On FG’s new nationwide CCTV project – Punch

Five years after the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the abandoned $470m Lagos and Abuja Closed Circuit Television contract report indicted some top government officials over the deal, the Federal Government is on another misadventure with a similar project. This time, the Minister of State for Police Affairs, Muhammad Dingyadi, says the Federal Government is embarking on a project to install CCTV cameras on all the major highways across the country to check the rising insecurity, especially kidnapping and banditry.

The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has given approval for the project and a contractual agreement with an IT firm has already been entered into, the minister gleefully announced on a TV programme. “We are moving forward; like you are aware, the $470 million CCTV project that has been abandoned. Mr. President has now given us the go-ahead to resuscitate the project and we have already entered into a concession agreement with NPS Technology. They are there trying to re-fix the entire system to resuscitate it.”

Strikingly, no mention was made of the cost of the new “concession agreement,” how it was arrived at, the duration of the new project and the process leading to the choice of the company eventually selected. Did the new agreement conform to the transparency required by the country’s procurement laws, which stipulate open and competitive bidding for government contracts?

A CCTV network is valuable. The surveillance of public areas, such as car parks, housing estates and town centres is increasingly commonplace. The CCTV systems are used to monitor public areas to detect incidents and to co-ordinate police responses; record events for use as evidence and to inform investigations; direct surveillance of suspected offenders and deter criminal activity. Research shows that people are very accurate when identifying familiar faces, even from poor quality CCTV footage. It indicates this advantage is not restricted just to highly familiar faces. So, circulating to the public even poor quality CCTV images of people may lead to successful identifications. Research also suggests that circulating stills from the CCTV footage in the print media is likely to be as effective as broadcasting the CCTV footage. For example, the London Nail Bomber was identified when a man who worked closely with him recognised his CCTV image in a London newspaper. Every effort aimed at enhancing national security and enabling security agencies to tackle the intractable security challenge in the country should therefore be undertaken.

But the way the government is going about it makes it an unworkable proposition. It speaks volumes that a government that is purportedly anchored on fighting corruption appears to have closed the chapter on the shambolic implementation of the original CCTV project and decided to “move forward,” as the minister said. What then becomes of the report of the House that indicted and recommended three former ministers and a former Permanent Secretary in the ministry for prosecution for alleged mismanagement of the funds meant for the installation of the cameras? Legal and institutional shortcomings may have a strong impact on the effectiveness of prosecution when investigations target corrupt businessmen or politicians.

The Umaru Yar’Adua administration in 2008 awarded the CCTV contract to ZTE Corporation, a Chinese company, under the National Public Security Communications System. It was slated for completion in May 2011. The project was funded through a $600m credit facility obtained from the Chinese EXIMBANK. That administration reportedly made a down payment of $70.50m, amounting to 15 per cent of the total contract sum and signed a Sovereign Guarantee to the tune of $399.5m to enable ZTE to source the loan from the Chinese government. Sadly, it turned out to be a huge waste of national resources with no one held accountable or brought to book till date with only 40 cameras working, out of the 1,000 installed in Abuja. A total of 2,000 CCTV cameras were to be installed through the project in Lagos and Abuja.

As laudable as the intent of this latest effort might be, it amounts to an overreach for the Federal Government to seek to install CCTV cameras on all the highways across the country. It does not have the capacity to monitor and secure them from rampaging vandals and bandits even if executed. Aside from that, it is tantamount to stretching federal resources too far for a tier of government that borrows for everything to embark on such a grandiose and feel-good project.

Instead, the bill currently before the House of Representatives to mandate private organisations to “install CCTV cameras within and outside their buildings to maintain security, as well as watch out for people’s behaviour if there is any criminal activity within the area” should be fast-tracked and enacted. Titled, ‘Integration of Private Closed Circuit Television Infrastructure into the National Security Network in Nigeria Bill, 2019,’ the proposed law provides for the incorporation of “private CCTV infrastructure into the National Security Network in Nigeria.” This is the practical solution, which tallies with global best practices.

The Federal Government should discontinue this ill-thought-out proposal to install the CCTV cameras on all the highways without further delay. The installation of CCTV cameras should be left for the states and organisations that have the architecture to coordinate their operations at a central place for efficiency. The Lagos State Government in 2016 announced it would install 13,000 CCTV cameras across the state. This should be encouraged.

Previous attempts by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration to sink boreholes and the Yar’Adua administration to construct public health centres across the 774 LGAs turned out as a fiasco.

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