• Interior Minister renews Hardware, Software agreement for $5.5 million
• Ministry pays private company N39.5 billion for passport services
Apparently, in line with his administration’s commitment to ensuring accountability, fiscal responsibility and growth of indigenous enterprises, especially public-owned companies which are hitherto underutilised or abandoned, on Monday, June 24, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari directed that “henceforth the production and personalisation of all Nigerian E-passports and related documentation shall be the sole responsibility of the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC).”
He further instructed that all existing Memorandum of Understanding and contracts on the production and personalisation of all Nigerian e-passports and related documentation should not be renewed.
This presidential directive was contained in a letter to the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and copied to the Minister of Interior Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) headed by the then Comptroller-General, Mr Mohammed Babandede.
However, this presidential directive on contracts and MOUs concerning e-passports and related documentation was seemingly disobeyed especially by the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who went ahead and renewed the agreement with Iris Smart Technologies Limited on the maintenance of Hardware and Software used in issuing passport booklets .
Investigations by Thinkers Magazine revealed that the agreement was renewed on Monday, June 22, 2020, between the Ministry of Interior and Iris Smart Technologies Limited for $5,524,470 million (about N2,983,213,800 billion). The agreement reads in part: “a. The Ministry of Interior is an establishment of the Federal Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria saddled, within the responsibility for maintenance of policies on internal security and citizenship integrity, as well as, supervisory control of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS). The Nigeria Immigration Service, which is a parastatal of the Employer is vested with the mandate of issuing Nigerian Passports to the citizens of Nigeria, in line with its enabling Act; b. The Ministry of Interior on behalf of the Federal Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria entered into an Agreement dated 14th May, 2003 (hereinafter referred to as “the 2003 main Agreement”) with Iris Smart Technologies Limited, in pursuant of its implementation of a fully Integrated and highly secured Nigeria Harmonized ECOWAS Electronic (Smart) Passport and Autogates System for the enhanced Nigeria/ECOWAS Passport; c. Messrs. Iris Smart Technologies Ltd, a Company based in Nigeria, with Its affillate overseas is well known for its professional skill, technical competence, experience and financial resources in its specialised area of e-Passport production; d. The 2003 Main Agreement contained provisions for the supply of materials, equipment and services, as fully described in Annexure ‘A’ attached to the Agreement; e. Under Article 12.0 of the 2003 Main Agreement, the Parties agreed to enter into a separate Maintenance Agreement with a view of providing such maintenance and after sales technical support services, after the expiration of warranty period of twelve (12) months, after Installation; f. In line with the provisions of Article 12.0 of the 2003 Main Agreement hereinbefore stated, the Ministry presented a Memorandum to the Federal Executive Council seeking Council’s approval to have a separate Maintenance Agreement and the Council approved same for the duration of the main e-passport contract, vide FEC approval EC (2011) 12th Meeting, Conclusion 7 of 20th April, 2011; g. The first award for the comprehensive Maintenance Service of the entire hardware and associated software of the Nigeria Harmonized ECOWAS Electronic (Smart) Passport and Autogates System was in July 2011, which expired in July 2013. The Agreement was subsequently renewed In July 2013 and it expired In July 2015; h. The Parties again renewed the Agreement in 2015 and 2017, for periods of two years respectively, which terminated in July 2019; 1. The Agreement became due for renewal in July 2019, at the expiration of the earlier Agreement, signed in 2017 and the renewal is in accordance with the provisions of Article 3.1 of the Agreement renewed in 2017; j. Due to some bureaucratic bottlenecks, the parties could not effect the renewal in 2019, as a result of which one year out of the renewable period of 2 years, would lapse by July 2020; k. In order to guarantee the continuous maintenance of all the equipment Involved in the passport issuance process, all Passport Issuing Centres in Nigeria and overseas, prevent system collapse and maximize usage of the system, and also for consistency and standardization; It has become expedient for the Maintenance Agreement to be further renewed by the Federal Government to the COMPANY, commencing from the date of expiration of the subsisting Agreement; i. The Parties having considered the provisions of Article 3.1 as stated above and the one-year time lapse in renewal of the agreement agreed to enter into this renewal Agreement for a duration of three (3) years, in order to capture the one year that had already lapsed and make provisions for a further two years from date of signing; m. The Parties, having complied with all due process requirements Including Ministerial approval, have agreed to execute the renewal of the Maintenance Agreement, on the same terms and conditions, (as in the subsisting Agreement), hereinafter contained.”
On consideration and charges, the renewed agreement stipulates as follows: “2.1 The hardware and software for the central site and all local branches will be covered by this renewal from the respective dates of commencement of service; 2.2 The total annual maintenance fee shall be $5,524,470 (Five Million, Five Hundred and Twenty-Four Thousand, Four Hundred and Seventy US Dollars and shall be payable at a quarterly rate of $1,381,117:50 (One Million, Three Hundred and Eighty-One Thousand, One Hundred and Seventeen, US Dollars and Fifty Cents), which sum shall be deducted from dedicated account for passport proceeds; 2.3 All prospective passport applicants shall pay the appropriate passport fees to the passport Dedicated Account in designated banks, from where deduction shall be made to pay the Company for the maintenance services under this Agreement; 2.4 In accordance with Article 2.2 above, the quarterly fee of $1,381,117:50 (One Million, Three Hundred and Eighty-One Thousand, One Hundred and Seventeen US Dollars and Fifty Cents), will be invoiced at the end of each quarter and payable within two (2) weeks of the receipt of the invoice from the COMPANY. Charges for services provided outside the scope of the Agreement, shall be due and payable upon receipt of invoice from the COMPANY.”
Experts believe that the renewal of the agreement between the Ministry of Interior and Iris Smart Technology Limited did not only flout President Buhari’s directive on domestication of e-passport production and related matters but was also tantamount to violating the extant law establishing the Nigeria Immigration Service.
Section 2 of the Nigeria Immigration Service Act, 2015 clearly defines the statutory duties of the agency thus: “1. There is established the Nigeria Immigration Service (in this Act referred to as the Service”) which shall be a body corporate with the power to sue and be sued; 2. The service shall be responsible for – (a) the control of persons entering and leaving Nigeria: (b) issuance of travel documents, including Nigeria passport to bonafide Nigerians within and outside Nigeria: (c) issuance of residence permit to foreigners in Nigeria: (d) border surveillance and patrol: (e) enforcement of laws and regulations with which they are directly charged and (f) performance of such paramilitary duties within or outside Nigeria as may be required of them under the authority of this Act or any other enactment.”
As enunciated by the relevant sections of the Immigration Act, the duties of the NIS are distinctively peculiar and require special skills to carry-out because such duties suggest the use of periodic intelligence gathering and deployment which only a paramilitary organisation such as the Nigeria Immigration Service can duly undertake.
Professionals on security and economic matters including concerned staff of Ministry of Interior and Nigeria Immigration Service told Thinkers Magazine that ceding the functions of a critical paramilitary agency like the Nigeria Immigration Service to private companies is abnormal and dangerous, especially in view of the current security situation in the country.
Experts on security and legal practitioners are of the view that contracts or agreements cannot replace or substitute the overall intention of the statute in the performance of an act that has already been laid down by law.
“It is abnormal to cede the statutory functions of a government agency established by law via agreements. Contracts and agreements do not take precedence over laws.
“The duty of the Nigeria Immigration Service as conferred on it by the provision of Section 2 of the extant law are paramilitary in nature and relate to national security such that it cannot be validly performed by a privately-owned company. In other words, national security is an exclusive duty to be performed by the military, police, State Security Service and paramilitary, such that it cannot be transferred to Iris Smart Technologies Limited ad infinitum via a mere agreement or contract,” a lawyer, Zakari Abdul, told this magazine.
Another lawyer, Barrister Suleiman G. Adamu, told this magazine that “unlike Iris Smart Technologies Limited, which is a private organisation, the Nigeria Immigration Service is a statutory paramilitary organisation that performs either civil or military-like functions in Nigeria like its counterpart such as the military. The Nigeria Immigration Service is also one of the organisations mandated to strengthen the security and prosperity of Nigeria through proactive, effective and efficient border security and migration control.”
“Evidently, for an organisation to be able to protect the territorial borders of Nigeria, it must be such that it is composed of a large workforce and armed manpower in order to enforce laws and effectively perform its duties.
“On the other hand, it is unthinkable that Iris Smart Technologies Limited would ever carry-out the scheduled duties of Immigration officers on behalf of the Nigeria Immigration Service, which already has a large workforce as provided under Sections 4 and 6 of the Immigration Act, 2015,” he said.
How it started
The Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (NSMPC) Plc had been the traditional printer of the country’s travel documents for the Ministry of Interior. In August 1998, the Machine-Readable Passport (MRP) was introduced to solve the security problems of the passport. The Machine-Readable Passport was bedevilled with numerous problems including multiple acquisitions due to lack of interconnectivity of the issuing centres, passport number duplication and differences in security features, among others.
Following the ECOWAS Heads of State adoption of the BAMAKO Declaration recommending the issuance of Harmonised ECOWAS Passport in 2000, the then President Olusegun Obasanjo directed, in 2003, the immediate assessment of the Malaysian electronic passport technology and its suitability for Nigeria.
The same year, the Federal Executive Council chaired by the ex-president vide conclusion EC (2003) 14 of May 7, 2003, approved the award of contract to Iris Smart Technologies Limited for the delivery and installation of 39 passport issuing offices, 52 foreign missions, wide area networking, central processing system, 5.5 million chips, 5.5 million laminates and eight auto-gates based on contractor self-financing.
However, the FEC approval did not include the production of passport booklets and embedding of the chips into the back cover by Iris. Subsequently, five companies – Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Francis Charles Orbethur Security, Iris Smart Technologies Limited, Giesoke & Deviant F2E of Dubai and Sagem S. A. of France – were invited to tender for the production of the passport booklets and embedding of chips, which was eventually awarded to Iris Smart Technologies Limited with a proviso by the then President that the memorandum of understating for the award of the contract should be submitted to the Federal Executive Council “subject to NSPMC being allowed to participate.” And for three years, the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company and Iris Smart Technologies Limited maintained a cat and mouse relationship over the production of passport booklets.
Agreement/Contract violates ICRC Act 2005, Public Procurement Act 2007
Investigations by Thinkers Magazine also revealed that the contractual agreements between Ministry of Interior and Iris Smart Technologies Limited are in conflict with the provisions of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (Establishment, etc) Act 2005 and the Public Procurement Act 2007, the two primary legislations governing the conduct of business and Public Private Partnership (PPP) between government institutions and private entities.
Most discerning watchers of the nation’s security circles, who spoke to Thinkers Magazine, are of the view that the passport contract agreement between the Ministry of Interior and Iris Smart Technologies Limited could be interpreted as an attempt to vary and waive the mandatory provisions of the ICRC Act 2005, Public Procurement Act 2007 and Immigration Act 2015.
Considering the fact that the Public Private Partnership contractual agreements between Ministry of Interior and Iris Smart Technologies Limited was initiated in 2003, it ought to have been approved by the Federal Executive Council in line with the preconditions listed in Sections 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act 2005 when it was due for renewal in 2006, one year after the commencement of the implementation of the ICRC Act.
The ICRC Act 2005 provides the following conditions for the creation of a Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract thus: “2. – (1) Every Federal Government Ministry, Agency, Corporation or body shall prioritize its infrastructure projects and such priority projects may be qualified for concession under this Act. (2) The projects mentioned in Subsection (1) of this Section shall be submitted to the Federal Executive Council for approval on the recommendation of the relevant Sector, Ministry or Agency prior to entering into any contract under Section 1 of this Act. (3) In entering into any contract or granting any concession under Section 1 of this Act, the Federal Government Ministry, Agency, Corporation or body shall ensure that the project proponent possesses the financial capacity, relevant expertise and experience in undertaking such infrastructure development or maintenance. (4) The Commission established under Section 14 of this Act shall publish, in the Federal Gazette and in at least three national newspapers having wide circulation, the list of projects eligible for contract for the financing, construction, operation or maintenance of any infrastructure under this Act; 3. No Federal Government Ministry, Agency, Corporation or body shall give any guarantee, letter of comfort or undertaking in respect of any concession agreement made pursuant to this Act, except with the approval of the Federal Executive Council; 4. – (1) Upon an approval for any project or contract for financing, construction, operation or maintenance of any infrastructure or development project under this Act, the Federal Government Ministry, Agency, Corporation or body concerned shall, by publication in at least three national newspapers having wide circulation in Nigeria, and such other means of circulation, invite open competitive public bid for such project or contract approved under this Act. (2) With respect to projects under this Act, the concession contract shall be awarded to the bidder who, having satisfied the prequalification criteria, submits the most technically and economically comprehensive bid. (3) Where a consortium participates in a bid under this Section, there shall be proof by the consortium that all its members shall be bound jointly and severally under the contract and the withdrawal of any member of the consortium before or during the implementation of the project may be a ground for review or possible cancellation of the contract; 5. Notwithstanding Section 4 of this Act, and if after advertisement in accordance with Section 4 of this Act (1) Only one contractor or project proponent applied or submitted a bid or proposal, or (2) Only one contractor or project proponent meet the prequalification requirements, the Ministry, Agency, Corporation, body may undertake direct negotiation without competitive bidding for any contract to be entered into pursuant to Section 1 of this Act.”
Against these provisions of the of the ICRC Act 2005, In 2006, the then Minister of Interior, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, forwarded a memo to the then President Obasanjo on the logjam between Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company and Iris Smart Technologies Limited. The President reportedly directed that the memo should be forwarded to the Federal Executive Council for consideration, and a contract was awarded to Iris Smart Technologies Limited to produce three million e-passport booklets, chips, and substrates vide the Council’s Conclusion II under Conclusion EC (2006) 44th Meeting. And that marks the beginning of the contract that appears to be ad infinitum.
Moreover, the Public Procurement Act, 2007 was enacted to regulate and maintain transparency, equity, competition and accountability in the nation’s procurement process to prevent monopoly and deter public office holders from unscrupulously enriching themselves through connections in the name of awarding public contracts.
Sections 17(a) (i to ii) and 19(d) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 emphasises the need for Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government to adhere to approval threshold thus: “17. Subject to the monetary and prior review thresholds for procurements in this Act as may from time to time be determined by the Council, the following shall be the approving authority for the conduct of public procurement: (a) in the case of (i) a government agency, parastatal, or corporation, a Parastatals Tenders Board; and (ii) a ministry or extra-ministerial entity, the Ministerial Tender Board: AND 19 (d) obtain approval of the approving authority before making an award.
Section 16 (1) and Section 24 (1), (2) and (3) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 provide the following conditions: 16.—(1) Subject to any exemption allowed by this Act, all public procurement shall be conducted: (a) subject to the prior review thresholds as may from time to time be set by the Bureau pursuant to Section 7(1)(a)-(b); (b) based only on procurement plans supported by prior budgetary appropriations and no procurement proceedings shall be formalized until the procuring entity has ensured that funds are available to meet the obligations and subject to the threshold in the regulations made by the Bureau, has obtained a “Certificate of ‘No Objection’ to Contract Award” from the Bureau; (c) by open competitive bidding; (d) in a manner which is transparent, timely, equitable for ensuring accountability and conformity with this Act and regulations deriving there from; (e) with the aim of achieving value for money and fitness for purpose; (f) in a manner which promotes competition, economy and efficiency; and (g) in accordance with the procedures and timeline laid down in this Act and as may be specified by the Bureau from time to time; 24.—(1) Except as provided by this Act, all procurements of goods and works by all procuring entities shall be conducted by open competitive bidding. (2) Any reference to open competitive bidding in this Act means the process by which a procuring entity based on previously defined criteria, affects public procurements by offering to every interested bidder, equal simultaneous information and opportunity to offer the goods and works needed. (3) The winning bid shall be that which is the lowest evaluated, responsive bid which has been responsive to the bid with regards to work specification and standard.”
The Public Procurement Act 2007 also mandates Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government to advertise contracts for active participation of companies as provided for in Section 19 (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (h), (i) and (j) thus: “Subject to regulations as may from time to time be made by the Bureau under direction of Council, a procuring entity shall, in implementing its procurement plans: (a) advertise and solicit for bids in adherence to this Act and guidelines as maybe issued by the Bureau from time to time; (b) to invite two credible persons as observers in every procurement process, one person each representing a recognized; (i) private sector professional organisation whose expertise is relevant to the particular goods or service being procured, and (ii) non-governmental organisation working in transparency, accountability and anti-corruption areas, and the observers shall not intervene in the procurement process but shall have right to submit their observation report to any relevant agency or body including their own organisations or associations; (c) receive, evaluate and make a selection of the bids received in adherence to this Act and guidelines as may be issued by the Bureau from time to time; (d) obtain approval of the approving authority before making an award; (e) debrief the bid losers on request; (f ) resolve complaints and disputes if any; (g) obtain and confirm the validity of any performance guarantee; (h) obtain a “Certificate of ‘No Objection’ to Contract Award” from the Bureau within the prior review threshold as stipulated in Section 3 (a) of this Act; (i) execute all Contract Agreements; and (j) Announce and publicize the award in the format stipulated by this Act and guidelines as may be issued by the Bureau from time to time.”
Requesting for quotations is an essential part of the procurement process by Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government as envisaged by the provisions of Section 41 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 thus: “41 (1) A procuring entity may carry-out procurements by requesting for quotations from suppliers or contractors where the value of the goods or works to be procured does not exceed a sum that shall be set in the procurement regulation; (2) Generally quotations shall be obtained from at least 3 unrelated contractors or suppliers; (3) Each contractor or supplier from whom a quotation is requested shall: (a) be informed whether any factors other than the charges for the goods, works or services themselves, such as any applicable transportation and insurance charges, customs duties and taxes are to be included in the price; and (b) give only one quotation and shall not be allowed to change or vary the quotation; (4) No negotiation shall take place between a procuring entity and a contractor or supplier with respect to a quotation.; (5) The procurement shall be awarded to the qualified contractor or supplier that gives the lowest priced responsive quotation; (6) Where the total value of the procurement is not more than a sum that shall be set in the regulation, the procurement entity may not obtain the Bureau’s approval.”
The need for competitive bidding by private companies is also emphasised in Sections 24 and 25 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 thus: “24. (1) Except as provided by this Act, all procurements of goods and works by all procuring entities shall be conducted by open competitive bidding; (2) Any reference to open competitive bidding in this Act means the process by which a procuring entity based on previously defined criteria, effects public procurements by offering to every interested bidder, equal simultaneous information and opportunity to offer the goods and works needed; (3) The winning bid shall be that which is the lowest evaluated responsive bid which has been responsive to the bid with regards to work specification and standard; 25. (1) Invitations to bid may be either by way of National Competitive Bidding or International Competitive Bidding and the Bureau shall from time to time set the monetary thresholds for which procurements shall fall under either system; (2) Every invitation to an open competitive bid shall: (i) in the case of goods and works under International Competitive Bidding, the invitation for bids shall be advertised in at least two national newspapers and one relevant internationally recognised publication, any official websites of the procuring entity and the Bureau as well as the procurement journal not less than six weeks before the deadline for submission of the bids for the goods and works, (ii) in the case of goods and works valued under National Competitive Bidding, the invitation for bids shall be advertised on the notice board of the procuring entity, any official websites of the procuring entity, at least two national newspapers, and in the procurement journal not less than six weeks before the deadline for submission of the bids for the goods and works.”
The contract does not also fall under the category of ‘Direct Procurement’ and ‘Emergency Procurement Method’ by the combined effects of the preconditions listed in Section 42 and Section 43 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 thus: “42.—(1) A procuring entity may carry-out any emergency procurement where: (a) goods, works or services are only available from a particular supplier or contractor, or if a particular supplier or contractor has exclusive rights in respect of the goods, works or services, and no reasonable alternative or substitute exits; or (b) there is an urgent need for the goods, works or services and engaging intender proceedings or any other method of procurement is impractical due to unforeseeable circumstances giving rise to the urgency which is not the result of dilatory conduct on the part of the procuring entity; (c) owing to a catastrophic event, there is an urgent need for the goods, works or services, making it impractical to use other methods of procurement because of the time involved in using those methods; (d) a procuring entity which has procured goods, equipment, technology or services from a supplier or contractor, determines that: (i) additional supplies need to be procured from that supplier or contractor because of standardization, (ii) there is a need for compatibility with existing goods, equipment, technology or services, taking into account the effectiveness of the original procurement in meeting the needs of the procurement entity, (iii) the limited size of the proposed procurement in relation to the original procurement provides justification,(iv) the reasonableness of the price and the unsuitability of alternatives to the goods or services in question merits the decision; (e) the procuring entity seeks to enter into a contract with the supplier or contractor for research, experiment, study or development, except where the contract includes the production of goods in quantities to establish commercial viability or recover research and development costs; or (f) the procuring entity applies this Act for procurement that concerns national security, and determines that single-source procurement is the most appropriate method of procurement; (2) The procuring entity: (a) may procure the goods, works or services by inviting a proposal or price quotation from a single supplier or contractor; (b) shall include in the record of procurement proceedings a statement of the grounds for its decision and the circumstances in justification of single source procurement; 43.—(1) A procuring entity may for the purpose of this Act, carry-out an emergency procurement where: (a) the country is either seriously threatened by or actually confronted with a disaster, catastrophe, war, insurrection or Act of God; (b) the condition or quality of goods, equipment, building or publicly owned capital goods may seriously deteriorate unless action is urgently and necessarily taken to maintain them in their actual value or usefulness; or (c) a public project may be seriously delayed for want of an item of a minor value; (2) In an emergency situation, a procuring entity may engage in direct contracting of goods, works and services; (3) All procurements made under emergencies shall be handled with expedition but along principles of accountability, due consideration being given to the gravity of each emergency; (4) Immediately after the cessation of the situation warranting any emergency procurement, the procuring entity shall file a detailed report thereof with the Bureau which shall verify same and if appropriate issue a Certificate of ‘No Objection.’”
Nigeria loses N39.5 billion to Iris Smart Technologies Limited
Apart from the worrisome situation whereby officials of the Ministry of Interior perennially cede the statutory functions of its agency to private companies, security and economic experts believe that the contract with Iris Smart Technologies Limited has outlived its usefulness because government agencies have evolved to effectively carry-out their duties.
For instance, the personnel of the Nigeria Immigration Service are said to be handling 95 per cent of the work for which Iris Smart Technologies Limited was paid N39,556,188,236.48 billion in four years alone – from 2016 to 2019. This much was highlighted by the then Comptroller-General of Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr Mohammed Babandede, in a recent submission to the Committee of Interior of the House of Representatives where he said inter alia that: “NIS has acquired and paid for personalization equipment on e-passports in 43 local passport offices in Nigeria, 42 Diplomatic, Consular Missions and created 3no front offices for only acquisition in the State House, National Assembly and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All these equipment have been paid for and totally belong to the Federal Government of Nigeria. Therefore, we pray they should not be discarded as huge resources have gone into procuring and putting them in place. There is also the database which though belongs to the Service is still in the custody of ISTL (Iris Smart Technology Limited).”
To some national commentators, it is abnormal that Nigeria paid N39.5 billion to a private company within four years at a time government institutions are in dire need of resources to fund projects that would add value to the lives of Nigerians.
“It makes no economic sense at all. This seeming misplaced use of scarce resources at a time the federal government badly needs funds to address myriads of economic challenges is bad for the system. Instead of paying such huge sum into the coffers of private company, government can actually plough such funds into viable projects for the overall benefit of the citizens.
“The current situation becomes more worrisome when there are already agencies of the federal government like the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company with equal strength of capacity and facility to effectively deliver such services.
“Therefore, failure to utilise such government agencies robs the federal government of the opportunity to use its available resources, personnel and equipment for national economic advancement,” a public commentator and analyst, Sanusi Muhammad, told this magazine.
Experts in the industry told Thinkers Magazine that this variant of the challenge has been with this nation for many years because those at the helm of affairs in the relevant agencies love pecuniary gains of their inaction than what would be of immense benefit to the nation as a whole. They believe that if not for the lack of patriotism, the N39.5 billion would have been pumped into various public sector programmes to save the federal government from continuous borrowing to service national budget deficits.
Top civil servants, who spoke to Thinkers Magazine, said officials of the Ministry of Interior have, over the years, failed to limit themselves to the ministry’s mandate of being the policy organ of government on immigration matters only.
“Ministers, Permanent Secretaries and some directors have been exerting prolonged and persistent control in the statutory and operational duties of the Nigeria Immigration Service. Obviously, this has dampened the morale of the personnel of Nigeria Immigration Service.
“The Ministry of Interior is supposed to exercise supervisory role over the Nigeria Immigration Service, but officials of the ministry enter into all sorts of agreements with private companies at the detriment of the service.
“It really does not make sense for the ministers or anyone for that matter to sit in their office and award contracts on behalf of NIS just like that. We know our needs more than anyone else outside,” one of the top personnel of the NIS told this magazine on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation.
With Nigeria’s landmark achievements in providing the requisite equipment, personnel and resources for the Nigeria Immigration Service, commentators still wonder why the current top officials of the Ministry of Interior would rather let the federal government pump money into a private sector outfit run by a few individuals, and not into an institution in public service like the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company and the Nigeria Immigration Service, among others.
There is a consensus of opinion among legal practitioners, security experts and civil servants that if not quickly addressed, the development will continue to constitute a big threat to national security and the future of Nigeria Immigration Service as it is already eroding public confidence in the agency.
All efforts to reach the Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; the chief accounting officer and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, Dr Shuaibu M. Belgore; Managing Director of Iris Smart Technologies Limited, Mr Olayinka Fisher; Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Godwin Emefiele; former Comptroller-General of Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr Mohammed Babandede; and the Managing Director of Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company, Mr Abbas Umar Masanawa proved abortive.
Letters of inquiry from Thinkers Magazine to the Minister of Interior and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Interior requesting for a response on the alleged defiance of the presidential directive on the domestication of e-passport were not replied as at the time of going to press.