Trust is earned,
and you need to show value in order to earn it

Yemi Keri

Yemi Keri is CEO of Lagos-based company Heckerbella – a technology consultancy providing a range of services, from core biometrics to software solutions that help governments automate and streamline processes and increase internally generated revenue. Yemi is one of the foremost women in technology in Nigeria, and an angel investor helping other women start their own businesses within the network Rising Tide Africa.

Africa’s digital revolution is transforming the continent. Our economy has been at record pace and our growth has been gradually increasing.

A lot of the African countries are trying to meet the targets of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the UN’s goals are about education, some are connected to poverty alleviation, but all of them need a certain level of identity identification in order to be achieved. This is why a deliberate action for the collation of citizen identification data is now taking off here, and just as in other continents, we are beginning to use biometric technology in order to do so.

In Nigeria, for instance, we’ve been trying to improve national identification for many years and we’ve learned that the environment in itself needs to be trustworthy for this to succeed.

For the last decade, Nigeria has been saying that we have 180 to 200 million citizens. But actually, there is no factual data that can enable us to know that. This has lead Nigeria to try and better identify its citizens – all citizens need to have a national identification number.

Critically, having accurate data on the population is important for the nation’s welfare and the services that the government wants to provide. It is important for planning and budgeting in the terms of economy. The registration of citizens will be a great advantage in terms of the coming Covid-19 vaccines, as it can help us to plan a good distribution of the vaccines. For healthcare, education… basically for any government initiative that should have an impact on people’s lives, the correct identification of its citizens is crucial. 

One of the methods that our government has recently implemented in order to achieve this is mobile phones. Users need to connect their phones to themselves; to their identities, to enable the phone to work. We estimate that if we can drive every person with a mobile device to register their national identity, we will have at least 80 to 90% of the population registered and identified. 

How is technology changing Africa?

Its countries are often leading innovation where reliable identification is critical. Watch Yemi Keri’s talk at Trust Report conference


The administration has announced their plans to drive their governance digitally and move the country towards better leveraging technology and to build a digital economy. But because they have not kept a number of the promises, citizens have lost their trust in the government, and as a result, now that citizens are being encouraged to provide their identity, there’s a lack of motivation to do so. 

Another challenge for the government is that in terms of culture, we are a very circumspect kind of people. So the first thing that comes to our minds is a number of questions – Why do they want our identity? Is it for our good? Or could it be bad for us, individually? When the message is not totally clear, our culture makes us even less willing to share our identity. 

So there’s a great demand for the government to inform people better as to why their data is needed. Will the state provide better education for our children if they have our data? Or will they use it to create a revolution towards better health care? If they are to have our data, there must be some carrot. If they are asking us for our participation, they need to incentivise us into sharing our identity with them.

Trust is earned, and you need to show value in order to earn trust. You need people to understand that they must provide their identity in order to get better services. You need to be able to communicate properly what you are using the details of their identity for.