THE MINT AND E-PASSPORTS

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Domesticating the production of security documents is good for the economy

Apparently worried about the huge cost to the nation in foreign exchange, President Muhammadu Buhari recently directed the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) to take over the production of Nigerian e-passports and other related security documents. “Once the country’s current production contracts expire, the printing of Nigerian e-passports will be handed over exclusively to the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company,” said the president.

It was a challenge taken with all seriousness by the NSPMC, popularly called the Mint. Its Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr Abbas Umar Masanawa is in every way justifying the renewed confidence reposed in it by the president. “We are poised to boost national security and integrity, we will conserve scarce foreign exchange, improve revenue generation, create job opportunities, and boost acquisition/transfer of technology,” he said.

The Mint is the country’s official currency and other security documents printer, including the Nigerian passport. Established in 1963, it was for a long time the largest banknote and security documents specialist printing company in West Africa. However, at a point, the fortunes of the Mint started dwindling and many of its functions consequently were outsourced to foreign companies. There was declining productivity and inability to meet delivery deadlines to customers. It was even unable to meet CBN’s annual banknotes demand, thus forcing the bank to import most of the currency requirement from Europe at a huge expense to the nation. Indeed, it was so bad that the production of the e-passport, launched in 2007, was given to the Iris Corporation of Malaysia to handle.

However, 2014 signalled a new future and fortune for the Mint. Under a new leadership and the chairmanship of the Central Bank Governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, the Mint had to modernize and refurbish. It has invested heavily in high-tech currency printing equipment, technical training of its staff, research and development. The company has added new production line in Abuja and a state of the art digital print-line for security document production in Lagos. In 2018, for instance, some 2.6 billion banknotes were produced from an average of one billion banknotes in 2014. In addition, the Mint has engaged a team of competent personnel with private sector orientation to complement the efforts of the existing staff. Now, the company has a staff strength of more than 1000, all Nigerians.

The investment is paying off. Since 2014, not one single currency was imported apart from the N100 commemorative notes. It is now repositioned to print security documents such as banknotes and coins, to cheques, visa vignette, postage stamps, motor vehicle license, revenue receipts, certificates, examination papers, ballot papers and of course, passport. And because of its enhanced capacity, the NSPMC can now print all security documents in the country. About 20 per cent of the electoral materials used in the 2019 general elections were printed by the Mint and on record time too.

But more can be done. “With our state of the art digital prints,” boasts Masanawa, “we have the capacity to print all of INEC electoral material requirements locally.” The company is also playing a major role in meeting the printing needs of National Identity Management Commission, (NIMC), National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC) and many others.

Printing our security documents internally is good for our image, national pride, integrity and indeed the economy since jobs are created and sustained besides the conservation of scarce foreign exchange. This is the more reason we expect the government to compel all its ministries and agencies, particularly the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) to buy into the NSPMC. Domesticating the passport production will be wholly beneficial in these times of financial panics that regularly pummel the economy.