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Passport

Fresh facts have emerged on why the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, suddenly halted the printing and issuance of passports to Nigerians, either for renewal or fresh applications. 

While some sources at the Immigration Service hinged it on the need to clear the backlog of applications, 

 was actually due to shortage of forex, which is sourced from the Central Bank of Nigeria, to print the booklets. 

But the passport agency has promised to resume issuance as soon as possible. 

Beyond this, it is believed that there is a conflict of interests between the Nigeria Immigration Service itself, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Security, Printing and Minting Company and other foreign partners involved in the passport issuing process. 

Daily Independent gathered that although NIS issues the passport, the production is handled by Iris Smart Technologies Limited (ISTL), an indigenous Nigerian firm, under the contractor-financed arrangement. 

It was learnt that Iris spends its own funds on the systems architecture and booklet production, NIS fixes the cost of acquiring the passports, and applicants pay to the accounts of the Federal Government of Nigeria, and Iris gets paid for its services thereafter. 

A recent survey by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and NIS annual reports indicated that Nigeria has so far earned $280 million and N120 billion from this contract — without putting in one kobo. 

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Trouble actually started when in December, last year, the CBN, citing the dicey forex situation in the country, claimed it would not be able to issue certain letters of credit for some time and asked importers to explore the I&E window. 

While the CBN rate then was N380/$, I&E was hovering around N455. 

Also, the gap between demand and supply was such that if you wanted $1 million through I&E, you might not get more than $250,000. 

Because the CBN didn’t see passport production as priority, Iris allegedly went to the I&E window and, after two months, got only 25 percent of what it applied for. 

By the time the company went to the open market to buy at N490, applications had started piling up globally, a development that led to serious crisis. 

It was also gathered that the Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammed Babandede, had cause to accuse the CBN of a deliberate effort to block ISTL from accessing foreign exchange for the importation of booklets. 

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It is believed that since the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting (NSPM) Plc is a subsidiary of the CBN, there was a kind of cold war going on amongst all the players in the passport business. 

Recall that on July 11, 2019, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, had announced that the Federal Government had cancelled “all e-passport printing contracts abroad”. 

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Adesina had also announced that printing the booklets would become the sole responsibility of the minting company owned by the Federal Government. 

The aim was that the new policy would, in the long run, conserve forex and safeguard “national security”. 

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