Passengers and other passersby in Abuja, especially within the busy popular Wuse Market area, have tales of agony to tell in the hands of robbers who rob them of their bags, phones, monies and other valuable items. Many of them said that in their bid to struggle to board buses or taxis to their destinations, they are dispossessed of their belongings by petty thieves.
However, since there are at least three Close Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) installed in Wuse Market area with a view to detecting and spotting criminals, the expectation is that these petty robbers can be easily detected by the devices. But the reverse is the case as the robbers continue to operate with impunity. The CCTVs that dot all the major streets of Abuja and even its environs such as Kubwa and Airport road, do not seem to serve the purpose for their installations, giving the rising crime rate every day in the city without solution.
A police officer, who pleaded anonymity, told this paper that every day they get not less than 20 cases of pick-pockets from the Wuse Bus- stop alone, not to talk of other crowded areas in the city. Many times people have fallen victims of theft within the city centers such as car theft and other property but a dash to the nearby police station for complaint and demand for the footage of the camera to be played back, are always turned down with the explanation that ‘those cameras are not function’.
Following the rising spate of crimes the Nigerian government signed the multi-million naira agreement with ZTE, a Chinese firm, to install the CCTV cameras. The project was intended to provide adequate and sophisticated communication system to enable the Nigeria police and other security agencies effectively combat crime in the country. The cameras were to be installed in Abuja, the nation’s federal capital, and Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country, as pilot projects. This was to help curb the rising spate of criminal activities in the cities. About 2,000 CCTV cameras complete with solar-powered terminals were installed in these cities. But about a year down the line, the scheme seems like another white elephant project, while crime rate has remained on the rise.
In the agreement reached with the Chinese government, Nigeria was to make a down payment of 15 percent (about $70.5 million), while Chinese Exim Bank is to provide the balance of 85 percent (amounting to $399.5 million) to be paid back as loan over time by Nigeria. A tripartite agreement was subsequently sealed between the ministries of finance and police affairs, and the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, NIGCOMSAT, for the smooth management of the CCTV scheme. Under the agreement, the Federal Ministry of Finance is designated as the borrower, the Ministry of Police Affairs is classified as beneficiary, while the Nigerian Communications Satellite Limited, NigComSat, is slated as operator. But to facilitate prompt repayment, the agreement allows NigComSat to operate, manage and commercialise the excess capacity of the National Public Security Communication Systems, NPSCS project.
NigComSat is by the contract expected to use the NPSCS platform to provide high-end broadband internet connectivity all over the country and engender virtual private network, VPN, for both public and private institutions. According to Article 2.1 of the agreement, “NigComSat shall operate dedicated account with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, into which all proceeds of the commercialised portion of the project shall be paid and credited. The credited proceeds shall be utilised towards network sustainability and the repayment of the loan from China Exim Bank. NigComSat undertakes to keep proper records of all proceeds realised from the commercial activities and shall render periodically, accounts of such proceeds to the joint project implementation committee or any other authority the committee may designate from time to time.”
Apart from the CCTV cameras within the Abuja metropolis, the federal government had earlier embarked on the installation of 150 units of CCTV cameras at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. This was in the first phase of a project that would eventually see the installation of 400 units of the cameras. The cameras were installed on tall poles along the major roads linking the Lagos airport, especially the international wing. Each of the poles carried at least three cameras, which focused on different directions. Each of the poles painted white was over 20-feet high. But instead of meeting the security needs, the project has been shrouded in controversy.
In the last few months, robbery incidences in the satellite towns of Abuja have been on the increase. The general complaint has been that the security agencies have not been living up to expectation. In fact, the situation seems to be receding into the dark era where residents have to sleep with one eye open. The pain of residents of the FCT especially, is that despite the installation of CCTVs across the city, it has done little or nothing to help the situation.
In 2011, the House of Representatives had queried the $470 million national security communication system contract for the Federal Capital Territory, a situation which prompted the House to ask its joint committee on public procurement, aids, loans/debt management, information technology and police affairs to “investigate the level of compliance with the award and the terms of contract and determine if the execution of the project by ZTE Corporation is in conformity with due process.” The order to investigate and inquire was a result of the motion by a member of the House, Hassan Saleh, who informed his colleagues that $399.5 million of the contract sum would be sourced as a loan from the Chinese government.
“The federal government has made a 15 percent down payment, which amounted to N70.5 million of the total contract sum and has signed a Sovereign Guarantee to the tune of $399.5 million to enable ZTE to source for loan from the Chinese government for the project,” Saleh told the House.
He also told the members that sub-standard CCTV cameras were allegedly being installed by the firm in Abuja, compared to similar projects executed in China, Ghana, Morocco, Senegal and Malaysia. “The poles used are very close to the ground, making them easy targets for vandals, compared to what the same company did in their home country, China, and other countries. He noted that one of the conditions of the contract set by ZTE, is that the, “contractual details of the transaction with the federal government should not be made public,” which implied that the project is actually shrouded in secrecy, a situation the House unanimously agreed was in clear violation of the doctrine of transparency, accountability and infringement of extant laws.
An expert believes that the issue of corrupt practices by those handling the project is also another reason why the said project has failed to yield tangible results, as he stressed that the poor performance of the cameras is also linked to cabals as they reason may not be far from sabotaging what it is intended for. Meanwhile, even as the project has failed to yield results, the Nigerian government is making moves to set up another collaboration with a safety organization in order to install surveillance devices in all the major highways across the country.
Speaking to newsmen in Abuja, Chairman of RAPSON, Mr. Ben Koko Odohofre, said that a committee with members drawn from the State Security Service, SSS; the Nigeria Police; Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO); Federal Ministry of Transport; Ministry of Works; Ministry of Justice and Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) would work with the organisation. The project will take off in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt, while a retreat and action plan will also be organized.”
Speaking further, he said that “Government would fine offenders while the percentage of money realized from the fines would be shared between government and RAPSON. Government would provide the agencies that would drive the project and the police will arrest the offender. The police would arrest the offenders; that is why we are asking the police for 5,000 men.”
Meanwhile, in what looks like the project has become a double failure, ZTE Nigeria Limited, the Chinese company handling the Close Circuit Television cameras installation aspect of the Nigeria Public Security Communication System (NPSCS), has allegedly effected the sack of Nigerian workers among its workforce.
Details provided by some affected staff indicated that the already troubled firm has sacked 13 staff in its Abuja office. Another batch of 30 was alleged to have been sacked at its Lagos office this year alone. Last year, the company sacked more than 50 per cent of its Nigerian staff, according to available details. One of the sacked workers, who did not want to be named, disclosed that the management told them they were being laid off on the grounds of “redundancy”.
On whether they were paid any severance benefits, he said: “they said they would pay us off February ending. So we will know by February ending if they will actually deliver on their promise”. Officials of the National Union of Postal and Telecommunication Employees had end of last year sealed off the Lagos and Abuja offices of ZTE on allegation of ill treatment of Nigerian workers.
President of the Union, Sunday Alhassan, told journalists that the protest followed several failed attempts to dialogue with the management of the company. He alleged that the workers were subjected to long work hours and denied payment of their entitlements.
Sources close to the issue have alleged that the recent sack targeting Nigerian workers may not be unconnected with their agitation for better service conditions. It was also alleged that without adequate intervention the sacked workers may never get their severance pay. It is also on note that following petitions of allegations over the claimed sub-standard job being executed by the firm, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Procurement, Aid, Loan and Debts Management and Information Technology in December 2011, launched an investigation into the $470 million CCTV project.
The project was expected to have been delivered in July 2011, according to the contract terms, but so far there is no handing over date in sight. The project is funded by a $470 million credit facility obtained from EXIMBANK China secured as a soft credit line with 3 per cent interest repayable in 10 years after an initial 10 years of grace.
Part of the requirement in the contract terms is the provision of wireless voice service for the Nigeria Police Force, but this has been faced with hiccups with yet no clear solution. Eyebrows have also been raised about the efficiency of the CCTVs installed under the project, which is aimed at enhancing public safety and helping Security Agencies curtail crimes. ZTE got this very big public safety projects but appears to lack the commitment in the execution and delivery to the Nigerian government.
A 10- Man committee was sent to China on a one –week trip allegedly sponsored by ZTE in April, 2012 on a fact finding mission of projects previously executed by the firm in China with a view to comparing the standard of work done there to what was being done in Nigeria. But findings from their investigation are yet to be