An Indian firm, Continental Transfer Technique Limited, has hijacked a sensitive national security project â€“ the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card â€“ which was supposed to be managed by the Nigeria Immigration Service.
Apart from controlling the sales of the residence permits to foreigners, each of which goes for $1,000 (about N250, 000) and is valid for two years, the company has also sidelined the NIS and it is the sole manager of the project.
The CERPAC project was for the automation of the issuance of residence permit (Green card) as well as Aliens Registration (Brown card) to expatriates who are either residing or working in Nigeria or visiting for long periods (that is beyond 56 days) and seamen who stay ashore beyond 28 days.
Findings indicate that the contract was awarded to CONTEC in 1999 by the Ministry of Interior on a build-operate-and-transfer basis and it took off in May 2002 after installation of equipment and systems by the contractor.
Investigations by our correspondent indicated that the project should have been handed over to the NIS in 2006, but this was not done as the firm had refused to train immigration service officers on the nitty-gritty of the project and had been using its own workers ever since.
Apart from controlling the production of the vital security cards, CONTEC also excluded the immigration service in the sale of the security document, according to sources.
The implication of this, according to NIS officers, is that the firm can unilaterally issue the CERPAC cards to foreigners and illegal migrants who may pose a security threat to the country.
Face-off over CONTECâ€™s incompetency
According to the contract agreement, the company was supposed to produce 900,000 CERPAC cards at the profit-sharing formula of 60 per cent for the Federal Government, 30 per cent for CONTEC and 10 per cent for the ministry for operational expenses.
But the firm failed to meet the target as it was producing only 37,000 cards per annum instead of 300,000.
The Federal Government had attempted to take over the project in 2007 following the inability of CONTEC to meet the production targets of 300,000 residence permits and 200,000 aliensâ€™ registration certificates annually, but the move was resisted by the firm which demanded N5bn pay off.
Minister calls for revocation of contract agreement
In 2009, the then Minister of Interior, Godwin Abe, wrote a letter to then President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua informing him about the need to review and possibly revoke the contract with the firm.
In the letter dated February 17, 2009 and obtained by our correspondent, Abe narrated how the CERPAC project was awarded to the detriment of the nation. He stressed that those who signed the contract agreement with the firm â€œdid a disservice to our country as it was heavily skewed in favour of Messrs CONTEC.â€
Abe further explained that he arranged for a meeting with the then Attorney-General of the Federation, Michael Andoaaka, adding that he was accompanied by the Minister of State, the Permanent Secretary, Comptroller-General of Immigration and Director, Finance & Accounts and the legal adviser.
At the meeting on April 17, 2008 with CONTEC, the minister stated that the sum of N3.67bn was offered as exit option to the firm, adding that he also offered to pay off the company the sum of N1bn.
He said, â€œCONTEC resolutely rejected our offer and even refrained from making a counter-offer, despite promptings from the members including the representative of the Attorney-General of the Federation, to indicate what they wanted.â€
In spite of Abeâ€™s advice to the government to either review or revoke the contract, checks showed that nothing had changed as CONTEC is still in control of the project and may remain so for a long time.
A brief on the NIS presented by the CG, Immigration Service, Martin Abeshi, to the Minister of Interior, Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Dambazzau (retd.) on November 26, 2015 indicated that the reviewed contract agreement on the project favoured CONTEC.
Code of silence
When asked for comment on the discrepancies in the project management, the spokesman for CONTEC, Tunde Ayansanwo, directed all inquiries on the project to the immigration service, stressing that it was being managed under a tripartite arrangement between the firm, the Federal Government and the immigration service.
He said, â€œThe project is being managed under a tripartite arrangement between CONTEC, the Federal Government and the Immigration Service. So, we cannot comment on it, please direct your enquiries to the immigration service.â€
The CG, Martin Abeshi, also declined to comment. He said questions on the project could best be answered by the ministry.
â€œI am sorry; this question can best be answered by the Ministry of Interior, not NIS please. NIS did not sign any contract with CONTEC,â€ he said in a text message.
The Director of Press, Ministry of Interior, Alhaji Isiaka Yusuf, in turn passed the buck to the immigration service.
Moro turns blind eye, inks new deal
Findings indicate that past interior ministers had turned blind eyes to the anomalies observed in the contract as pointed out by Abe in his letter to Yarâ€™Adua.
For instance, rather than address the discrepancies in the CERPAC project, the immediate past Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, awarded a new project to CONTEC in which he awarded a higher percentage of the profit to the company against the Federal Government.
Investigations reveal that Moro approved the award of an e-Pass biometric project to CONTEC on behalf of the NIS without advertising it for competitive bidding in violation of the Public Procurement Act.
According to Section 17 of the Act, requests for proposal for contracts must be advertised in at least two national newspapers of general circulation and the Federal Tenderâ€™s Journal, but this was not done.
More profits for CONTEC
Moro, according to the document obtained by our correspondent, favoured the private firm in the sharing formula for the proceeds of the project which was based on Private-Public-Partnership arrangement.
Visitors who stay in the country beyond 56 days but not exceeding 90 days would pay a fee in the equivalent of $200 while 91 days to 180 days will attract a fee equivalent to $1,000 which must be paid to Sterling Bank Plc only.
According to the scheme, an aggregate stay by immigrants beyond 180 days but not exceeding 365 days would attract a fee equivalent to $2,000 while an over-stay without due permission from the Federal Government would attract a penalty which is 100 per cent of the prescribed fees.
An additional fee of N8, 000 will be charged for each application form by the receiving bank.
Parradang had, in his letter to Moro on the e-Pass project, proposed that the government should abolish the issuance of re-entry visa while adding a $100 fee to the $1,000 being charged for the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card.
Parradang had proposed that the service provider, CONTEC be given 15 per cent of the $100 added to the CERPAC fee while NIS collects 15 per cent.
But Moro, who signed the letter, amended the sharing formula by giving 30 per cent to the service provider against the 15 per cent suggested by the immigration service.
Security experts weigh in
A retired Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, called on the Federal Government to investigate the observed discrepancies in the management of the CERPAC project.
He warned about the security implications of allowing a foreign private firm to manage such a sensitive project which has a bearing on national security, particularly now that the country is fighting an insurgency.
Tsav said, â€œThe Federal Government must direct the company to hand over the project to the immigration service immediately given the security implications; allowing a private foreign company to handle such a sensitive national project have serious consequences because they could bring in anybody into the country.
â€œThey can use the alien cards for diabolical purposes just like the way Nnamdi Kanu brought in transmitters for his Radio Biafra project. The government needs to find out the people behind the company.â€