At a time the country is in dire need of enhanced security surveillance to combat insecurity, especially the onslaught of the rampaging Boko Haram sect, Nigerians learnt during the week that the N76 billion Abuja Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) project, which drew superlative praises from Vice President Namadi Sambo at its handover two years ago, never really took off.
The contract, formally known as the National Public Security Communications Systems Project, was conceptualized by the Umaru Yar’Adua administration to provide a multimedia communication system for the police and other security agencies in the country. When completed, it was expected to generate voice, video and data, using the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology, as a key component of the war against terrorism and violent crimes in the country. It was designed to operate through two Main Switch Centres in Abuja and Lagos, with 12 Base Station Controllers and over 600 Base Transmitting Station sites.
However, as insecurity continues to flourish in Abuja and other parts of the country, Nigerians are now being treated to shameless buck-passing on the failure of the project. From the presidency to the police; the FCT administration to ZTE Corporation (the Chinese company that handled the contract, and which insists it was completed and delivered on schedule), and the Nigerian Communication Satellite (NigComSat) mandated to supervise the project on behalf of the Nigerian government, arguments are flying back and forth on who has responsibility for the project.
Today, after the rude awakening of the terrorist attack at the Nyanya bus terminal, all we have to show for the N76 billion ($420 million) investment are vestiges of what ought to be our Abuja CCTV dream: vandalized and broken-down equipment, looted solar panels and camera heads with no cameras on them – the cameras having since been stolen. Many of the equipment, especially those erected along the expressways, have also been pulled down and destroyed by vehicles that crash into them.
Incidentally, until the Nyanya attack again threw up the paucity of effective security surveillance in the FCT, it would seem everyone had since moved on from this contract and was looking out for the next. In fact, but for the alleged eagle eye of a top functionary of the Police Affairs Ministry and the Bureau for Public Procurement, the presidency would have paid out another N3 billion as terminal consultancy fee on the same CCTV project – even as the equipment were not in use.
The CCTV project is too important to be treated with levity. That is why we must get to the bottom of this matter. All those involved in the award, execution, supervision and delivery of the project must be called to account.
At what level of completion was the project when it was handed over to Nigeria by the Chinese contractors? What arrangement was put in place for spare parts, maintenance and other after-delivery issues? How about the responsibility for ensuring the security of the equipment? What was the level of involvement of the police and other security agencies in this project? How come it was abandoned soon after installation? What is the level of culpability of all the agencies involved and the contractor?
Even if the country were not currently at a critical security crossroads, $420 million is too huge a sum to flush down the drain – all in the name of a failed or abandoned contract. It is a national embarrassment that we sank a whopping N76 billion on security cameras in Abuja, yet we are unable to capture images of the terrorists who have been wreaking havoc in and around the federal capital. How come, this same security equipment, that has been reported to be working well in some other places, is non-functional in Abuja? How did Nigeria still manage to make so much financial outlay on a project that was originally billed to be financed by the Chinese Exim Bank? What manner of impunity and greed emboldened those behind this monumental disgrace to submit another claim for further payment in lieu of “contingency and consultancy fees”, for services rendered over five years? If the Chinese firm that handled the project duly completed and tested it before handing it over to the federal government, why has it remained non-functional ever since? What role did the National Communications Commission (NCC) play in all these? Did the commission eventually resolve the controversy on the transmission broadband/platform allocated to the project, which reportedly led to some hitches? These are critical questions that will help us deconstruct the failure of this project.
We, therefore, call for a comprehensive probe of this project. All those found culpable for its failure must be made to either cough out the contract sum or deliver what we paid for.
Above all, however, everything that is necessary must be done to ensure that the CCTV project becomes operational to ensure proper surveillance of Abuja. It is only when this is done that we can work on expanding the project to cover the city’s satellite towns, which were not captured in the pilot project, as well as other vulnerable parts of the country.