By Chinwe Ochu
It was late 2011 and Nigeria had newly been introduced to bombings and Boko Haram and IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) and panic and the usual international community weigh-in on the matter. The Federal Capital City had become a shadow of itself as the peace sanctuary of Nigeria. Abuja had lost the “no one-would-dare-bomb-us, we-are-the seat-of-government” aura it always pranced around with. It became increasingly insecure to exist in Abuja.
Then, the Federal Government had a light bulb- moment. “Why not install CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) surveillance cameras all over Abuja?” they thought. So at once, the $470 million contract was awarded to the Chinese (who else?) represented by ZTE Corporation and work began in earnest.
Abuja residents noticed strategically- placed 18- feet white poles with cameras overhead. Those were Big Brother and his siblings. They were erected to “watch over the city” and maybe catch bombers.
Many questions saturated everyone’s mind as those cameras were being installed. For simple- minded persons like me, I pondered- Does the government actually know how surveillance cameras work? Have necessary feasibility studies been conducted to ascertain Nigeria’s readiness for such an endeavour? Are we ready for Big Brother now? Do they know that those cameras are electronically- operated? In the long hours a day that PHCN does not power a particular area in Abuja, crime could be perpetuated unnoticed as the cameras will just be a white elephant; a waste of resources. Was that the government’s plan for Big Brother in Abuja? Or would the presence of this surveillance system precipitate constant power supply? That would have been a welcome development.
Also, why those CCTV cameras were not set up on key roads but mostly concentrated on residential streets rang foremost in my mind.
While we all wondered, Abuja residents appreciated the haste and earnestness that brought the CCTV- camera project to birth, since it conveyed renewed assurance on security.
The installations were completed and Abuja waited with bated breaths for the CCTVs to commence work. The blinking red indicators that prove that Big Brother was watching never came on, PHCN did not change their ways in order to power ‘him’, bombings increased, the sense of security fled farther away and Big Brother was confirmed blind. Abuja residents went about their days, disappointed with the Federal Government for yet another postponed expectation.
Fast forward to 2016 and finally Big Brother comes back on the radar. Members of the 8th National Assembly remembers ZTE Corporation, the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) and Nigeria Communications Satellite (NigComSat)- all major players in this debacle and decides to investigate matters.
ZTE Corporation was awarded the $470 million contract for installation of CCTV cameras in Abuja and Lagos, BPP is the federal government agency that confirms that due diligence has been done on contracts awarded and executed by government, while NigComSat was designated as consultants of the project.
On January 28th, the House of Representatives set proceedings in motion, setting up an 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.”
So far, accusations have been flying around as to who blinded Big Brother. According to Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the project has been doused with rumors, half- truths and outright lies.
“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.”
Also, the supposed wardens of the project- BPP and NigComSat who would have delivered genius results are trading blames.
At the public hearing of the House of Representatives committee probing the failed CCTV project in Abuja, Director-General of BPP, Mr. Emeka Eze said that the BPP does not recognize the existence of any award of contract for the installation of CCTV cameras in Lagos and Abuja by the Ministry of Police Affairs.
He said: “Except if it is proven to be a national security since the purported award was made without a Certificate of No objection issued by the Bureau despite the fact that the contract sum exceeded the approval powers of the ministry.”
Passing the blame farther up, Managing Director of NigComSat, Mr. Ahmed Rufai explained that the Federal Government did not provide funds to enable the CCTV cameras become operational, despite having servers installed back in 2011.
He said: “The project couldn’t work because after the completion and handover of the project server to the federal government, the government couldn’t provide enough funds for the entire project to be operational”.
The House’s Ad-hoc Committee will do us all an immense kindness if they delve deep into the bowels of this fiasco and unearth the truth, set the law against relevant actors for the expenditure of public funds where improprieties are detected and give sight to Big Brother.
The security we once had and lost can be regained if the Government sets up a secure communication channel for security agencies in Nigeria. The CCTV servers have been installed in certain areas of the country, installing more and powering them will not be out of place. Nigeria’s days of insecurity, militancy, insurgency and terrorism, with their spiralling effects on regional, national and international socio-economic relations will definitely be numbered if we establish effective communication system for security agencies.
If you missed our reports on the Public Hearing on CCTV project, click on these links- http://www.orderpaper.ng/no-sacred-cows-reps-begin-probe-abuja-cctv-contract/
Ochu is Assistant Editor with OrderPaper.ng