The depth of corruption and incompetence that pervades Nigeria’s public service is on display once again in the unfolding Federal Government’s $430 million surveillance camera contract. Not only has the government wasted a huge sum on another failed project, it may be delaying a similar and more transparent project by the Lagos State Government.
How could this mess be unraveled and the culpable officers brought to book…
The latest national embarrassment involves the Nigeria Public Security Communications System, formed in response to the dire insecurity in the country. A main component of the NPSCS is the installation of Closed Circuit Television Cameras in Abuja, the federal capital, and Lagos, the country’s economic powerhouse.
Among the issues the parliament should demand answers to is why the 2,000 CCTV cameras claimed to have been installed in the two cities are not working. Initiated in 2009, the CCTV project entailed Nigeria making a down payment of $70.5 million (15 per cent) while China’s Eximbank provided the balance of $399.5 million as a loan to be repaid at three per cent interest.
While the project, awarded to China’s ZTE Corporation, has not been completed two years after it should have, the few cameras installed are mere decorations; some have been vandalised, or damaged by exposure. The majority of the cameras have not been installed. Meanwhile, reports from the Federal Capital Territory indicate rampant crime: robberies, house-breaking, carjacking and pickpocketing, with the criminals operating while surrounded by CCTV cameras that don’t work.
This is one scandal that should not be allowed to be swept under the carpet like so many have been. The nation is under siege. Criminal activities have reached a level where an unprecedented number of military units are permanently engaged in internal security operations across the country, even when the country is not facing an external enemy. The Federal Government devoted almost N1 trillion last year and a similar amount this year to security, underscoring the precarious state of public safety. The state governments have similarly taken to allotting ever more resources to funding the police, a federal monopoly under our perverse federal system, while corporate bodies are also providing support. It is sheer callousness and cynical disdain for public safety for some officials to play the usual corrupt games with the CCTV project.
The introduction of CCTV has been one of the best weapons against crime. Across the world, CCTV surveillance has been standardised and is being used in major cities. In the United Kingdom, the average person is likely to be caught on camera as many as 300 times a day. It was CCTV footage that enabled the United States law enforcement officers to quickly identify and track down the perpetrators of the recent Boston Marathon bombing. But Nigerians are paying a heavy price for the corruption of their government and the chicanery of the parliament.
Way back in 2011, the House of Representatives had known that the FG/ZTE contract was faulty. But it did little beyond its usual barking. Nigerians do not know the outcome of the investigation the House ordered its joint committee on public procurement, aid, loans/debt management, information technology and police affairs to conduct into the contract. Hassan Saleh, a member of the House, had alleged that ZTE installed substandard CCTV cameras. His more alarming allegation was that ZTE had built into the agreement a condition that details of the contract should not be made public.
That is a serious issue. Nigerian laws do not permit secrecy in public procurement and all the officials who negotiated this contract should be exposed and severely punished. They should not be allowed to take cover under the guise of national security. Banks, an increasing number of corporate organisations and even individuals, have installed CCTV systems; there is no mystique about it and it is available in the open market.
The Lagos State Government, which has a plan to install 4,000 CCTV cameras to help in crime and traffic management should no longer wait for a Federal Government that continues to exhibit irresponsible behaviour, but should go right ahead with its own solar power-based plan. Other methods such as better streets lighting and more police patrols should be vigorously explored. Other states should immediately follow suit as the security of lives and property of their people is paramount.
The National Assembly should take its oversight function seriously and reopen the CCTV case. ZTE has been enmeshed in controversies elsewhere, such as in Norway, where mobile operator, Telnor, is reportedly reviewing its existing contracts with the Chinese firm, citing breach of code of conduct, while the Philippines cancelled negotiations on installation of a broadband network with ZTE allegedly on ethical grounds. The allegation that N10.8 billion worth of import waivers were granted to ZTE in pursuance of the contract should also be probed.
By PUNCH EDITORIAL BOARD