By Sule Ya’u Sule
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is right on point on this, his views resonate with trends in developed and developing countries on the role private firms can play in a nation’s economic development.
“It is the private sector,” said Osinbajo at the launch of BUA’s Sokoto cement plant in July 2018, “not the government, that will ultimately drive Nigeria’s economic growth.”
True, and this does not require much elaboration. The woeful performance of public companies in Nigeria and elsewhere has been well documented and formed the basis for the massive privatization exercise that has liberated numerous sectors of the economy from the shackles and lethargy of non-performance.
What has taken place in the telecommunications and financial sectors is nothing short of a revolution. The performance of private firms in the telecommunications and financial sectors has validated Osinbajo’s assertion. Since the liberalization of those sectors, they have become the major drivers of the nation’s economic development.
In this regard, the transformation of Nigeria’s chaotic, corrupt and inefficient passport administration, issuance and control under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration should be considered a positive development and a major game-changer. Since the outsourcing of the production of Nigeria’s e-passport to a highly qualified, competent, and engaged private company, Iris Smart Technologies Limited, the problems associated with the issuance and administration of Nigeria’s passport have become a thing of the past. This public-private partnership (PPP) in passport production and administration has become a reference point in the synergy of the public and private sectors and a foretaste of what is to come. Without investing money into passport production, the Federal Government earned over $290m and N80b in revenue from this passport project. This sum is expected to rise as more Nigerians apply and receive new passports.
Due to the enhanced security features in the new passports, Nigerian passport holders are no longer subjected to embarrassment at international airports and other travel destinations as was rampant in the past. Gone are the days when Nigeria’s passport was printed and easily obtained at street corners and counterfeit joints.
As a private company, wholly-owned by Nigerians and based in Nigeria, Iris Technologies Limited is a good example of how the best brains in Nigeria can contribute their quota to national development. Iris invested its own money, the Federal Government never invested one single dime, they put their own money and they printed passports; it is after the sale that immigration pays them back and they have successfully handled this job for years and it has succeeded. The idea that someone in government is contemplating taking away this job from these patriotic bonafide Nigerians who are not foreigners is indefensible and reprehensible. Iris Technologies is growing Nigerians’ confidence in technology and private sourcing of funds for investment.
At this time, when Nigerians are complaining of a sluggish economy, how else is this economy expected to grow other than by individuals creating an investable enterprise, sourcing their funds, and creating value for the common good? Companies like Iris are privately driven, yet they are doing very well. Instead, they should be encouraged, not discouraged. Unlike the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC), which expends billions of naira annually but still cannot meet the minimum standards in product or service, Iris Technologies produces the e-passports with its resources. The company took a syndicated loan of $30 million to finance the design and production of the new national passport project. It installed equipment for high-definition biometric capture in 86 different locations, 42 within Nigeria and 44 abroad.
Private firms like Iris Technologies excel where government firms fail because they are efficient and deploy resources in an efficient and result-oriented manner. They achieve quality results without wasting materials, energy and time. They deliver quality results to build and maintain their reputation.
A company like Iris technologies would have been more respected and referred to if it were owned by foreigners. It is a shame that Nigerians do not value what they have.
This company has also introduced technological innovations that have met and exceeded global industry standards. The featured innovations on the Nigerian e-passport strengthen its security value, making it impossible to be faked, counterfeited or transferred to an authorized user who might pose a security threat to a third-party country.
Strengthened by enhanced 25 security features that include the engraving of a holder’s National Identity Number (NIN), the new Nigerian e-passport assists rather than hinders at-risk countries in their fight against terror. Also, the data page comes in polycarbonate technology that eliminates damage and is not laminated like the previous one. Therefore, fraudsters will find it harder to alter personal information, including changing a photograph on the Nigerian passport.
The Multi Laser Image captures the primary and secondary image of a passport holder. This heightened tamper-proof feature gives the passport double-safety uniqueness and dissuades attempts to duplicate or forge it. It also comes in a higher quality material than the previous one.
With the innovations introduced by Iris Technologies, the national passport meets ICAO standards and it is the handwork of a Nigerian company, not a foreign company.
In the best traditions of private enterprises, Iris Technologies has shown what can be achieved when Nigeria’s best brains partner with government to work on a specific project. Private firms minimize the cost of carrying out a government project by cutting out unnecessary expenses from the budget and still deliver the best. They manage available resources and can even take a loss to ensure they deliver high-quality jobs on demand.
Iris Technologies has shown that government projects can be conceptualized and executed by a team of professionals. They identify a problem, brainstorm on it, and jobs are completed professionally, faster and better. They can withstand pressure and still deliver on the agreed timeline. It makes sense by every parameter to encourage Iris Technologies and other indigenous firms, rather than take away the job they invested so much in. As a Nigerian company, they can be trusted to secure national assets and not share sensitive data. In trusting an indigenous company with national data, Nigeria is toeing the line of developed countries, which empower local firms to improve technological, financial and managerial capacities and then encourage them to go overseas to earn foreign currency for the country.
•Dr. Sule wrote from BUK, Kano