So much has been said and written lately about the National Public Security Communication System (NPSCS) which most Nigerians erroneously referred to as the “Lagos, Abuja CCTV Project”. Initiated in 2008 by the Late President Umar Yar ‘Adua, the $400 million (not $470 Million) project was designed to upgrade the Nigerian police and other security agencies to the digital age, equipping them with modern surveillance systems, secured mobile communication architecture and other integrated technologies necessary for modern policing.
The NPSCS project, is indeed, of national imperative given its potential value to national security. Nigeria has never been assaulted with violent crimes as in recent times. The hydra headed menace of Boko Haram has put our collective psyche under strain. Kidnapping is no longer a crime of the South East but a menace that has been effectively nationalized while armed robbers hold sway in all regions both night and day. With such a grim security situation, ordinary Nigerians are angry that a project like NPSCS which could help in resolving some of the security challenges is not operational but mired in controversy.
On January 29th, the House of Representatives began a probe of the project with an elaborate opening session that had in attendance past and present ministers, senior officials of government agencies among others. The current probe it should be noted makes the third time the project is being subjected to some level of scrutiny by parliamentarians, only that earlier probes have ended up with no known indictments.
But, the current probe has unearthed diverse perspectives in what looks like a carefully engineered web of actions by agents of the immediate past administration with the ultimate aim of jeopardizing the project so that it could be easily transferred to private hands. For them, this would justify the award of another contract while unsuspecting Nigerians cheer on like drunk cheerleaders.
First, it was the revelation that the much talked about cameras in Lagos and Abuja which have become the lens through which the project was being evaluated by the public is less than 8 per cent of the entire project. “It is erroneous for anyone to call the project a CCTV project because the Video Surveillance System (VSS) is even less than 8 Per cent of the project. There were five components and they were all completed,” Former Managing Director of the Nigerian Satellite Communications Limited (NigComsat), Mr Tiamiyu Ahmed-Rufai told the probe committee.
Apart from the sophisticated VSS, Ahmed-Rufai went further to elaborate that the remaining four aspects of the project include the deployment of GoTA subsystem which operates two main switch centers, 12 Base Station Controllers and 675 base stations spread across the 36 states and Abuja. The GOTA we are now told supports 1, 500,000 subscriber lines which the former DG said is even bigger than the entire Visafone network. The base stations are also capable of providing Internet Protocol (IP) cloud for the various applications to which the project can be deployed.
There is also the E-policing Subsystem which is to facilitate the deployment of E-policing databases; the Video Conferencing subsystem to provide for video conferencing by all Commands of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) with the Force Headquarters (FHQ) and the Coalition Emergency Response subsystem, to empower emergency response and provide a national platform for emergency calls by citizens to the Nigeria Police nationwide.
The Chinese firm that handled the project; ZTE has consistently maintained that it fully completed the project and that Acceptance Certificates were issued. Ahmed further collaborated the contractors by saying that “The project is like someone who bought a brand new car but refused to fuel it.”
Hopefully, the House of Representatives will provide more answers as to why the project was deliberately left wasted while the security situation of the country nose-dived. That a project of that magnitude was condemned to rot merely because nobody provided diesel to power the base stations can only happen in a country like Nigeria. It is even being alleged that some of the base stations were put under some shady lease and co-location arrangements by a particular government agency. There was also the attempted sale of the project at the fading hours of the Jonathan admiration to a private company who is now laying claim to the operational spectrum of the project. What a country!
The real question remains what next for the NPSCS? And to me, this is where President Buhari comes in. It was clear that some top officials of the Jonathan administration had self-seeking plan for the NPSCS asset now valued to be over $500million.
It is heartwarming to see contractors handling federal roads back on site at the Abuja airport roads and on other roads initiated by past governments. Government is a continuum. President Buhari needs to set up a technical committee including the contractor that handled the NPSCS to quickly come up with a plan for its resuscitation. The cameras in Lagos and Abuja should be immediately restored to functionality while efforts should be made to increase the number of cities under VSS coverage since the backbone to support that is already in place.
For a start, there is the need for the Buhari government to reactivate the VSS in Abuja and Lagos immediately extend its coverage to Kano and Port Harcourt while other cities can follow later.
- Musa Aliyu is a communication expert based in Zaria