Printing our security documents internally is good for our image and economy
The move by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to collaborate with National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) on how to checkmate fake certificates in Nigeria is a commendable one. The idea is to have the NSPMC print these certificates with bar code features that make authentication very easy. The Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) is also exploring the possibility of a similar idea for the printing of Certificates of Occupancy for landed properties. As we have argued in the past, 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.
Two years ago, in response to the huge cost in foreign exchange, President Muhammadu Buhari directed the 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. While the challenge was taken with all seriousness by the NSPMC Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Mr Abbas Umar Masanawa, there has been no response from the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), despite the problem associated with the production of Nigerian passports.
Established in 1963, the NSPMC (simply called Mint) was for a long time the largest banknote and security documents specialist printing company in West Africa. But at some point, its fortunes started dwindling with many functions outsourced to foreign companies. It was even unable to meet the annual banknotes demand by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), thus forcing the apex bank to import most of the currency requirement from Europe at huge expense to the nation. The situation reached a head in 2007 when the production of the e-passport was given to the Iris Corporation of Malaysia to handle.
However, 2014 signalled a new future when under the chairmanship of a new CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, the Mint decided to modernise 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. Apart from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) which printed 20 per cent of its electoral materials for the 2019 general election at NSPM, the company is also playing a major role in meeting the security document requirements of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC), etc. But more can be done.
It is particularly noteworthy that since 2014, not one single currency was imported apart from the N100 commemorative notes. The Mint is now repositioned to print security documents such as banknotes and coins, to cheques, visa vignette, postage stamps, motor vehicle licence, revenue receipts, certificates, examination papers, ballot papers and of course, international passports. With its enhanced capacity, the NSPMC can now print all security documents in the country. And we consider no document more important than the passport which citizens carry which is why we urge the NIS to collaborate with Mint. Domesticating passport production is both an economic and national security imperative.