By Nuruddeen M. Abdallah, Ismail Mudashir & Joshua Odeyemi (Abuja) & Hamisu Kabir Matazu (Damaturu)
There’s a raging controversy over the e-passport contracts signed by the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) with non-security firms which is ripping Nigeria billions of naira.
The deal is generating heat over stakeholders concern that Nigeria’s national security is being jeopardised because the contractors are mostly non-security companies, while others have questionable tendencies.
The Senate last week invited the Minister of Interior, Gen. Abdur-rahman Dambazau, as well as four other companies engaged by the NIS in a public private partnership arrangement over the years.
The four firms are: Contec Nigeria Limited, Greater Washington Nigeria Limited, Newwork Solution and Investment Limited and Iris Smart Technologies.
They were contracted for e-passport production, expatriate residence permit and alien card as well as other immigration services, had contractual agreements to perform some revenue generating services on behalf of the NIS.
The firms are to appear before the Senate Adhoc Committee on Alleged Misuse, Under Remittance and Other Fraudulent Activities in the Collection, Remittance and Expenditure of Internally Generated Revenue by Ministries, Departments and Agencies.
In 2007, the federal government signed a public private partnership with a Malaysian based firm, Irish Technology Limited (ISTL), “for production and supply of passport booklets and integration of passport offices,” according to official document obtained by Daily Trust on Sunday.
Analysis of the official documents shows that the 10-year contract which expires May, 2017, is about to be renewed despite huge problems of corruption, threat to national security, short change of Nigerians and abuse of due process, that marred the implementation.
Insiders told Daily Trust on Sunday revealed that the though the database and all other infrastructure have been paid for by the government, but IRIS Smart Technology “are still holding unto it, using that to blackmail government into retaining them as contractors.”
An Immigration official close to the deal said “IRIS deliberately refused to train NIS officers in the management of the system. The NIS officers can’t even conduct basic maintenance and repairs.”
This the official said is because the company “has tied the NIS to its apron by signing Maintenance Agreements that has questionable exclusion clauses that gives undue advantages.”
A top security official complained that the attitude of the company is capable of jeopardising the national security, particularly as the country is coming out of Boko Haram insurgency.
IRIS is an agro-allied and ICT firm, not a security printer, the security chief said, adding that: “Several efforts and directives by the federal government for partnership between IRIS and Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) were ignored by the company, who instead sub-contracted the printing to other security printers in Malaysia and Ireland.”
A ministry of internal affairs official said the company is going helter-skelter seeking for renewal of the contracts despite the fact that its key officials are being investigated by Malaysia for corruption.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arrested IRIS Deputy Managing Director Dato’ Hamdan Bin Mohd Hassan on 19 January, 2017 over alleged abuse of power in the implementation of e-passport facility in the Republic of Guinea.
A day after Hamdan’s arrest, the Board of Directors of IRIS Corporation Berhad (ICB) announced his suspension in a statement.
The statement said: “At the Magistrates Court at Putrajaya today, 20th January 2017, the MACC has obtained a remand order for six days to facilitate their continued investigations.
“Pending the finalisation of the investigations, ICB wishes to announce that Dato’ Hamdan’s executive powers are suspended and his present duties and responsibilities as acting Chief Executive Officer of ICB will be taken over by the current Chief Operating Officer, Mr Choong Choo Hock.”
The IRIS board, however, said that “the remand of Dato’ Hamdan will not have any implications on the validity of the contract between ICB and the government of the Republic of Guinea nor does ICB expect that it will have any implications on the e-passport project.”
Compromising national security
The actions of IRIS has affected national security of the country, according to Immigration security report prepared by Assistant Comptroller of Immigration N.K. Tanko.
The report was titled “Nigeria e-passport infrastructure and Nigeria public key directorate (N-PKD) and border control- submitted by NEFT/Auctorizium.”
The report said Nigeria must insist on “the implementation and domicilisation of the Country Signing Certification Authority (CSCA) in the NIS.”
The report said CSCA as the country’s Anchor of Trust is controlled by IRIS and not the NIS. “Noting that the CSCA is the seal of government of Nigeria and ought to be under its control and not the vendor (IRIS), the report said.
The report also said in the case of border control systems and NKPD, the NIS “has to assert its position in its relationship with Messrs Vlatacom which is a company that is unnecessarily exploiting the service (NIS) and compromising our National Security.”
Extortion of Nigerians
Three other companies: Greater Washington Nigeria Limited, Newwork Solution and Investment Limited and SocketWorks Nigeria Limited are taking away more than 27 percent of passport fees paid by Nigerians, according to investigations.
SocketWorks was one of the company involved in the deadly recruitment exercise that killed some applicants and injured dozen others.
Daily Trust on Sunday findings show that Nigerians seeking to obtain international passports are made to pay N4,000 for unrendered services.
The N4,000 is charged to settle two non-security companies introduced to render some services, receiving N2,000 each from the N15,000 passport fees paid by individual passport applicant.
SocketWorks Nigeria Limited was contracted 10 years ago, to take charge of ensuring that all official passport fees are paid into government coffers but, with the introduction Treasury Single Account (TSA), the company has outlived its usefulness, a top NIS official said.
SocketWorks services are synonymous with the application of the TSA implemented by the present President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration which all ministries, departments and agencies are mandated to operate.
This not withstanding, Daily Trust on Sunday learnt SocketWorks still keeps its contract while the NIS continued the payment of N2,000 to the company per passport applicant.
The Greater Washington also charges every passport applicant N2,000 for the address verification, dispatch of issued passports to individual addresses.
“But, as it is now, the applicants are made to collect their passports at the immigration offices. So, the service is not rendered to anybody but, its still paid for,” the source said.
The source said “the companies are just there to serve as conduit pipe oiling the cabal of some retired principal officers of NIS and some ministers,” another official in the know of the deal said.
Daily Trust on Sunday checks show that the two companies are also using facilities of the NIS, including offices and computers to render their services in states where they are existing, in violation of the PPP arrangement.
Newworks Solution, on the other hand, is collecting non-refundable administration fees for the NIS.
Another security official said the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) voiced its concern that only Nigeria has introduced non-security companies into its passport issuing system.
The four firms will appear before the Senate committee on April 6, 2017, according to a statement by the Kayode Odunaro, the media adviser to the chairman of the committee, Senator Olamilekan Adeola.
The statement said the inquiry was informed by widespread speculation that the companies are “withholding a hefty percentage of revenue that would have accrued to the Federal Government.”
In his reaction, head of government relations of Greater Washington, Usman Kibiya, told Daily Trust that it was true that his company receives N2,000 from each passport applicant for passport delivery.
“The contract we signed with the NIS does not include the delivery of passports to applicants”, he said. “We only verify the address of applicants and build a location database system for the NIS.”
“Also, the notion that we get N2,000 from each applicant for these services is not true. What we get is 45 percent of that sum.”
But contrary to Kibiya’s claim, contract document obtained by Daily Trust on Sunday shows that the company gets 55 percent of the sum collected “for address verification.”
Daily Trust on Sunday sent a questionnaire to SocketWorks to give more insight into its contractual agreement with the NIS but it hasn’t responded as of the time of filing this report.
Several attempts to speak to NIS Public Relations Officer, Assistant Comptroller of Immigration (ACI) James Sunday, was not fruitful.
Our reporter called him severally over the matter but the spokesperson refused to respond to the specific inquiries.
Our reporter sent him a text but he ignored it as well. Even when the reporter visited his office at the NIS headquarters in Abuja, he was told the NIS PRO was attending a meeting at that time.
Days after the visit, the reporter forwarded a text message of the issues that required the spokesperson response, but he refused to respond.