There is outrage in telecommunications and other circles over how a $500 million (about N79 billion) contract awarded to the Chinese firm, ZTE, to build a modern CDMA network for the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) has remained uncompleted, more than two years after it was secretly awarded.
The failure of China ZTE to complete the high impact project was one of the topics raised in Beijing, during the visit in February, of a high level Nigerian delegation, led by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, finance minister and coordinating minister for the economy.
Industry watchers are particularly concerned because in their opinion, such a network would remarkably enhance the efficiency of the Nigeria Police Force by facilitating the timely acquisition and transmission of information which is key to the functionality of the police.
Many experts, including equipment vendors familiar with the project, told BusinessDay that if the contract had been offered by an international bid process, government could have secured a credible contract partner for less than half the price it is paying China ZTE.
“If you ask me, you could really have that job done for no more than $175-$200 million,” one leading global telecoms equipment vendor told our reporters.
The project, which is to enable the Nigeria police build a monitoring blanket over the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja, will have 37 switches, with some servers and equipment to provide the Internet Protocol (IP) Cloud for the various applications to which the project can be applied, and will support the deployment of 1,500,000 subscriber lines.
Those familiar with the contract say the project will help to facilitate the deployment of E-policing databases, video conferencing, coalition emergency response which will empower emergency response and provide a national platform for emergency calls by citizens, to the Nigeria police, nationwide.
Senior government officials consistently avoided interviews with our reporters on the controversial contract, despite repeated contacts.
James Odaudu, Chief Press Officer in the Police Affairs Ministry, said he could not comment on it, as it was a security project.
“Work is going on, on the project but it is a security matter. You don’t expect us to say we have done this or that, until it is completed. I don’t know the exact extent it has gone though,” Odaudu said. Caleb Olubolade, Police Affairs Minister, could also not be reached, as he has declined to respond to telephone calls for an appointment.
Hao Fuqieng, managing director, ZTE, said the project was on-going and that his firm has made lots of progress on its implementation.
The project, he further indicated, has 696 sites with 37 equipment/monitoring centres nationwide, under five components, of which the Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) constitutes 10 percent.
“We started the implementation last year and we are working on it. We will deliver by June this year and we have so far implemented about 90 percent of the project to be able to deliver by June this year”.
He claimed that other firms competed for the project which ZTE won but could not mention any of the competitors.
According to our investigations, the idea of the contract was first mentioned more than a year before the last general elections and it was thought to be a project to benefit the nation’s top lawmakers, and many officials, as a result had expected the contract to go to a company owned by a former senator, even if attempts would be made to give the impression that there had been an invitation for bids.
BusinessDay learnt that the contract was suddenly awarded to the Chinese firm, after a surprise intervention by a former head of state, in breach of the laid down procedures by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).
BusinessDay findings showed that the project was not included in the 2010 budget and could not be traced in the records of No Objection project at the Bureau of Public Procurement.
Emeka Ezeh, the Director-General, BPP, said “a project of such magnitude ought to have been in our records but we could not trace it”.
Government sources told our reporters that the contract was awarded outside the usual budget appropriation and the terms meant that Nigeria paid 25 percent of the contract value, while the balance will be covered by an export credit guarantee by the Chinese government.
The contract cannot be seen in any of the Federal Government annual budget documents and it is believed that funding would have come from the controversial police reform fund, which appears to be outside the oversight of the National Assembly.
Policemen currently use Motorola type walkie-talkie handsets and the contract was meant to move police communication into a more secure network, on which operatives could use the modern push-to-talk sets.
The network if eventually built will operate on the not so commercially sought after 650MHz spectrum and some analysts have asked why the government did not use one of the existing networks instead of building one from scratch.