Insecurity is a major issue confronting the Nigerian government. Families have lost loved ones. Women have become widows overnight. Children have become orphans. The future is cloudy. National development has been affected negatively. Insecurity in the northern and southern part of Nigeria has become a source of concern and heartache to the government. The country’s challenges range from kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry to assassinations, which led to unprecedented loss of life and property and crippled the Nigerian socio-economic development. In the past, insecurity was regionalised, with the militants in control of the south, insurgency in the north, kidnapping in the east and south, ritual killings in the east and west, assassinations across the nation. In this dispensation, no region in Nigeria has a peculiar case of insecurity. We are all deeply affected by this decay.
Many countries have adopted public video surveillance to monitor the populace and curb insecurity. This system enjoys public support because it does not involve intrusion into the lives of the ordinary people.
To curb the insecurity, the Nigerian government made provision for Closed Circuit Television cameras to be installed throughout the country. So, a contract was awarded for CCTV cameras to be installed in some parts of the country.
In August 2010, the Federal Government of Nigeria awarded a contract to a foreign firm, ZTE Corporation, to instal and manage CCTV cameras across the country. The contract was awarded for $470m under the National Public Security Communications System, to build a security network that would help reduce the country’s growing security challenge and revive its ailing economy.
Funded through a $600m credit facility and expected to be completed in May 2011, the project, shortly after its endorsement, was frosted with controversies.
The Chinese firm, operating under its subsidiary, ZTE Nigeria Limited, failed to fulfil the terms of the contract. It delivered a low quality project. The deliverables were substandard and did not, in any way, justify the amount spent by the Nigerian government. The result was that the lives of the citizenry were not protected. As the Nigerian government struggles with funds to deal with insecurity, this is a pathetic blow on the face of all Nigerians. The company has pushed the country a step backward in terms of security with its inefficiency.
ZTE was to supply and instal 2,000 units of solar-powered CCTV cameras in Abuja and Lagos, among other technical services, to monitor criminal activities following series of bombings that trailed the tenure of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration.
But, according to investigations, ZTE had connived with top Nigerian officials to seal the deal and defaulted on critical areas of the contractual terms after receiving $70.5m (15 per cent) mobilisation/counterpart fund from the Nigerian government. In the wake of the controversy, a former Minister of Police Affairs, Caleb Olubolade, not only refused to issue the company a certificate of completion on the contract but also lamented “a shoddy job and poor contract supervision.”
National Assembly probe
Following the failure to act on the report of the previous probe panel of the 7th National Assembly, an ad hoc committee of the succeeding House of Representatives also probed the contract. According to the details of the deal, the cameras were to be accompanied with 37 switch rooms, MW backbone, 37 coalition emergency response systems, 38 video conferencing sub-systems, 37 e-police systems, six emergency communication vehicles and 1.5 million lines for subscription.
In October 2015, the lower legislative house also probed further into the contract, querying the parties involved in the endorsement, the buck-passing on the contract and whether the agency, which acted on behalf of the Nigerian government, had the powers to do so. There was also the concern of whether it was ideal to farm out national security matters to private companies or foreign firms.
Despite claims by the contractor that the $470m CCTV project under the NPSCS was completed and delivered to the Nigerian government in 2012, the ad hoc committee found out that only 40 cameras were functioning across Abuja.
Lack of integrity
Eleven years on, the mounted panels around the Federal Capital Territory are in a deplorable state, while vandals have been helping themselves with the equipment. Unfortunately, the panels lie dilapidated in the heat of the FCT. From all indications, the contract lacked the due diligence required of such a sensitive project, which involved payment of 15 per cent by the Nigerian government and 85 per cent to be paid in 10 years. Neither the demand of the House of Representatives in March 2017 moved ZTE to refund the discrepancy certified after an audit exercise nor the request for it to supply necessary equipment worth the sum, else the government should deduct the same from the outstanding $20.247m.
The house had further requested that a forensic audit of the outstanding be conducted to verify the actual amount paid based on the exchange rate obtainable in 2013, when the contract was signed. In March 2017, the ad hoc committee, which investigated the contract scandal, had recommended the prosecution of the three ministers involved over what it regarded as the “rational and motive for the removal and/or disappearance of the operational and maintenance costs of the project from its initial proposal, as that singular act contributed to the non-performance of the network.”
Then, ZTE was requested to refund the discrepancy amount or supply necessary equipment and spares of commensurate value as may be required by the ministry, otherwise the figure would be deducted from the outstanding $20,247,172 certified by the Ministry of Police Affairs for running the network from January to June 2013.
Part of the complaints also was that ZTE, which caused the serious interruption and failed to fix the network on time, is the same vendor being used for the National Public Security Communication Systems.
“The quality of the system delivered so far denotes the lackluster attitude that the Chinese vendor attaches to its business endeavours. The project delivery schedule was nine months after contract signing, which was May 2011. But till now, the project is barely half-deployed,” the house had argued.
It noted that the quality of the project delivery was very substandard. In the beginning of the project delivery, the solar panels to power the CCTV systems, which have an attendant cost of about $5,000 each, were installed very close to the ground, easily attracting vandals
The Reps said, “Also, some of the poles on which these solar panels are mounted have been found in certain parts of Abuja to be leaning or have completely collapsed only one month after being erected.”
Meanwhile, veteran lawyer, Itse Sagay, was of the view that it was wrong for the Nigerian government to have allowed the Chinese firm to include a clause to keep the transaction under wraps. He said it was also a clear violation of transparency and accountability in the eyes of Nigerians, asserting that the clause was illegal.
His words, “It is contrary to the laws of this country; it is suspicious, even internationally.
“All these things were possible because it is a Chinese firm that is given the contract? There is nothing wrong about that, but where it is wrong is when they try to shroud the deal in secrecy? That is why it is wrong and makes the whole deal very suspicious. What is it that they want to hide? Nigerians should not have allowed such a clause to remain?”
The Internal Security and Intelligence Committee should be constituted in the 9th house to investigate the project and the efficiency of ZTE Communications. This is more critical now, especially since kidnapping in Nigeria has become a recurring decimal.
According to a report by Dataphyte, insecurity has caused over 70,000 deaths in Nigeria between 2012 and 2020, and since 2011, Boko Haram terrorism has led to 37,500 deaths, 2.5 million displacements, and 244,000 refugees.
The report also disclosed that, in just two years, farmer-herder clashes claimed 10,000 lives and resulted in the displacement of 300,000 people, even as Nigeria has one of the worst kidnap-for-ransom cases in the world, with 685 person’s kidnapped in the first quarter of 2019. Between June 2011 and March 2020, Nigerians had paid about $18.34m ransom, as militancy continued to result in kidnapping, unrest and economic distortion.
This gross incompetence by ZTE begs for answers. This project is not a novel innovation. It is rampant in different parts of the world. How can ZTE deliver such substandard project, which has never functioned properly from the day it was installed? With a whopping $470m from tax-payers and given to ZTE, why is it difficult to get ZTE to account for the mismanagement and blatant squandering of our collective sweat? If the project had worked optimally, this would have saved the lives of many of our loved ones. May the souls of our departed loved ones rest in peace.
Hanson is a brand management consultant and public affairs analyst
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