Fears of a further spread of COVID-19 heightened on Monday as large crowd of Nigerians besieged National Identity Management Commission offices nationwide to register for the National Identity Number.
On Sunday night, COVID-19 infection rate across the country rose to 78,434 while the number of people that had died of the virus increased to 1,221.
But at NIMC offices across the country on Monday, people who stormed the registration centres created confusion as they threw caution to the wind and fragrantly disregarded COVID-19 prevention rules as they struggled and pushed one another in the queues for the exercise.
Last week, Federal Government ordered telecommunications companies to block the telephone lines of subscribers, who failed to link their phones to their NIN within two weeks.
As of October, 207.58 million Nigerians have connected to the mobile networks, but only 43 million persons in the country have NIN, putting 164 million telephone users at the risk of being deactivated on December 31.
Federal Government, on Monday evening, however, extended the deadline for subscribers with NIN and those yet to have it to January 19, 2021.
Before the government took the decision, in the FCT, Nigerians, who were desperate to get the NIN, thronged the NIMC centres. One of such centres that have been recording a huge turnout is the one at the Nigeria Customs Service Quarters in Karu, in the Abuja Municipal Area Council.
At the centre, a large crowd was seen at the gate of the premises with only few of them wearing face masks and social distancing was not observed.
Another large crowd gathered at an adjacent shop with the people struggling to make photocopies of their documents.
A cross-section of those who spoke to one of our correspondents at the venue appealed for the extension of the December 31 deadline.
Also, large crowds gathered at the offices of the NIMC in Lagos in a bid to register and obtain the NIN.
At the NIMC office, Alausa, most of the people at the venue were neither wearing face masks or observing physical distancing, thereby flouting the COVID-19 protocols.
Several Nigerians also took to the social media to lambast the Federal Government over the large crowds in NIMC’s offices.
Many of them also alleged that NIMC officials were demanding bribes to get them registered.
@ayegbajeje_ tweeted, “Those in the Oshodi Local Government would frustrate you. People go as early as 4am for numbers. If you can’t get the number and want to register, you’ll pay a N5000 bribe. If you can wait, you’ll fill a form for N100, pay 300 for printing and lamination. The situation as of 8.45am today.
“The form is just an A4 paper with ‘free’ clearly written on it. If you make photocopies elsewhere, it won’t be collected from you. Presently, there are over 400+ people there defying COVID-19 guidelines at the peak of the second wave.”
Another youth said on social media that it was ironic that the government shut down night clubs over the weekend but was permitting large gatherings at the NIMC centre.
“Lagos State Government sent police to Cubana to arrest people having a good time amid all their wickedness on the citizens, because of the so called COVID-19 yet they are inviting and dining with COVID-19 with this NIN,” @iamgerrardoxa tweeted.
But later on Monday afternoon, NIMC shut registration centres in Lagos due to the uncontrollable crowd and fear of COVID-19 spread.
Many Nigerians, who gathered at the Alausa office of the commission as early as 6am on Monday, were unable to start or complete the NIN registration.
They complained that they were not attended to by the officials of the commission despite instructions given by the Federal Government that Nigerians without the digital identity number should go to approved centres for capturing.
A senior official of the NIMC, who did not want to be identified, said the number of people at the Alausa office was more than 450 as residents who came from different parts of the state trooped to the office.
This, according to the official, was because other centres across the state had been shut down due to the need to observe social distancing in line with COVID-19 protocols.
“Lagos State announced restrictions in the number of people that could gather at a time, which made all our local government centres to shut down. So, the pressure was on Alausa as the state office. That was why people from Ikorodu, Badagry, Ajah, all came to Alausa to register,” she said.
At the Enugu State Shoprite registration centre, staff of the NIMC complained of heavy workload due to the crowd that besieged the venue.
The NIMC staff also said that the centre had only two computers to work with.
Lack of stable electricity is frustrating the exercise In Kano, residents said.
At the Jos South Council headquarters in Plateau State, people lamented the slow pace of the exercise, describing it as cumbersome.
One of them, Mrs Grace Gyang, said she had been at the council headquarters twice trying to register without success due to the large number of people.
She said, “People come here every day to register and end up wasting the entire day. I think the government should engage more people to ease the registration exercise because we are not finding it easy at all”
In Gombe, the Gombe State capital, a resident, Yahaya Umaru, said he had been going to a registration centre in the town, but unable to register because of the crowd there.
Prevent mass gatherings, NCDC advises states
Nigeria Centre for Disease Control has, however, warned states to take urgent steps to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 as the fear of coronavirus spike over the NIN directive by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy heightened.
NCDC also told the states to reintroduce measures that would prevent mass gatherings and ensure adherence to public health and safety measures, including mandatory use of face masks, physical distancing and provision of hand washing facilities in public places.
NCDC Director-General, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, gave the advice as part of the efforts to prevent a spike of COVID-19.
“The increase in cases across the country requires our additional efforts. It is critical that state governments provide the required leadership and support needed. We urge states to reinstate measures that prevent mass gatherings and ensure adherence to public health and safety measures. These include mandatory use of face masks, physical distancing and provision of hand washing facilities in public settings,” he said.