OrderPaperToday- The House of Representatives last week passed through second reading, a bill to integrate private closed circuit television into the national security network.

The bill is coming when an investigation into the federal government’s $460m Chinese loan from China-EXIM bank for the installation of closed-circuit television cameras in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, remains inconclusive.

The resurrected bill sponsored by Awaji-Inombek Abiante (PDP, Rivers) was debated on Wednesday before being referred to the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence. It seeks to make it mandatory for private establishments to have private CCTV cameras at their premises as part of their overall security infrastructure.

However, this would not be the first time this bill would be sponsored in the House. In 2016, same bill was sponsored by a former member of the House and current governor of Bayelsa State, Diri Douye. It was introduced on the 23rd of June, 2016 and was slated for second reading on the 29th of September, 2019, but debate was adjourned on the motion and nothing was ever heard of the bill after that.

Background on the controversial Abuja CCTV camera contract 

The contract was awarded during the administration of the late President Umar Yar’ Adua. The Chinese company, ZTE, was given the job to supply 2,000 digital solar powered camera (1,000 each for Abuja and Lagos), 37 switch rooms, MW backbone, 37 coalition emergency response system, 38 video conference subsystem, 37 e-police system, emergency communication vehicles and 1.5 million subscribers lines.

The project was allegedly handed over to the federal government but its status has been a subject of legislative investigation since 2014 by 3 consecutive assemblies.

Interventions by the 7th, 8th and 9th assemblies

On 27th of October, 2019, during an appearance before the House Committee on Finance to defend the borrowing plan of President Muhammadu Buhari, the minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, disclosed to the lawmakers that Nigeria is still repaying the CCTV Chinese loan of $460 million despite not having taking delivery of the project.

This caught the attention of the chairman of the Committee on Finance, James Faleke (APC, Lagos) who probed the issue of the CCTV project further by requesting for its status and details of the repayment of the loan.

The response from the minister was unexpected as replied, “We are servicing the loan but on the project, we will have to ask the FCT authority because the project was deployed in the FCTA. I have no information on the status of the CCTV.”

However, that would not be the first time the issue will be coming up. In fact, her predecessor, Kemi Adeosun, was summoned by an ad hoc committee investigating the same project.

On the 8th of October, 2015, the House had moved a similar motion on the CCTV project sponsored by Adekoya Abdulmajid and it specifically called for 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 to install CCTV cameras in Abuja and Lagos.

The House also urged federal, states and local governments to install/reactivate CCTV cameras and other security gadgets in the Federal Capital Territory, state capitals, business areas and major cities across the nation that could detect and alert security agencies of any security breach.

Furthermore, the House set up an ad-hoc committee which was chaired by Ahmed Yerima to investigate the circumstances of the award of the contract for the installation of CCTV cameras in Abuja and Lagos, the failure of ZTE Corporation to complete the contract and also determine the extent to which the Chinese nationals or ZTE Corporation paid taxes to the coffers of the government and report back to the House within four (4) weeks for further legislative action.

The ad hoc committee then invited the former minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Godwin Emiefele, former Lagos State governor, Akinwumi Ambode, minister of Federal Capital Territory, Mohammed Bello and others for an investigative hearing into the matter.

Unfortunately, the investigation that was supposed to take 4 weeks to conduct took 15 months and the report was never considered by the committee of the whole to give a final verdict on it.

The failure of the 8th House on the project could safely be referred to as a continuation of the failure of the 7th Assembly which also investigated the CCTV camera scandal.

The 7th House, following a motion moved by Saviour Udoh (PDP, Akwa Ibom), claimed that since the handing over of the project, not a single criminal has been arrested for non-compliance to the terms of the contract. The motion was thereafter, referred to the House Committees on Information and Communication Technology, Public Safety and National Security for further legislative action. Nothing was heard of it afterwards.

Private CCTV bill as the solution?

While Nigeria will continue to repay close to half a billion dollar loan for a non-existing project, the Integration of private CCTV into national security network bill seeks to shift the burden of providing CCTV system for the national security network from the government to private citizens.

The new bill has 8 clauses. Clause 2 of the bill makes it mandatory for every private organisation to install CCTV at the entrance of their premises. It reads, “Every private organisation in Nigeria shall, within 6 months of this Act coming to effect, install CCTVs within and outside its premises with a view to

a.       Maintaining perimeter security in medium-high secure areas and installations

b.      Observing behaviour of people in order to detect criminal activities within and outside the geographical location of the company

c.       Identifying criminal(s) within a reasonable time frame

d.      Provide adequate evidence for use in court

e.       Obtaining a visual record of activities in situations where it is necessary to maintain proper security and access control

The objective of the bill is contained in clause 3 which reads in part, “….expand the security network infrastructure in Nigeria with a view to protecting lives and properties of its citizens.

Clause 4 of the bill provides that the private organisations will apply or inform the commissioner of police in that environment of installation of such systems and the clause also seeks to grant permission to the police and courts to access the private CCTV for investigation and trial as the case may be.

Clause 5 of the bill speaks on punishments for breach of the law. The punishments for any organisation that fails to comply with the installation is a “fine of at least N500,000 or 6 months imprisonment or both.”

Subsequent refusal will attract N1 million fine or a year imprisonment and where there is a “complaint of missing items, lives, property and the company/organisation within the complaint area is unable to make its CCTV available to the law enforcement agents during the course of the investigation shall be liable for negligence and charged as an accomplice of the crime.”

During the debate on the second reading of the bill, its sponsor, Abiante, cited instances where private CCTV had helped in resolving crimes. In his lead debate, he mentioned the arrest of an alleged serial killer in Port Harcourt who was arrested in September, 2019 and three other instances in Nigeria.

“In September 2019, there was a case of Gracious David-West, a 39 year old serial killer in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. West killed 15 women in hotels located in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Owerri. He was arrested after protests were held by women groups and social media outcry. Only one of the hotels where the gruesome murders took place installed a CCTV camera which was of poor quality. Regardless, this helped the police in apprehending him after the hotei shared the recording when they discovered he had killed another woman in their establishment. He was arrested on his way to Akwa Ibom State.

“This case clearly shows how important and extremely necessary the installation and maintenance of CCTV cameras in business offices, restaurants, hotels, fuel stations, schools and car parks/train stations etc is to quick apprehension and persecution of criminals. Had other hotels installed CCTV cameras, the killer would have been apprehended before killing other victims,” he posited.

Abiante also referred to the murder of an University of Abuja 100 level student in Abuja, saying, “In May 2019, there was a heart wrenching case of the murder of Emmanuel Balogun, a 100 level student of the University of Abuja. It was discovered that the deceased’s friends watched him drown in a swimming pool at the Dome at 3.33 am, stole his phones and money before leaving the hotel. The hotel’s CCTV captured the whole scene and helped the police to arrest his friends who watched him drown. The friends have since been arrested and will be prosecuted.”

The lawmaker also alluded to the arrest of four suspects in Oshodi, Lagos State, on February 15 and 16, 2018. He explained that the four suspects – Jelili Ganiu (19), Samson Owolabi (23), Segun Lawoye (47) an ex-convict, and Toyin Samuel (38) were arrested by officers of the Rapid Response Squad (RSS) in Oshodi area of Lagos State through the aid of the mobile CCTV camera stationed in the area by the Lagos State government to assist the Rapid Response Squad (RSS) in their surveillance activities. “Jelili and Owolabi were caught on footage of the camera stealing mobile phones from a passer-by on Oshodi pedestrian bridge, while Segun and Toyin were arrested after being caught on camera three times in Oshodi fraudulently dispossessing passers-by of their belongings,” the lawmaker narrated.

The case of the Boston Marathon Bombing was also used by the lawmaker to appeal to his colleagues to consider supporting the bill.

Abiante stated, “It would be recalled that on 15th April, 2013, two brothers (Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsanaev) detonated two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon race which killed three people and left almost two hundred others severely injured. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were able to get a lead into the incident through the video footage provided by a department store on Boylston street, Lord and Taylor, thus leading to the arrest of one of the suspects, while the other died during the course of arrest. Other accomplices were also apprehended.”

This bill appears to be complementary to the statement made by President Muhammadu Buhari that his administration will deploy CCTV on highways. He made the announcement while receiving South West traditional rulers at the State House, Abuja.

“We also intend to install CCTVs on highways and other strategic locations so that activities in some of those hidden places can be exposed, more effectively monitored and opened to actionable review,” he informed them.

As the debate on the bill moves to the public hearing stage, it has become more necessary that the Abuja CCTV project is accounted for, even as the propriety of shifting the burden of providing security to the citizens should be queried since the responsibility of securing the lives and properties of Nigerians rests squarely on shoulders of the federal government.

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