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Failed CCTV project: Who takes the blame?

Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye   

A drive around Asokoro, Wuse II, Garki area of Abuja, you are bound to see what was supposedly meant to provide voice, video and data using the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology to aide security agencies in combating terrorism and other violent crimes in the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and other cities across Nigeria, lie in ruin.

They littered everywhere. It is a public knowledge that this facility has not done its job of helping to track criminals in the seat of power. Instead, the carcasses have become some sort of a shade for the scorching sun for residents of Abuja. In some places those selling airtime station their tables under the shades.

The late President Umaru Yar’Adua’s administration had awarded the $470 million contract to the Chinese firm, ZTE Corporation, in August 2010. The project, which was funded through a $600 million credit facility obtained from the Chinese EXIMBANK, was slated for completion in May 2011.

Part of the project consisted of the installation of Close Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV), in many parts of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. The NPSCS project is based on the Global Open Trunking Architecture (GoTa), a new technology that provides strategic telecommunications solutions to targeted clientele.

The then Minister of Finance, Olusegun Aganga, was the leader of Federal Government’s delegation to Beijing where the loan agreement for the project was signed with the Chinese EXIMBANK in June 2010. Also in the delegation were the then Minister of Police Affairs, Adamu Waziri and the then Inspector-General of Police, Halfiz Ringim. The project was expected to create a dedicated trunk system for inter-agency communications and linkages as well as remove critical national security agencies from private network operators and service providers.

In October 2015, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), sent a passionate letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him to reopen an investigating into the failed CCTV contract in the Federal Capital Territory, especially in the Abuja metropolis, which was completed in 2012 but the cameras never identified any criminal, including suicide bombers.

The group stated that between 2010 when the project was initiated and 2015, Abuja has come under seven deadly attacks, leaving scores of people dead and properties worth billions of naira destroyed. But no criminal or terrorist was identified by the cameras, the group said, wondering whether the entire project was a complete waste.

Following the April 14 bomb explosion that claimed over 100 lives in Nyanya, a suburb of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, CACOL flayed the then administration Jonathan Government over the poor handling of the  N76 billion National Public Security Communications System Project in the city.

“Unfortunately, the solar panels and batteries of the CCTV have been stolen while some cameras that were installed along the expressways and major roads in the city of Abuja have been crushed by vehicles involved in accidents,” lamented CACOL Chairman, Debo Adeniran.

“Spending billions (of Naira) on such project without any good result to show for it is a waste of public fund. As a matter of fact, spending N76 billion on just 1000 CCTV is the highest height of corruption,” he said.

“Your Excellency sir, the questions begging for answers on this white elephant project are: How much did each camera circuit cost? Does it mean that a whooping N75 million was paid for each camera? Does it mean that no government agency was saddled with the responsibility of keeping watch on the cameras? What was the arrangement put in place to manage the project after the company that did the work handed it over? Nigeria is one absurd country where projects are awarded without plans of maintenance.”

The group had called on the FCT minister to see it as part of his major duty to ensure that lives and properties are protected since the purpose of governance is to assure the welfare and security of the people.

“It is against this background, therefore, that we now urge your office to diligently investigate the procedure of the contract award and executions as well as probe individuals and firms that participated in the failed project.

“This means someone should be held responsible for the failure of this project. Enough of spending billions of taxpayers’ money on white elephant projects! An investigation should be conducted to expose whosoever defrauded the country to the tune of N76bn on a project that never worked.”

At the beginning of 2016, the House of Representatives began proceedings in motion to investigate circumstances behind the award of contracts for installation of CCTV cameras in the FCT and Lagos State in 2011. Speaker Dogara Yakubu said the move was to avail the law makers the “opportunity to assure Nigerians, that (they) will unravel and eliminate all defects in this contract imbroglio and ensure that the intent, which is to set up a secure communication channel for security agencies in the country is realized and shall not hesitate to hold to account the relevant actors for the expenditure of public funds where improprieties are detected.”

According to him, the lawmakers are ensuring public accountability, subsequent to the House’s 8th October 2015 resolve to set up Ad-Hoc Committee to holistically investigate the circumstances of the award of the contract for the installation of CCTV cameras and the failure of ZTE Corporation to complete the contract:

“Contemporary discourse on Nigeria is almost inevitably replete with issues surrounding insecurity, militancy, insurgency, and terrorism, with their spiraling effects on regional, national and international socio-economic relations. The role of an effective communication system for security agencies, cannot therefore, to my mind, be overstated. This Public Hearing should therefore be seen as a deliberate effort to ensure that the lives and properties of Nigerians are safeguarded through a responsive system, and that there is transparency and accountability in the deployment of government funds within the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

“The 8th Assembly, under my leadership, is herein committing itself, to remain unflinching in its resolve to restate the security arrangement by ensuring an effective and efficient delivery of a seamless operationalization of National Public Security Communication System (NSPSCS) project, encompassing e-policing system, emergency response, video surveillance and audio/video communication channels for related security agencies, as a supportive means to restoring stability to the Nigerian state to facilitate  the socio economic growth and development of the people of our country.

“Reports making the rounds that the country entered into a loan agreement with the Chinese EXIM Bank for a financing arrangement that did not take cognizance of the project cycle, focusing mainly on supplies and offshore arrangements; allegations regarding the slapdash implementation of the project of such national security relevance, abdication of effective project and financial standard management and accountability, and weakening of the public treasury by defrayed tax payments and irascible expenditures that have not been properly accounted to Government are unquestionably worthy of investigation.”

Dogara urged all members of the Ad-Hoc Committee to deal with the issues as raised “with every sense of diligence and resonance. The era of bloated and ineffectual contracts, that have their beginnings and endings in the mesh of corrupt activities, should be committed to the annals of history, as we seek to turn a new leaf in building a more secure country

“May I further implore Members of the Ad-Hoc Committee to carry-out this investigation thoroughly, succinctly without let or hindrance by studying the memoranda submitted, and to give to all concerned stakeholders the opportunity to fully make their submissions so as to assist the committee in situating where the problems lie and making profound recommendations to the House.”

Former Managing Director of Nigcomsat, Timasaniyu Ahmed-Rufai, had while appearing before the House of Representatives  Ad-Hoc Committee Investigating, CCTV project was fully completed by the then contractor,  ZTE Nigeria Limited but that the Federal Government failed to operate and maintain the project. He said the contract was awarded through a presidential approval, explaining  that projects which border on national security do not have to pass through the Bureau for Public Procurement BPP as the president has discretionary powers to approve them.

He said the company’s team of 25 engineers “went to every location to verify different stages of the project” and issued Acceptance Certificates after which payments were made to the contractor:

“There were milestones that were all carefully and professionally observed by the project implementation team. As the project consultant, I stand by every payment that was made and every decision taken on the project. The project was completed, tested and every component was working.

“It is erroneous for anyone to call the project a CCTV project because the Video Surveillance System (VSS) is even less than eight per cent on the project. There were five components and they were all completed.”

When asked why the cameras in Abuja and Lagos were not working currently, Ahmed-Rufai likened what  happened to someone who bought a brand new car and refused to fuel it:

“They had to power down the backbone for the communication system because government was not forthcoming in maintaining and operating the system. It is a complete communication system, there were phones for security agencies, they were special phones for security agencies which some people decided to lock up somewhere.  

“There were emergency communication vehicles, they were all delivered, People were trained, from the police and other agencies but somehow some people decided not to operate the system. Those cameras depend on a backbone that has over 670 base stations. Those BTS has to be powered for the cameras to work.”

ZTE Nigeria Managing Director, Mr. Hao Fuqiang, who also spoke at the sitting of the committee said contrary to public perception, the project was not to merely install  cameras  but one  conceived  to deploy  comprehensive, reliable, modern and robust  public security communications technology.

The then Director General of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), Emeka Eze, said the contract was illegal as it did not follow due process. He claimed the project was not known to the BPP and therefore did not receive a certificate of no objection:

“The contract for the installation of CCTV Cameras in Abuja and Lagos under the National Public Security Communication System project was not processed at the Bureau of Public Procurement prior to award. In other words, the project was not issued a due process certificate of no objection by the BPP.

“Considering the purported cost of contract in US$470 million, the contract ought to have been accompanied with a certificate of no objection issued by the BPP.”

While the arguments of the legality or otherwise of the projects continue, some of the CCTV stands have been knocked down by motorists, some have become free billboards for all kinds of posters, some have been vandalised with the solar panels, CCTV and other accessories, including the mast, disappearing.

So, who takes the blame for the failure of this project? Why has the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), not beam its searchlight on this projects. This is the question and concern that will continue to envelop many Abuja residents.

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