The Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) is not in charge of the country’s e-passport central database where all travel documents of its citizens are stored.
Investigations by LEADERSHIP has revealed that over ten years after the federal government, through the NIS, entered into a public private partnership with a Malaysian based firm, Irish Technology Limited (ISTL), for the upgrading of travel documents of Nigerians to an internationally compliant e-passport, the Service is still not in charge of the central database.
According to experts, the development is a dangerous trend that puts Nigerians at risk, as their travel documents could easily be tempered with by a foreign firm that chooses to be mischievous.
The central data centre is made up of a central communication infrastructure, including a VSAT HUB and VPN terminal services.
It is said to run on an oracle platform with repository of all transactional data in respect to applications, rejections, issuances, cancellations, passport booklets, embedded chips, applicant data and biometric data, among others. It also has disaster recovery systems such as backups, media management, offsite data storage.
Our findings revealed that, following the partnership, the Malaysian firm, ISTL, provides and operate the technology, while the Nigeria Immigration Service only provides officials to register applicants, personalise passports, issue passports, as well as deal with day-to-day queries and manage the passport inventory.
It was gathered that even though ISTL designed a digital registration process which provides for capturing an applicant’s personal data in compliance with the specification of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as well as the country’s specific information, the Nigerian Immigration Service could be left stranded if the system crashes, as it does not have back-up of the central database.
Though the agreement was originally entered in 2003, the project is said to have been running successfully since 2007 to date, with more than 3.5 million passports issued. The daily rate of issuance stands at 5,000, with some registration office dealing with more than 700 applications per day.
There is growing concern in the NIS that allowing the sole responsibility of operating the central database in a private hand could pave way for fraud.
LEADERSHIP further gathered that, while the foreign firm as a private partner designs, supplies, installs, tests, commissions and trains Immigration staff, as well as operates, supports and maintains the complete system at its own expense, it only receives compensation through the issuance of the passports.
The development, it was also learnt, is what gives the federal government the insurance that ISTL cannot afford for the system not to be available or become obsolete.
It was, however, gathered that the registration systems are connected to a local work-in-process database to ensure continuous documentation of the e- passport applications in the event of any communication brake down.
Among the task carried out by the Malaysian based firm at the various registration offices are verification of source documents and approval/rejection of the application based on immigration procedure. Others include query station to resolve queries with regards to applications, lost/stolen/damaged documents.
A staff of ISTL at the passport production Office, Garki Abuja, who pleaded not to be named in print told LEADERSHIP that ISTL established and is managing the communications infrastructure to ensure real-time communication between the Registration Offices and the Central Data Center, the closed private VSAT system.
According to him, “due to the lack of stable data communication systems in Nigeria, a decision was taken to deploy a dedicated VSAT system at the point of implementation”.
He said ISTL rented bandwidth from a satellite operator (Intelsat) and operates its own VSAT hub at the Central Data Center.
He also disclosed that the hub provides communication infrastructure for all registration offices in Nigeria and Border Control Station at international airports.
He added that foreign missions are served through a VPN running on the World Wide Web (www) and are protected through an extensive firewall installation on both ends.
He said the communication system is designed in star topology with all remote offices linked directly to the Central Data Center. The central communication hub is operating 24 hours a day, 6 days a week and availability is above 99.9%.
His words: “The Central Data Center is hosted in an ISTL facility in Abuja, Nigeria. This facility operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week of which Monday to Saturday is operational, while maintenance tasks are done on Sundays. The facility is managed and operated by ISTL staff with Nigeria Immigration Service official to provide security and a compliment of IT staff that are trained on the systems.
“ISTL is implemented and is operating an integrated AFIS system. This system is monitored continuously to detect fraud and peculiarities and to fine tune the processes to ensure the maximum security. In line with this, hardware and software is continuously upgraded”.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) has described its inability to take absolute control of the e- passport central database as a policy issue.
The Service’s spokesman, Mr Sunday James, who dismissed fears of possible fraud by way of tampering with bio- data on request, emphasised that at human level, the e-passport was error and tamper proof. “It’s very sensitive and of unique standard”, he said.
James insisted that the e-passport booklet and all its components do not only comply but also exceeds many specification of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) compared with the best in the world.
He said, “I can tell you authoritatively that due to our passport quality, we come second after Morocco and if there were attempts to discredit this very highly placed documents, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) would have since notified us.
“I make bold to say that those complaining are criminals who may have devised all strategy to hack into the Central Database but failed”.
Responding to allegations that it is the Director General, ISTL’s photograph in stead of the Controller General of Immigration’s that appears once the Central Database is opened, the NIS image maker said, “I am not aware of that.
“That must be magical, in fact, it is impossible. I am arguing because once a person’s passport is inserted into the system, it is the owner’s photograph that automatically comes up”, he added.
He also disclosed that Nigeria Immigration Service is presently operating 43 passport issuance offices in Nigeria and has presence in the majority of the 40 foreign missions.
54 Years After, NIS Reviews N100 Violation Fine To N1m
In tandem with modern migration challenges, the newly launched Immigration Regulations, 2017 which seeks to operationalise the Immigration Act, 2015, has replaced the 1963 prescribed merger migration violation fine of hundred naira (N100) with a N1million minimum fine.
This is in addition to terms of imprisonment, ranging from seven to twelve years.
Officially presenting the revised Immigration Regulations 2017 yesterday in Abuja, the minister of Interior, Lt Gen Abdulrahman Dambazau (rtd) said the new document replaces that of 1963, following NIS’ quest to address operational challenges aimed at making the service responsive to global migration trend.
Dambazau explained that the revised document which contains 80 sections but divided into ten parts will enhance the protection of the Country’s borders against trans-national crimes , particularly, movement of terrorists through fierce collaboration with Interpol.
He said the regulation will also conform to the executive order on the ease of doing business in the Country.
The minister further emphasised that to achieve the aforementioned, plans by the federal government to introduce the use of biometric identity cards (BIC) as well as e-ticketing to boost advanced immigrants information was underway.
On his part, the Comptroller General , Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Mohammed Babandede who described the achievement as historic and unique noted that until May 21, 2015 when the revised Immigration Acts was enacted, the NIS operated with the 1963 Act which was not only obsolete but grossly inadequate to contain unfolding migratory realities.
According to the Immigration boss, aside providing legal framework for effective implementation of the Act 2015, the revised document consolidates all existing Immigration Regulations.
He explained that the revised Regulation is a product of painstaking discourse which includes contributions from experts, as well as serving and retired Immigration Officers.
He further stated that the vital document updated structure and functions of NIS in relation to Immigration and general offences.