By John Ameh:
The National Assembly still faces security challenges despite the hefty annual expenditure incurred on the procurement of security gadgets and training of personnel, SUNDAY PUNCH investigations have revealed.
Thieves and other infiltrators who steal valuable property unnoticed, it was learnt, regularly beat the large number of police and security personnel at the assembly complex.
For instance, in the last three months, investigations have shown that, at least three cars had been stolen from the car park.
In 2009, two cars, one of them a Sport Utility Vehicle, were stolen from the same spot between November and December.
”Loss of laptops and mobile phones is common; when you make a report, no actions are taken because the items hardly ever get recovered,” a National Assembly source told our correspondent on Friday.
SUNDAY PUNCH findings showed that in 2009 alone, over N245.7m was budgeted for security operations and the procurement of equipment at the National Assembly.
A separate N40.4m was earmarked for engineering services and maintenance.
Interestingly, similar votes were quoted in the preceding 2008 budget.
Investigations revealed, however, that many of the procured security equipment malfunctioned frequently.
Findings showed that until last Tuesday, only two screening machines were operational at the complex. The two functional machines were those mounted at the entrance to the new Senate Wing and the House of Representatives Wing (New Building).
The main entrance to the White House (accommodating the two chambers and administrative offices) had been fallow up till last Tuesday as the Heimann screening machine mounted there broke down in February.
”The machine broke down; it always breaks down; before Tuesday this week, items were not screened by the machine.
”We could neither screen bags nor items concealed in containers,” an official confided to our correspondent.
It was learnt that the management replaced the machine on Tuesday following alleged complaints of security breaches.
”Two other screening machines at the rear end of the White House and the intersection between the White House and New Building of the House of Representatives have long broken down,” the source added.
Before the Heimann machine was replaced on Tuesday, a bold notice which read, ”Temporarily out of Use,” was placed on the former one.
SUNDAY PUNCH also gathered that a multi-million naira computerised identity project, which the management inaugurated in 2009 to check infiltrators had not taken off due to alleged faults detected during the installation of the supporting machines.
Both members of staff and employees of other orgnaisations with extension offices at the National Assembly had been asked twice since August 2009 to fill a data form for the project but it still had not taken off.
When contacted, the Sergeant-At-Arms to the National Assembly, Col. Emeka Okere (retd), insisted that security operations at the complex had actually improved, compared to previous years.
Okere admitted that though screening machines broke down, it did not reduce the alertness of his men, the police and operatives of the State Security Service.
He stated that whenever the machines broke down, his men resorted to using hand-held metal detectors to screen visitors and other members of staff.
Okere added, ”Between 1, 000 and 1, 500 people, excluding the staff, visit this place daily, and we screen them.
”As a matter of fact, our work is easier now because in addition to the physical management of visitors, we have a task force in place that can detect suspicious elements who may have escaped screening at the entrance.
”We have made several arrests and we ensure that people don‘t loiter about or cluster in the lobby; they must keep moving.”
On the allegation that the computerised identity project had packed up, Okere described it as ”arrant lie; whoever told you that lied.”
He explained that the project was delayed because engineers were still configuring data on identity cards with the supporting machines.
”We are starting with the staff in my department since they are the ones dealing directly with security matters.
”Gradually, everybody will be configured; it is taking time because of the large number of people involved,” he stated.
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