transportation and have vehicles because the Ministry of Transportation will feed into that, information on health conditions will be available and the Ministry of Health can feed on that. Besides the health demographics, you have data on education, so we can get a myriad of information at one time.
Why can’t data generated by federal agencies and telecoms companies be harnessed?
Actually, what we will prefer is that they would leverage on the data that we are collecting because there is no reason to collect bio-metric data for SIM card registration. If there was an identity, that would have sufficed. So we are flexible and we are willing to work with anyone because we are not doing this in silos. We hope that agencies from both the public and private sector can benefit from this.
But the registration is coming at the twilight of the incumbent administration…
I will not say it is coming up towards the end of this administration. The first pilot actually began in 2010 and we have taken our time systematically to make sure that any IT infrastructure that we build is sustainable, can be up-graded and can be managed by the people actually working on it. So we’ve done a lot of testing in the background. We came to the point whereby the test was finished and we began publicity in March and registering began in June, before the agency was officially launched in September. The law establishing LASRRA was passed in 2011, so it just happens to coincide with the end of Fashola’s term in office. But it doesn’t end with his term in office. It continues with anyone that comes into place.
There are complaints that registration centers are not available
It is not being done haphazardly. We have taken time to plan and this is not overnight planning. Planning began when I came on board in 2009 and we’ve done a lot of pilot schemes. Registration on the internet is a means for people to register where ever they are at any time of the day. We have registration point in all local government and LCDAs across the state. We have 204 registration points across the state.
Is that enough?
It is more than enough, because this is not an overnight exercise. It is an exercise that will go on indefinitely. New people will move in and move out of the state. People will be born, people will also die. There is no deadline, but I believe there is a deadline to when this facility and system that we are currently using will be available because at some point people will have to register before they can use government services.
Why are the registration centres located only within local government councils?
They are not only at the local councils. Some ministries have cooperated with us, youth centres, vocational centres and then we have generous members of the public who donated empty shops, allowed us to set-up our canopies in front of their buildings and they store our equipment for us. Some have offered us their generators to charge our laptops. People have been very gracious and that has really helped.
There are people who work in Lagos state and live out of the state. Are they required to register as well?
No. This is called residents registration. Even our laws (establishing LASRRA) states residents’ registration but we are aware that because of the close proximity of state line, people do work in Lagos and go back at the end of the day or end of the week. We call them daytime residents. They spend more than 12 hours of any given day in Lagos and they increase the population of the state during the daytime and also use the state services. While we are still restricted by law to register residents only, we are looking to have amendments to that law so that we can capture such people who are in the state. Because there is no way if we leave that out, that we will get a true reflection of how many people the state is providing for.
Are you saying there is going to be another count of people who only work in the state?
Yes, people who only work in the state because don’t forget there is no way people can be prevented from moving. But if we are going to use this data for planning, we need to count those people in the state who use its facility.
Governor Fashola recently said some services in the state will only be rendered to people with registration cards. How is this when a lot of people are not aware of this exercise?
A lot of people are aware because the turnout at the registration points have increased dramatically.
What kind of services will have the registration card embargo?
That’s not in my area. All we do is just collect data, so I think more clarification on that can be gotten from the governor’s office.
Is the issuance of residents card not some form of border control?
How? All the card says is that you live in Lagos state.
How about places such as Makoko, how is the registration being done there?
We have not started registration at Makoko yet, but we have been in discussion with them since around August 2013. There is a little issue with the addressing system in Makoko. We have been speaking with the Baale and Chiefs in Makoko. They have a unique addressing system and they have gone back to fine tune the addressing to be able to identify them.
What about other densely populated slums?
Some of our people have been moved into those heavily populated communities. We also have a mobile team that goes round to offices to register people at work.
Is there any chance that this will become a house to house registration?
No there are too many people in Lagos for us to want to accommodate that and my resources are limited on the number of people I can hire.
Any chance of locking down the state for some days for the exercise?
No, I don’t have enough staff to do that. I only have 1,500 people and to actually do something like that, you need close to 4000 – 5000 people
How is this different from the national census?
The census itself is a bit static, because it is done every 10 years and Nigeria has not had one in more than a decade now, so all the changes that are in between and ongoing have not been taken into account. Yes, census records birth and deaths but they don’t record when people move from one place to the other. They don’t record when people change their jobs. They don’t record if they have more cars or less;. They don’t record if a 16-year old now becomes an adult because they are taking a snap shot of the population at one point in time.
So this exercise also provides for number of cars in the state?
We do have questions on what is your normal means of transportation; either by road, rail or air and we ask, do you own a bicycle or a plane. That gives us the number of people in a particular area and the type of vehicle that they use to move about and therefore determine whether those roads have been graded suitably for those vehicles. So we will also be able to get the number of vehicles in the state if people are truthful.
How are you able to verify the truth?
Well at the end of the day, there is nobody that does not fear change and because of change people tend to be very reserved in what they say. We ask people to be truthful. Even if you leave under the bridge and you come and register, be truthful and let us know you don’t have a house. We need somebody to support your identity and we need to know that you are here and all we can do is to encourage people to be as truthful as possible because in a short while, verification systems will be available across Lagos state and if your details don’t match when you want to transact or get any services, that becomes a problem for such an individual.
How does LASRRA prevent duplication of registration?
We do have a very sophisticated back end IT infrastructure that enables us to pick duplicates. An example was a lady who, when she registered initially, she had a low cut but I guess she didn’t like the picture. She then had braids done and had the registration done again and the technology was able to track it because we have facial recognition software which can differentiate between Taiwo and Kehinde (an identical twin), just like bio-metrics.
There has been outcry by opposition parties that the ruling party intends to use this data as a rigging tool. How would you react to that?
I don’t have any reaction to that because I am not a politician and I am not into politics. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. If you want an answer to that, you will have to go and speak with people that do politics.
Considering the Edward Snowden spy controversy in the developed countries, is there any chance that these data collection will allow the Lagos state government spy in residents lives?
Why will government want to spy on people?
Americans are asking that question now….
Well that is America and they have gone way passed the stage we are now. They collected the data before spying but I do not see any reason why we will go down the same route that they are going down.
What is the technological scope of LASRRA?
The data back end of what we have was provided by NEC Japan, the leading global company in biometrics. The front end part of it was provided by one of our other vendors who are sitting down with our staff to build something sustainable. There is a lot of technology in Nigeria but not many are sustainable. What we have built is something that the staff in house, who are Nigerians, some of them Lagosians, some from all over the country, can maintain. We have the skills, we have the talent, what we don’t have is the opportunity but the agency is providing them the opportunity. Everything is built on the idea that, yes, the vendor will come in and install and we will take over when they are gone.