By Murphy Ganagana
Alejandro Francisco Herrero, Ambassador of the Republic of Argentina to Nigeria, would be sleeping with an eye open. On Sunday, March 14, 2021, a suspected armed robber scaled the fence of his residence on No. 9 Rio Djenerio Close in the highbrow Maitama district of Abuja.
His uninvited guest from the underworld came under the cover of darkness at about 4:10a.m on an evil mission which the police suspected to be robbery. A swift response by police operatives following a distress call to the Maitama Division of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) police command aborted the act, but the suspected robber slipped through a security net woven around the scene of crime.
Though the police succeeded in foiling the robbery and averted an embarrassment to the nation in the diplomatic community, efforts to resolve the puzzles on the security breach seem to be a befuddling steeplechase.
There are no Close Circuit Television (CCTV) security cameras on the streets of the nation’s capital to provide a clue for the police in tracking the movement of the suspected robber, as the cameras mounted about 11 years ago on poles across some areas in the city had gone blank shortly after activation. Others had since been vandalized.
In an effort to emplace a robust platform in furtherance of national security, the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo initiated a National Public Security Communication System (NPSCS) in its second term, but the implementation commenced under the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, which awarded the contract to a Chinese firm, ZTE Nigeria Limited in August, 2010, at a cost of $470 million.
The project which was scheduled for completion in May 2011, was funded through a $600million credit facility obtained from the Chinese EXIMBANK, and the contract was awarded under the Ministry of Police Affairs. The pilot phase was to cover three states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), including Lagos and Port Harcourt.
It was later to be extended to all the 36 states of the federation with a wide scope covering the deployment of five components, including the Video Surveillance System which is said to be less than 15 per cent of the entire project; the Global open Trunking architecture (GoTa) Communication Network; Video Conferences System; E-Policing Subsystem and the Emergency Collation Response Subsystem, all of which were to ensure a comprehensive, effective, modern and robust public security communication technology.
The loan secured by the Federal Government to finance the CCTV camera project had three per cent interest repayable in 10 years, after an initial 10 years of grace, and it was specifically meant for the project in line with the conditions for granting credit facilities by the Chinese Government.
Curiously, the CCTV cameras went blank shortly after activation of the pilot phase in Abuja and Lagos, which had cameras sparsely mounted at some sensitive areas, after which the project has been moribund for nine years with no plausible reasons offered by those involved in the implementation, including the Presidency and the Ministry of Police Affairs, through which the contract was awarded.
Ironically, Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance says while the Federal Government was servicing the $600millon loan obtained for the project, she had no clue on why it went under. “We are servicing the loan, but on the project, we will have to ask the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) authority because the project was deployed in the FCT. I have no information on the status of the CCTV”, she told an ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives.
The minister’s response opened a new dimension in the CCTV saga, amidst allegations that besides the $470million NPSCS contract awarded by the Federal Government through the Ministry of Police Affairs, the FCT Administration also awarded another CCTV contract for Abuja during the tenure of Alhaji Bala Mohammed, as minister.
Hon. Bello Kumo, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Police Affairs, confirmed that the contract for the CCTV project in the FCT was duplicated.
Kumo, who extricated himself of involvement in the controversial project, told Sunday Sun what he knew about it.
Hear him: “I was not even in the House when the project was initiated. I only came to the House in 2011. Sambo (Namadi) was the vice president, but he inherited the project. The project was conceived during Obasanjo’s tenure and the loan was secured during Yar’Adua. Obasanjo kick-started the whole process and I am saying this because I am the chairman of the House Committee on Police Affairs now and I have an idea.
“It was Adamu Waziri that was the police minister when the project was conceived. There are two different CCTV issues. There is the one that has to do with the former Minister of Police Affairs, Adamu Waziri, and there is one under Bala Mohammed, the present governor of Bauchi State as minister of FCT. It is the same CCTV loan, and it is also not functioning”.
However, Waziri declined comments on the issue when contacted by Sunday Sun last Tuesday on the telephone. Speaking through his Special Adviser on Media, Comrade Muktar Gidado, Waziri said that he was ready to clarify issues if formally requested to do so by the FCTA.
“I think we should make it official because the government is a continuum. You may please contact the FCT administration on the issue for clarification. It is when they invite him to come and make clarifications, then, he will do so. But as of now, if I go and tell him what you are asking, that is what he is going to say and I think I subscribe to it”, Gidado said.
Efforts by Sunday Sun to get a reaction from former Vice President, Namadi Sambo, who reportedly supervised the execution of the moribund NPSCS project met a brick wall, as he neither responded to calls put across to his mobile phone nor short message service (SMS) sent to him.
The situation was the same when efforts were made to contact former police minister, Adamu Waziri, to clarify what went wrong with the project. His phone did not go through despite several attempts and an SMS sent to him was not replied as at press time.
Keen observers in the security and intelligence community blamed the failure of the project on lack of interest by the Federal Government to provide funds for the running and maintenance of the network, a situation that forced the Chinese contractors into a dilemma, after exhausting their counterpart funds for the project.
This was confirmed by a former Inspector General of Police (IGP), who spoke with Sunday Sun in Abuja, but does not want his name mentioned. He said that the CCTV cameras went blank because the counterpart funding from the government was not forthcoming.
“The CCTV was working, but because of the light issue, irregular power supply, I think that was where the problem started from; because it was supposed to be running on diesel. So, if you are going to be running it on diesel, the allocation has to be put in place. So, the Chinese did it for some time and when funding from the government was not there, they shut down.
“During my time, I brought it to the knowledge of the government. They held some meetings, but along the line, they just lost interest. The government lost interest and the Chinese people said they were being owed some money. It was a joint venture project, but it was an investment by the Chinese people and it was supposed to have a counterpart funding.
“You know how the Chinese operate; they don’t just give you money on loan. The loan was domiciled at NEXIM bank or so, and they were the ones to take the money to do the contract, but there was supposed to be counterpart funding. So, when there is a breach in the contract; when the other people have done their own bit and the receiving end is not doing their own bit, that was when the thing failed”.
The ex-police chief who described the issues surrounding the failure of the project as very complex, added: “It was a joint venture and there were a lot of government agencies that were involved, it was not just something between the police and the Chinese. The Space Agency was involved, NCC was involved, and some other groups. It is something you have to take a whole time to be able to bring the facts out; it’s more complex than what you are just seeing from the surface.
“The main reason the project is not running was because the government owed the Chinese counterpart funding, and since they refused to pay, the Chinese also withheld their own funding. I don’t have the details and whatever I am telling you now, is just from the surface. But I remember that Chief Emeka Offor was also trying to buy into the project, but the whole thing is complex; it’s so complex.
“But it was between the Ministry of Police Affairs and the supervisory department which was the Office of the Vice President under Namadi Sambo, but it is more complex than what we are talking about. It is like the more you look, the less you see. But for you to do a good job, you have to look into all those involved, the Space Agency (NIGCONSAT), NCC (National Communications Commission), the Ministry of Police Affairs, and then, Namadi Sambo. This is because there were meetings and committees were set up; there was even a committee under VP Osinbajo when he came back. It’s a complex issue”.
Interestingly, in its response to Sunday Sun enquiries on the CCTV project, the Ministry of Police Affairs was silent on why the project has been comatose for almost a decade and the monetary loss occasioned by the theft, vandalization or damage of already installed cameras and other equipment in Abuja and Lagos.
It was also not forthcoming with the actual cost of the project, how much the Federal Government had used in servicing the loan annually, and what is left to be paid.
In an electronic response to Sunday Sun enquiries, the ministry’s Head, Press and Public Affairs, Bolaji Kazeem, said that efforts were ongoing to reactivate the project.
His words: “Federal Government has started the process to reactivate the CCTV project in view of the strategic position of the project to the national security of the country. The Minister of Police Affairs, Muhammad Maigari Dingyadi has taken it as one of the priority projects that would enhance the efficiency of the security operative and has directed that the management of the Ministry to remove any hindrances that would stall the reactivation of the CCTV project.
“Action has commenced with relevant government agencies and necessary official procedures ongoing towards the actualization of the project. As you may be aware that the project was abandoned during the tenure of previous administration and this present government is keen to reactivate the project based on its security significance to the nation.
“The Ministry took the issue of the reactivation of CCTV project to the Federal Executive Council for concession of the project based on Public Private Partnership (PPP) which was approved by the Federal Executive Council. The concessionaire was selected from among private organizations that bid for the project and the winner has started working to resuscitate the project”.
It was, however, a different ballgame at the Nigeria Communications Commission, which washed its hands off the project.
Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, director, Public Affairs, said that the agency had nothing to do with the CCTV project.
“NCC had nothing to do with the project; we only dealt with projects relating to telecommunications. So, I can’t answer any questions on this topic. If it’s a project relating to telecommunications, then we can speak on it, but as far as I know, we were not involved in any CCTV project,” he insisted.
The Nigeria Communication Satelite Limited (NIGCOMSAT), however, confirmed its involvement in the project, but said that the agency acted as a consultant.
Adamu Idris, general manager, Corporate Affairs, told Sunday Sun on Wednesday, that NIGCOMSAT was appointed a consultant at no cost to the project, “to manage, operate the network as well as commercialize the excess capacity on the network after completion and handover vide a tripartite agreement dated 24th December 2012 and signed by Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Police Affairs and NIGCOMSAT Ltd”.
He further clarified that in providing support as an appointed consultant, the agency envisaged from the outset that the project execution would be holistic, including network development and deployment, training and after-sales support and expandable to accommodate the Nigeria Police Force as the primary user, and other principal national security agencies.
These included the Military, Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, Office of the National Security Adviser, the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS), Federal Fire Service (FFS), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NCSDC), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), among others.
“Yes, NIGCOMSAT being an appointed consultant to the project, the implementation of the NPSCS project started in January 2011 and was about ninety-five per cent (95%) completed in December 2012. The Video Surveillance subsystem, through which 2,000 CCTV cameras were installed in Abuja and Lagos as a pilot phase, is the easily noticed component”.
Idris, however, said that the question on what stalled the project will be best answered by the project owner – Ministry of Police Affairs and the major project user, the Nigeria Police Force.
In response to Sunday Sun enquiries, the Police Force Headquarters said on Thursday, that the CCTV system meant for national security operations was to serve as a common platform for information sharing for the Nigeria Police and other government security agencies, but it worked in Abuja and Lagos only for the six-month test-running period.
Frank Mba, a Commissioner of Police and Force Public Relations Officer, said that none of the past Inspectors General of Police were involved in the implementation of the project since it was a Federal Government project implemented in conjunction with the Ministry of Police Affairs.
“It was not a police implemented programme and none of the past IGPs was directly involved in its implementation. The Nigeria Police is only an end user. Successive IGPs had attempted to reactivate and shoulder the running cost of the project, but the cost implication is too enormous and too prohibitive for the Force to bear”, Mba noted.
He said that the police was reactive in most instances to incidents of crime due to the challenges occasioned by non-availability of CCTV cameras in policing the FCT and other cities nationwide.
“There are a few functional surveillance cameras within the FCT metropolis at the moment. However, the situation is a far cry from what is needed to police FCT metropolis and its environs optimally.
“Some challenges occasioned by non-availability of CCTV include inability to do real-time monitoring of black spots or flash points and difficulties in detecting crime after its commission. This has made the Police reactive sometimes and not as proactive as the Force will wish to be. These have generally impacted negatively on the ability of the police to deliver on its mandate effectively”.
Mba confirmed that the project has been concessioned by the Federal Government through the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for it to be reactivated and upgraded, adding that “we hope that this new development will lead to a possible turnaround of the situation for good”.
He dismissed insinuations that the project was stalled due to conflict of interests.
“There is no conflict of interest. It is a Federal Government project meant for all Government Security Agencies (GSAs). The Police is the major end-user due to its large coverage, nationwide presence and its lead position in internal security”.
However, a former IGP who craved anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue spoke of a power play in some circles.
“I had personally been accused on several occasions on the failure of the project, but I know nothing about it. I was never there. At a point in time, the military, the office of the NSA and other security organizations like the SSS claimed they needed to be part of the project, but anyway, it was about national security; that was why they brought them in and that was why we all went under the National Security Adviser.
“At a point in time there was power play among the key actors in the project, but I don’t really know what happened. But I think there was a problem. VP Sambo was overseeing the contract because it was under the Ministry of Police Affairs. So, if anybody should know about what happened to the project, it is himself and the police minister at that time, Adama Waziri, both of whom were good friends. Some of the equipment was brought and installed in Abuja. We started the project in Lagos, and I remember because I went to Lagos. If you go to the police headquarters, that is where they installed the control centre at the back”.
Also speaking on the stalled CCTV project on condition of anonymity, another ex-IGP lamented the level of corruption in the country and the failure of the National Assembly as well as other relevant agencies to probe the controversial project diligently and conclusively.
“The CCTV Project started before my tenure, I think from Obasanjo’s time, but I don’t know what happened. During my time, it worked a bit, but it was not everywhere, it was not all over Abuja. The National Assembly was to investigate what happened to that project. Why did they not do it? I read it in the newspapers that there was going to be an investigation by the committees on police affairs at the Senate and the House of Reps, but nothing happened.
“Who are the people who took the loan? Who are the contractors? Who supervised it? Who has the oversight functions to make sure that the contract was executed? Was it the Federal Executive Council that awarded the contract? If it was the Federal Executive Council, who did they award it to? There are a lot of questions, but only in Nigeria do things like this happen. They will make noise about it, but everybody will go and sleep. Overnight, they will forget it and move on.
“It is a shame that in a city like Abuja, there is no CCTV camera. If something happens, they expect the police to do wonders. In Nigeria now, you cannot step out of your room without looking back and front; you can’t. At that time we were shouting, telling the government that the future is terrible, that the road ahead is tough, rough and very bloody, but they didn’t take it seriously. We are getting what we deserve. God cannot come from heaven to come and do it for us; we have to do it ourselves. In a country where security is not taken seriously, what do you expect?
“But I tell you, corruption in government, what our senators, governors, House of Reps members, local council chairmen, what they do; a policeman will not see that type of money in the next 100 years. Check as big as Abuja is, we have more than four million buildings; find out how many fine houses belong to a policeman, serving or retired. How many?”
Sadly, while intrigues, suspense and a barrage of questions have trailed the moribund NPSCS project for nine years, no plausible reason has been adduced for the ill-fate that befell it. The answer, perhaps, lies in the womb of time.