The $398m police communications project scam

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THE colossal sum of $398 million (about N67 billion) the Ministry of Police Affairs has spent to provide a largely non-functional public security communications system across the country is a repugnant addition to the ever-growing list of egregious cases of official corruption and incompetence. At a time the nation is mired in insecurity and increasing threats of fresh trouble, some public officers have exhibited the worst form of graft, ineptitude and levity in the management of resources and measures meant to rein in rampaging insurgents and other purveyors of criminality. This case rankles even more because the Police Force is not weary of complaining of lack of funds and equipment to fight crime. 

     The communications project would have afforded the Nigeria Police an opportunity of having equipment that its counterparts in advanced nations deploy to fight crime and check insecurity. The project, which would have helped to tackle bombings, kidnappings and terrorism was originally initiated in March 2008 when a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Messrs ZTE Corporation of China and the Federal Government of Nigeria when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua  visited the Peoples Republic of China. The MoU was aimed at the deployment of a comprehensive and modern national public security  communications system by ZTE Corporation in Nigeria. 

   The project was meant to provide five main components and subsystems including Main Switch Centres (MSC) with one each in Abuja and Lagos, as well as 12 base transmitting station (BTS) sites that would provide the Internet Protocol (IP) Cloud for various applications, an e-policing system that would facilitate the deployment of e-policing databases. Other functions of the project include a video conferencing subsystem for all commands of the Nigeria Police and Force Headquarters, a national emergency response system for emergency calls by citizens to the Nigeria Police nationwide, and video surveillance subsystem through which 2,000 CCTV cameras are to be installed in Abuja and Lagos. It is sad that some of the components of the projects that have been delivered are abandoned and not functional while others like the nationwide emergency response infrastructure are yet to be delivered.   

      Expectation was that the police would be excited at the prospect of the provision of the $398 million by the Federal Government to procure the equipment needed to tackle insecurity and that all concerned would eagerly nurture the project to fruition. Rather the opportunity has been squandered on the altar of greed.

   In most cases of corruption in the Police, including the looting of the Force’s pension fund, the culprits have always been the senior police officers, the ones who misappropriate the funds meant to equip the police and improve the welfare of the officers. And apparently taking a cue from their leaders, the junior officers have  perfected the art of making the citizens cater for them. Thus instead of prompt response to a citizen’s complaint at a police station, officers would demand ‘mobilisation.’ By this they mean that the complainant should provide funds to repair their faulty vehicles if at all they are available, fuel them and  satisfy their hankering for unearned perks for their service. It is indeed disheartening that police stations look the same way from year to year; there is no improvement, while police officers themselves pay for their service uniforms meant to be provided by the Government.  Many of them appear so wretched and unkempt on account of abandonment by the nation they are serving.

    This state of affairs tends to lend credence to the clamour by some stakeholders for the establishment of state police as a means of decentralising this vital security agency of government, ensuring effectiveness and curbing corruption. 

    For the police to effectively protect life, fight crime and discharge other responsibilities, it must first purge itself of the proclivity for corruption. Such purging should begin with the senior police officers. The government should deem it a matter of urgent national importance to initiate measures for financial probity in the organisation. It should begin by probing the fraud in the bungled acquisition of the $398 million security communications project and bring the culprits to book. 

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