The scarcity of the e-passport booklets may not abate soon as the Federal Government has yet to reach an agreement on the new pricing of the travel document with the vendor, Iris Smart Technology Ltd.
ISTL had reduced the production and supply of the 32-page passports since last year following the foreign exchange crisis in the country which had reportedly increased the production cost of the booklets.
This is as investigation by the House of Representatives Committee on Interior revealed that the Federal Government made arrangements for the production of just 10 million passport booklets for the country in the past 10 years.
It was also discovered that the e-passport project had gulped over N25bn in the past 10 years.
The first contract awarded to ISTL, a Malaysian firm, on March 1, 2007, was for the production of three million passports and embedded substrates under a public-private-partnership agreement at the cost of $138.4m.
The production agreement between ISTL and the Ministry of Interior for the e-passport project was due to expire on May 7, 2017 (tomorrow).
In addition, the Federal Executive Council on April 20, 2011 approved the award of another contract to ISTL for the supply of additional six million passport booklets at a cost of N4.2bn.
On May 27, 2014, a second addendum to the 2007 agreement was signed for the production of one million 64-page Machine Readable Passport booklets and embedding of substrates.
But investigations by the House of Representatives Committee on Interior could not establish whether the firm supplied the first set of three million passport booklets as stipulated in the first contract before the subsequent contracts for supply of additional seven million passports were awarded to the firm.
The report of the investigation into the outsourcing of travel documents, international passports, residence permits and border surveillance and patrol by the Ministry of Interior and the Nigeria Immigration Service dated September 2016 was obtained exclusively by our correspondent on Thursday.
The committee, led by Adams Jagaba, had held a two-day public investigative hearing on March 23 and 24, 2016 into the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Control, e-passport project, payment platforms and border management.
The probe found a number of security breaches including the fact that the passport database containing the biometric information of all Nigerian passport holders was still under the firm control of the Malaysian company.
The committee described this as a serious national security breach.
It was learnt that the e-passport booklet is produced in South Africa, the chip by a Netherland-based company while the lamination of the data page is done in Malaysia.
It said, “The database which contains the biographical and biometric information of the holders of e-passports is still domiciled with the vendor and controlled by Iris Smart Technologies, the vendor. This has serious security implications.
“The Country Signing Certificate Authority and the public key infrastructure is also domiciled with the vendor. With this situation, the vendor can issue passports and alter biographical and biometric information of passport holders without the knowledge of the Nigeria Immigration Service.”
It noted that the project cost of $138.4m was divided into three phases with phase one costing $62,881,800; phase two, $53,337,470 and phase three, $62,881,800.
The House probe found that the e-passport project also included provision of 5.5 million wafers and laminates to be supplied over three phases for incorporation into the back cover of booklets, System Architecture of Electronic Passport Management.
The scope of the project also covered the Architecture of Electronic Passport Management System which consists passport enrolment and issuance system, automated fingerprint identification system, passport personalisation system, immigration border control system and immigration reporting system.
The committee found that the agreement between ISTL and the Interior ministry stipulated that the company shall bear, pay and shall thereafter be reimbursed by the ministry for all withholding taxes, VAT, duties and levies connected with the execution of the agreement.
It also found that the 2007 agreement, which was for 10 years, did not contain any clause for subsequent renewal.
The passport booklets, the report said, were to be supplied at a unit price of N6,900 for three million copies totalling N2.070bn.
The settlement of the company’s invoice were to be made from 30 per cent of the revenue generated from the sales of the passports while the Interior ministry made an advance payment of 25 per cent of the project cost.
“Also, a separate maintenance agreement was made for the booklets signed,” the report added.
The committee’s investigation also revealed that the Country Signing Certificate Authority, which is the anchor of trust for the Nigerian passport, would expire on May 31,2017 with grave implication for the integrity of the documents.
“The implication is that since Nigeria issues five-year passports, all passports issued after June 2013 will still be valid while the CSSA would have expired. There might be a need to mass recall these passports for re-issuance of new ones to the holders,” the report noted.
It explained that the International Civil Aviation Organisation required that a new Document Signer Certificate must be used every three months or after 100,000 passports, but all Nigerian passports, the report said, had the same DSC in clear violation of International Civil Aviation Organisation standards.
The lawmakers also found out that compliance auditing of the e-passport in line with ICAO security requirements had not been carried out 10 years into the project.
The probe also discovered that the auto gates that were installed and paid for at the Lagos, Kano and Port Harcourt airports had never functioned since installation.
It recommended a probe of the contract by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission “with a view to taking appropriate action to recover the cost of the project.”
The committee said when ISTL was asked during its public hearing why the passports were still being produced in Malaysia, the firm claimed action had been initiated to establish a passport booklet production factory in Nigeria which would commence operations within one year.
It frowned on the contract awarded to IPTELCOM Network Ltd., for the electronic management of data generated by the NIS in the process of providing international passports.
For this contract, the INL was paid N200 per passport, but the House committee found that the services purportedly provided by the firm were part of the responsibilities of Iris Smart Technologies.
The 20-member committee stated that evidence from its investigative hearing showed that the PPP agreements did not serve public interest, noting that there was no effective project management schedule between the Interior ministry/NIS and the companies to ensure strict implementation of the agreements.
The report blamed the ministry for interfering in the NIS operations without seeking professional advice from the immigration service.
When asked to respond to the issues raised by the committee, the NIS Public Relations Officer, Sunday James, directed all inquiries to the interior ministry.
“Please, talk to the ministry in respect of all inquiries into the passport issue, they signed the agreement with the manufacturers and are in a position to give all necessary information,” he said on the telephone.
But the ministry spokesman, Willy Bassey, referred questions on the project to ISTL, saying the firm was in a better position to address all issues bordering on the e-passport production.
The ISTL Public Relations Officer, Deji Oye, declined comment, saying he was not in a position to speak on the matter.
“I am not the Managing Director of Iris Smart Technologies, so I can’t comment on it. Go to any immigration office, you would see our desk there, talk to them,” he said on Friday.
Findings revealed that many African countries print passports in their own country.
According to the Department of Home Affairs, South Africa, Permanent South African passports and travel documents are printed only in Pretoria, South Africa, from where they are dispatched to the offices of application.
Also, according to the Department of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ghana, the country prints its passports at its state-owned Daily Graphic, a printing press in Accra, the capital.