Beset by scandal, the CCTV security project is yet another monument to waste

The House of Representatives’ ad hoc committee set up to investigate the abandoned Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras project recently visited the switch centre at the Nigeria Police headquarters in Abuja. It was not a pleasant trip. The committee, headed by Ahmed Yerima, described the project as a “total and colossal failure”.

Unfortunately, not many Nigerians were shocked by the discovery in what has long been confirmed as another big scam.
The close-circuit cameras were part of the National Public Security Communications System (NPSCS) contract awarded in 2010 to a Chinese company, ZTE Corporation, at $470 million. The Chinese Exim Bank provided $399.5million loan while the federal government paid the balance of 15 per cent, amounting to $70.5 million as counterpart funding. Some 2,000 units of the CCTV cameras were supposed to be installed in Lagos and Abuja. “The purpose of the CCTV contract,” said Yerima, “was to facilitate real time online communication between security agencies to enhance their capacities in fighting crime.”

Indeed, the project was to generate voice, video and data, using the code division multiple access (CDMA) technology to tackle terrorism, armed robberies, kidnapping and other violent crimes that increasingly undermine our security. Sadly, it has become another monument to waste. Six years later, the installed cameras have become mere objects of decoration. Out of the 1,000 cameras in Abuja, only 40 are “online” while the other 960, in the words of one of the police officers manning the centre, “are down” and others vandalised. An angry Tony Nwulu, a member of the visiting House committee said the project was “planned to fail from the beginning because from all indications, all the components didn’t do the right thing.”

That the project designed to enhance national security was meant to fail is indeed an apt summation. The contract for the CCTV installation was awarded without due process and Mr. Emeka Eze, the former Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) confirmed this much. The contract ought to have been accompanied by the certificate of no objection issued by the BPP, which it never did. But the Nigerian Communications Satellite, better known as NigComSat, which acted as consultant of the project, blamed its eventual abandonment on government’s inability to fund the project.

The former Director General of NigComSat, Mr. Ahmed Rufai, who served as a member of the project management team set up by the government blamed the failure to provide the required “operational funds” to run the system after it was completed in 2012 for the problem. The Managing Director of ZTE, Mr. Hao Fuqiang, agrees. The required monthly operational budget for the security project as at 2012 was put at N11 billion. The figure was reviewed downwards to about N5 billion after Rufai’s exit, but funding was still not forth coming. “The situation with the project is like buying a new car and refusing to provide money to buy fuel,” said Rufai. “How will the car function?”

Yet, two years from now, specifically in 2018, the country would be called upon to start paying the principal sum in the CCTV failed contract. Meanwhile, debt servicing alone is already in excess of $42 million.

The CCTV scandal is yet another clear evidence of how corruption and mismanagement are standing in the way of Nigeria’s efforts to upgrade its infrastructure and other vital services. This is even more painful because it is coming at a great cost to the nation. The pertinent question: Just how long shall we allow this country to bleed uncontrollably?