By JANE OSAMOR
The Nigerian Immigration Service and a firm contracted by the Federal Government for the production of Nigerian passports, Iris Smart Technologies Limited, have blamed the Central Bank of Nigeria’s foreign exchange policy for the scarcity of booklets.
The firm also accused the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company Plc of sabotaging its efforts after failing to secure the contract for the production of the passports.
The Managing Director, Iris Smart Technologies Limited, Yinka Fisher, made the allegation in Abuja on Tuesday when he appeared before the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate the Proposed Domestication and Processing of Nigerian International Passports.
The committee also grilled the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Idris Jere, at its investigative hearing.
Fisher told the committee that prior to their engagement by the FG, the country had a shabby passport administration.
He said, “Today, we have a system where we have a central processing centre with a strong inventory control mechanism. Last year, we delivered a record number of booklets to NIS, which was about 1.9 million.
“This year, for the first four months, we have delivered nearly 800,000 booklets. We are on course for another record supply this year.
“The Nigeria Immigration Service gave the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Plc the opportunity to print the first set of booklets. When they were delivered, it was substandard. The government discarded them and decided to have an international tender for the production and embedding of chips.
“Five companies were invited; Three foreign companies, Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Plc and ourselves. The Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Plc were found to be technically incompetent and expensive.
“The IRIS bid was found to be technically competent and price competitive. The award was given to IRIS to produce the passports.”
Fisher added, “The project, from the beginning, was contractor financed. The government did not and has not put any money into it since the beginning. The funding has been completed by us. We took a N3bn facility from the bank to start the project. Till now, the government has still not put a kobo.
“We get paid for the goods and services and we deliver. We don’t do revenue sharing. If we deliver 100 booklets, they pay us for 100 booklets. To date, the government has a revenue of over N100bn and over $200m.
“There are two revenue streams: local revenue is about N100bn and overseas sales amount to $200m.”
In his presentation, Jere decried that the NIS does not have access to the forex it generated, while attributing the shortage of booklets to the unavailability of foreign exchange from the CBN to aid production outside the country.
The NIS boss also decried the absence of a producing factory in Nigeria, noting that the travel document is produced abroad.
He said, “We generate forex from the sale of passports but we do not have access to buy the same booklets, and that is a challenge for NIS.
“The factors responsible for the scarcity of passports include the inability to set up passport-producing factories in Nigeria, as its production is done abroad. The major seven components used for producing passports are sold in the international market and the assemblage and production are done in Malaysia.
“This makes the production process solely dependent on forex and the scarcity of forex due to the fall in Naira value is of major concern.”