No Cause For Alarm – ZINOX
By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor, & Kenneth Ehigiator
Whereas the recent theft of the Direct Data Capture, DDC, machines from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport signposts an ugly truth about the security lapses at the nation’s entry ports, there are more questions than answers regarding the real intentions behind the raid at the airport.
Because the machines are not for baking of cakes, those who stole them knew why they did it! An Information Technology, IT, consultant, Femi Olubosi, told Sunday Vanguard that Direct Data Capture, DDC, machines, stolen at the tarmac of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, last Monday, is “useless to those who stole it except, of course, they know what they want to do with it”.
Olubosi echoed what appears to be a growing conspiracy theory that the theft of the machines may have had insider content to the plot.
What Sunday Vanguard has been able to piece together, in spite of feeble assurances from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, that all is well is that the DDC machines that have been stolen present clear and present dangers to the voter registration exercise slated for next month.
Concomitantly, the effect of the theft would be felt more during the general elections of next year.
However, the only way this would not happen is in the event that those who stole the machines do not have insider connection at INEC.
That would be for INEC to convince Nigerians about.
Firstly and this is critical, why would a bunch of armed men go after DDC machines that are meant for a single purpose execution?
Following on the heels of that question is the concern, why the machines, as sensitive as they are, were left on the tarmac for armed men to feast on?
In terms of the purpose for the theft of the machines, Sunday Vanguard has been made to understand by Olubosi that should those who stole the “machines have insider contacts, then even if it is one of the DDC machines that was stolen, then it would have an effect on INEC’s activities”.
According to him, “all that those who stole the machines need is authorized access to INEC’s database servers. Should the thieves be working in concert with those in the Commission, then they would be able to load whatever information they procure with the machines onto the server at INEC. What the machines are meant to do is to capture data that would be transferred to the server at INEC.
If the machines have not been configured yet, then it is useless. But even if the machines have not been configured and those who stole them are working in concert with some other people at INEC on behalf of some politicians outside, then whatever they capture with the machines can be loaded onto the server at INEC. Once they have the password, it is that straight forward”.
But the Director in charge of public affairs at INEC, Mr. Emmanuel Umenger, has said that the machines are yet to be configured. He said the theft would not affect the exercise since the machines had not been configured yet.
In fact, Zinox, the importer of the machines, claims that the figure is negligible
But that in itself raises more questions again.
That may very well be so; that is, if the conspiracy is not widespread.
Already, 16 boxes are said to have been recovered; but the boxes were said to be empty.
In an environment where trust has always been a very scarce commodity, especially on account of the experiences of Nigerians in the hands of the electoral commission, Nigerians are worried that all the assurances coming from INEC regarding a hitch-free voter registration exercise and a concomitant free and fair elections may be flying out of the window.
The angle of election rigging comes to the fore when it is understood clearly that election rigging in Nigeria starts from the point of registering voters for elections.
It works in a manner that allows politicians to pad the voter register. What they then do is gather as many voter registration cards as possible that would entitle them to voting cards on election day!
In the event that any of the leading political parties – Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, or the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP – is able to compromise officials of INEC for the purpose of padding the voter register, then the theft of the DDC machines becomes meaningful even before any configuration is made.
That is how elections are rigged. The battle to have a new voter register is the beginning of the move to have free and fair elections and politicians are ready to do battle against Attahiru Jega, National Chairman, INEC.
One of the most damning concerns being raised about the theft of the DDC machines, however, is the vicarious nature of the liability on the part of INEC and the importers of the machines.
The concern rests on the fact that, knowing the sensitive nature of the equipment being imported, especially the pertinence of same to the success of next year’s twin activities of voter registration and a successful election, why was 24hour police protection not mounted at the wing of the tarmac where the equipment were off loaded?
In a country where nincompoops inconvenience other road users with teams of anti-riot and regular police, with sirens blaring, why was it difficult for the importers and INEC as a body to organize adequate security?
These questions raise the spectre of an insider involvement in the theft to another level.
And although the actual number of DDC machines stolen, on Monday night, has not been ascertained, officials of the National Aviation Cargo Handling Company Plc, NAHCO, Skypower Aviation Handling Company Limited, SAHCOL, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, and Nigerian Customs Service were, on Wednesday, invited for questioning by the State Security Service, SSS, over the stolen machines.
Officials of both handling companies traded blames over who should take responsibility for the missing DDC machines, just 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.
Sunday Vanguard gathered 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 voter registration equipment.
Spokesperson of NAHCO, Ms. Becky Igyuse, who also confirmed that security men were on top of the situation, however, said no arrest had been made.
Igyuse completely exonerated NAHCO’s involvement in the missing machines, saying what the company did was simply aircraft handling and not cargo handling.
According to her, NAHCO only offloaded the machines from the aircraft and was not, therefore, concerned about what happened to the cargo thereafter.
She said the machines might have been stolen on the tarmac, pending when they were to be moved to SAHCOL’s warehouse.
But SAHCOL’s spokesman, Mr. 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 the company in charge of shipment for INEC, Service Solutions Limited, on November 23.
“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, and based on this, we handled the first consignment that came into the country on November 30,” Agboarumi stated.
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.
Sunday Vanguard can authoritatively reveal that the SSS and other security agencies are beaming their searchlights on computer villages and other sales outlets in Lagos, as investigation into the stealing of the machines continues.
The thinking in security circles is that those machines may have been mistaken by the thieves for laptops, with a view to selling them for material gains.
It was also gathered, on Friday, that the 20 declared missing were actually those said to be stolen, as a source at the airport confirmed that the empty packets of the 16 recovered so far were found in the bush around the airport.
While the two airport ground handling companies, NAHCO Plc and SAHCOL, continue to pass the buck as to who actually handled the shipment of the DDC machines, the Nigerian Customs Service has also extricated itself of any complicity in the circumstances that led to the disappearance of the machines and could not, to that extent, say how many of the machines were stolen.
Spokesman of the Customs at the airport, Mr. Saturday Odum, said the machines were yet to be sent to the warehouse where it was possible for his agency to take record of what was delivered.
Odum said as long as the goods were still at the ramp or tarmac, the Customs had no business in those areas. His reaction was actually in response to claims by the spokesperson of NAHCO, that it was possible for the goods not to have been taken to the warehouse on time, saying goods could not be delivered to the warehouse until they were cleared by the Customs.
A source also told Sunday Vanguard that the missing DDC machines were part of the third consignment to arrive the country on December 6, 2010, as two consignments had previously arrived on November 30, 2010, and handled without any problem.
It was also confirmed that while the machines arrived Lagos aboard Saudi Airways cargo plane on the night of Sunday, November 30, 2010, some were stolen on Monday night.
A source said pilfering at the cargo terminal of the airport was common place, noting that the theft of the DDC machines was drawing so much attention because of the interest of Nigerians and the government in the matter.
“This thing happens every day.
“Goods are usually stolen here, so it’s not new.
“It is just that government has interest in this”, a staff of one of the ground handlers said.
The incident is an indication of the high level of insecurity at the Lagos airport and all other airports in the country.
It should be noted that from the way the cargo area of the airport is structured, it is almost impossible for an external invasion to succeed. In fact, a very reliable source in the industry completely ruled that out, attributing what happened to insiders job.
The aviation security personnel of FAAN provides security for the cargo ramp and tarmac and usually subject people going into the area to strict screening.
Without an On Duty Card, ODC, and a reflective jacket, no one is allowed access into the area.
But Sunday Vanguard gathered that there had also been cases of security lapses at the airport, one of which a source said led to Umar Farouk Abdulamuttalab beating the security system at the airport on December 25, 2009.
Because the air side of the airport is not provided with a perimeter fence, it was learnt that it is also possible for people to gain access to the air side, which is a very sensitive part of the airport. The cargo ramp and tarmac share common boundary with Shasha, a neighbouring community.
The ramp and tarmac is usually a quiet area of the airport, as only a few airline and ground handling staff are allowed to the area whenever an aircraft was on ground.
A source said security agencies are beaming their searchlight on computer markets in Lagos because of the frequency of stealing in the cargo area. The airport police command had severally arrested and paraded thieves who, through connivance with airlines’ staff, steal drinks and other items meant for passengers’ comfort from foreign airlines.
It is also important to state that beyond FAAN’s aviation security personnel, the SSS, police and NDLEA operatives also provide security at the airport, including the cargo wing.
It was business as usual at the cargo terminal yesterday, as activities there went on normally