Nigerian security services say that they have been requiring residents of the northeast—where Boko Haram is active—to produce identification cards on demand. The army claims that citizens are “cooperating” with the requirement, though it is hard to verify that claim. The army has now announced that it will extend the policy to the entire country in early November. The army has also announced that it is establishing a modern garment factory to produce military uniforms, thereby ensuring their standardization.
In its struggle against Boko Haram, the Nigerian security services have long faced the problem of identifying who is a participant in that terrorist organization and who is not. Intelligence available to the security services appears weak. Many human rights violations are related to the wholesale rounding up of “suspects” who are ordinary citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Giwa barracks near Maiduguri are notorious for holding citizens, including children, suspected of Boko Haram involvement. Complicating their identification, Boko Haram and criminal gangs frequently operate wearing what appear to be military uniforms. Notably, many of the Chibok school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014 thought their captors, dressed in military fatigues, were from the Nigerian army sent to protect them. Hence the push for identifying citizens and standardizing security service uniforms.
As if often the case, government capacity is limited. There is no national registry of Nigerian citizens and no uniform national identification cards any more than there is in the United States. Human rights activists say that more than half of all Nigerians possess no identification cards of any kind. Enforcement, therefore, is likely to be arbitrary and open to abuse. Though progress is being made in other aspects of criminal justice, if the requirement for national identity cards sticks, it may become a symbol of what many Nigerians regard as the increasing militarization of national life, reminiscent of Buhari’s tenure as military chief of state. On the other hand, the Nigerian state certainly has the capacity to establish a garment factory and thereby standardize military uniforms, though uniforms, like other military equipment, are subject to frequent theft. A garment factory might help in the struggle against terrorism , but it is hard to see how a national requirement to carry identification cards will work.