Insecurity: What Becomes Of Abuja’s N76bn CCTV Contract?
FIRST, it was the misleading address given on the website of ZTE Communications, the digital company that was awarded a $470million (N76bn) contract to install Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and environs in order to check security breach.
For a company with acclaimed global recognition, the instinct was to contact them on their website. What The Guardian did not know, however, was that it would be a wild goose chase to No 5 Dep Street, off Danube Street in Maitama, the Abuja address on the site. Efforts were made to speak to someone on the numerous telephone numbers on the site. But none was functional!
The property located at Danube Street was deserted, having only a uniformed security guard and a local mai-guard who sells daily needs in the gatehouse. The security guard told The Guardian that the company had moved to another area, which description he gave as Gana Street, also in Maitama. One wonders why the website has not displayed any update of such relocation alongside new telephone lines, as the case may be.
At Gana Street, no one seemed to know what ZTE Communications denotes, as there is no signpost to show the presence of the company there. Upon further inquiry, a young man asked to know if the company is a new entrant to the area. With an answer in the affirmative, the man pointed to a building not far away.
The first hurdle was to confirm if the building indeed houses ZTE Communications. One of the security guards did so. It seemed the obstacles were over but the entire work force of ZTE Communications was on lunch break and wouldn’t be back until 2pm! It was past 12pm and the guard advised the reporter to come back anytime from 2pm.
Back at No. 29, Gana Street, Maitama, at 2pm, the same guard told the reporter to wait while he went inside the building to inform ZTE of her presence. The wait lasted more than 10 minutes. When eventually the guard returned, he said none of the Nigerians on the work force volunteered to come and see the reporter. He subsequently talked to a male Chinese who directed him to a female of the same nationality, who promised to come down and meet the reporter.
In China, security matters are not taken lightly and CCTV cameras are mounted at the entrance to mass residential areas. Could a Chinese company then have dished out non-functioning CCTV cameras to Africa’s most populous nation, and no one is saying anything about it? …Since the project was initiated with installation of cameras and allied equipment in the FCT and environs, the city had not rested from bomb attacks.
Two pick-up vans with the inscription ‘Ministry of Police Affairs’ formed part of an array of vehicles in the compound. While the conversation with the guard went on, one of the vans drove out with a member of staff of the company. The other with registration number FG181A23 remained on standby.
The security guard was not in the know of the reporter’s identity. She only told him she had come to make enquiries. Had she been a prospective customer, would there have been no one to speak with on operations of the company?
A second time, the security man climbed up again to tell the Chinese lady that the visitor was still waiting at the gate. Again, he was lost in the building, this time for close to 15 minutes. Inside, the reporter noticed him and the Chinese lady behind a glass window, peeping at the reporter. The guard returned, informing the reporter that the lady said she didn’t know the reporter and so could not talk to her.
At this point, the reporter gave a complimentary card to the guard, for the lady. Five minutes later, a middle-aged Nigerian, who identified himself as Alexandra, came back with the card, demanding to know what the visitor they had kept outside for so long wanted.
The conversation below ensued:
Alexandra: Good afternoon. I understand you wanted to see us.
The Guardian: Yes, please, we want to make enquiries on your company’s operations, as it relates to CCTV cameras.
Alexandra: It is a national security issue and we cannot comment on that.
The Guardian: Yes, the reason we are interested bothers on national security too.
Alexandra: We cannot comment on it.
The Guardian: Are you aware the cameras your company installed are not functional?
Alexandra: We cannot comment on that.
The Guardian: Are you also aware that the National Assembly has already instituted an investigation into the operations of the CCTV cameras, due to recent security breach in the FCT in particular.
Alexandra: We cannot comment on that.
The Guardian: And you in particular are a Nigerian?
Alexandra: We cannot comment on that.
WITH that, Alexandra beckoned to the security guard and began to give him instructions.
In China, security matters are not taken lightly and CCTV cameras are mounted at the entrance to mass residential areas. Could a Chinese company then have dished out non-functioning CCTV cameras to Africa’s most populous nation, and no one is saying anything about it?
Since the project was initiated with installation of cameras and allied equipment in the FCT and environs, the city had not rested from bomb attacks. Quite embarrassing was the one at the Three Arms Zone, which houses the Presidential Villa, the National Assembly Complex and the Supreme Court of Nigeria, on October 1, 2010 during the 50th independence anniversary of the country. Then there was the bombing of the police headquarters, the United Nations building and others.
The question is: where are the monitors of the installed CCTV cameras? The ‘cosmetic’ ones in the FCT are solar powered, so they do not need electricity from the public grid. If the ones in FCT suburbs are not functional, shouldn’t those in strategic areas be, at least, at their best?
Questions are being raised on the standards of the installed equipment. And there were allegations that the Chinese firm identified top-notch officers at the Police Affairs Ministry and the Nigeria Police Force, to whom it gave bribes and a sponsored trip to China. These unaccounted for expenses were said to have been responsible for the substandard equipment used. It has also been alleged that the cameras installed in Nigeria had earlier been rejected in Ghana.
While Olusegun Aganga held sway as finance minister, in June 2010, he led the federal government delegation to Beijing where a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ZTE for a $600 million credit facility obtained from the Chinese EXIMBANK was signed to fund the CCTV project. Also on the delegation were a one-time Minister of Police Affairs, Adamu Waziri, and the then Inspector-General of Police, Hafiz Ringim. The $600 million financing portfolio for the project was secured as a soft credit loan with three percent interest repayable in 10 years after an initial 10 years of grace.
The legislative arm of government is now calling for an investigation into the contract. But this is not the first time such move has been made. In 2011, a committee was raised by the 7th House, coordinated by the Internal Security and Intelligence committee. Its findings were submitted in 2012 for consideration by the entire House. Nothing was heard about it since then.
On June 2, 2014, an Abuja-based lawyer, Olugbenga Adeyemi, went to court seeking an order to compel the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the failed contract. In a conversation with The Guardian, Adeyemi said the court ruled that though he could make the prayer as a plaintiff, the court has no power to compel the EFCC to investigate.
He said: “The court delivered its ruling early this month that I have jurisdiction; I have course of action, locus standi, as the plaintiff to prosecute the case but that they (the court) have no power to compel the EFCC to investigate the matter. The court said mandamus (act of compelling someone to do a public act) cannot lie against the EFCC.”
On his take on the recent move by the legislature to investigate the contract, Adeyemi said: “Yes, I am aware of that. I even wanted to write a letter to the National Assembly to intimate them of my previous moves, how far I had gone, and possibly give them a copy of the judgment from the court. But on a second thought, I asked, ‘is it worth it’?
Asked why he is showing discouragement at a time in the country when people are being compelled to give account of their past stewardship, he answered: “The court ought not to have given such judgment, because that will send a wrong signal to public officials that they can do whatever they like and get away with it… Of course, I can appeal the judgment but is it worth the while? I am not Jesus Christ that I should fight for the whole world. It’s very frustrating when one is trying to do some good for society and others are trying to frustrate the efforts.”
The motion tagged: ‘For the Reactivation/Installation of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras in Abuja, State Capitals and Major Cities and Investigation of the Failure of ZTE Corporation to Complete the Contract of Installing the Cameras in Abuja and Lagos”, raised by two house members, was amended and passed unanimously with a resolve to set up an ad-hoc committee that will investigate the matter and report back to the House within four weeks for further actions.
It is hoped the result of this investigation will not go the way of that by the 7th Assembly.