By Kenneth Ehigiator, Ben Agande & Luka Binniyat
LAGOS—FOLLOWING the theft of the Direct Data Machines imported by INEC, Vanguard investigation has revealed that only insiders with the active collaboration of outsiders could have stolen the machines.
A source told Vanguard that the equipment were stolen from an area of the airport that was dark and overgrown with grass which made it easy for the thieves to carry their acts successfully.
The source added that the authorities could not claim ignorance of the fact that the place was prone to daily pilfering of imported items.
The police claimed, yesterday, that 16 out of the 20 reportedly stolen items had been recovered but our source contradicted the claim saying that what the police recovered were just empty bags that the thieves while the thieves had made away with the machines. The source also said some PHCN machines were also stolen in the heist.
Officials of the National Aviation Handling Company Plc, NAHCO; Skypower Aviation Handling Company Limited, SAHCOL, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, and Nigerian Customs Service were, yesterday, invited for questioning by the State Security Service, SSS, over the Direct Data Capture, DDC, machines stolen at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos.
This came as the House of Representatives also expressed shock and anger over reported theft of the untested DDC machines imported for the registration of voters for the 2011 elections, and is asking for immediate investigation of the incident. Officials of both handling companies traded blames over who should take responsibility for the missing DDC machines, even as the Commissioner of Police in charge of Airport Police Command, Mr. Moses Onireti, confirmed that it was FAAN that wrote his office about the missing machines.
Vanguard learnt that all the parties involved with clearing of goods at the airport met with the SSS and other security officials to state what they knew about the stolen voters’ registration equipment.
NAHCO spokesperson, Ms. Becky Igyuse, who also confirmed that security men were on top of the situation, however, said no arrest had been made. Igyuse exonerated NAHCO’s involvement in the missing machines, saying what the company did was simply aircraft handling and not cargo handling.
Stealing of DDC machines
Igyuse added that the machines might have been stolen on the tarmac, pending when they were to be moved to SAHCOL’s warehouse. But SAHCOL’s spokesman, Basil Agboarumi, denied that the company handled the goods when they arrived the country aboard Saudi Airways on Monday, December 6, 2010.
He said SAHCOL only handled the first consignment of the DDC machines that arrived the country November 30, 2010, following the agreement it reached with Service Solutions Limited, the company in charge of shipment for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on November 23.
Agboarumi said: “SAHCOL did not handle the shipment at all. We only had an agreement with the organisation in charge of shipment for INEC, Service Solutions Limited, on aircraft and delivery of goods on the tarmac, on November 23, 2010. Based on this, we handled the first consignment that came into the country on November 30.”
Although he confirmed that investigation into the matter was currently on, the SAHCOL spokesman was, however, silent on whether any of the company’s staff had been identified.
Commissioner of Police, Airport Police Command, Mr. Moses Ireti, said it was FAAN management that wrote the command to alert it of the missing DDC machines.
House of Reps expresses shock
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has expressed shock and anger over the missing DDC machines, calling for investigation into the theft.
Halims Agoda, PDP, Delta, who raised a point-of-order bothering on matter of urgent public importance, announced the incident of the reported theft.
Agoda expressed shock at the said theft of the machines, “when all Nigerians are highly expecting a free and fair election in the 2011 polls.”
He said it was sad that no agency of government had come out to make a statement on the theft five days after the incident, stressing: “It is an irresponsible and criminal negligence of duty on the part of all agencies responsible for this machines, and this House must ensure that we get to the root of this matter, since our democracy seemed at risk here.”
Saleh Minjibir, ANPP, Kano, said the missing machines portended danger for the 2011 general polls, adding: “We need to take urgent actions that would inspire confidence in the mind of our electorate that the 2011 elections would be free and fair.”
Mustapha Habibu, PDP,Jigawa; was also unhappy with the news. But he observed that since INEC had not taken possession of the DDC machines, it should not be blamed over the incident.
Law of contract
He said: “INEC has not taken delivery of the machines, so as far as the law of contract is concerned, the machines are not yet that of INEC. How are we even sure that the machines have been imported in the first place? Then suddenly we hear that the machines, which INEC has not seen, are stolen?
“This may be a wider conspiracy to sabotage this elections. I think the real people to hold responsible are the Nigerian Aviation Handling Company, NAHCO, and the Federal Airport Authority Nigeria, FAAN.”
Mayor Eze, PDP, Imo, said the incident had cast a big question mark on the 2011 elections, noting: “It is a dangerous, and at the same time, embarrassing development for this county and we have to get to the root of it as soon as possible.”
But, Emmanuel Jimeh, PDP, Benue, cautioned his colleagues over their reactions, saying “given the penchant for what the media can do by way of spinning things out of context, we should not rush at conclusion, more so that INEC has not come out to complain, and no other agency has raised any alarm.”
He added: “We need to carry out an investigation before we conclude. What is very clear is that there were theft of 6000 machines out of the 14,000 that had arrived. I want to advise INEC to go ahead and acquire the missing machines quickly to fill in the gap. The credibility of this election should not be taken for granted.”
Most members who spoke, lampooned the way the issues had been handled by relevant government agencies, and all agreed that the truth be unravelled.
INEC recovers 16 DDC machines
Vanguard, however, learnt that 16 of the DDC machines were reportedly recovered yesterday.
A source at the Independent National Electoral Commission said the commission’s impression, after the machines were reported stolen, was that “it must have been an insider job with the connivance of some rogue security personnel at the airport.”
Although details of the recovery by the police were not provided, the source at the commission, who is a senior officer, told Vanguard that “there is very high hope that the remaining four would be recovered in the not too distant future.”