14th December, 2010
The news of the theft of some direct data capture (DDC) machines imported into theÂ country for the forthcoming votersâ€™ registration exercise by the IndependentÂ National Electoral Commission (INEC) by some unscrupulous persons at the MurtalaÂ Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja, Lagos, came as a surprise to many.
Though about 16 of the stolen machines were said to have been recovered by securityÂ agents, we are not amused about the implications of the remaining stolen machinesÂ yet to be recovered on the conduct and credibility of the 2011 elections.
The theft also came as a shock to many keen watchers of the polity who have been wonÂ over by the assurances of the new Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, to give theÂ country a credible election that will be a reference point for a long time to come.
That some unidentified gunmen would storm the airport in broad daylight and cartÂ away some of the DDC machines is not only unsettling but a bad omen. Like someÂ critics have expressed, it is an inkling of what to expect during the 2011 generalÂ elections.
It is scary that after what we have gone through on account of the flawed 2007Â elections and the meticulous manner Prof. Jega had gone about laying the foundationÂ for a credible free and fair elections in 2011, some of us could be so desperate asÂ to steal newly arrived DDC machines from the airport.
Pray, what do those behind the theft intend to do with the configured machinesÂ solely imported for the registration of voters for the elections other than to useÂ them to confer undue advantage on their patrons.
We are at a loss to understand the desperation of some politicians to thwart allÂ efforts toÂ make the peoplesâ€™ vote count in next yearâ€™s elections and drag theÂ country back to the era of ballot box stuffing and snatching, manipulation ofÂ votersâ€™ register and allocation of bogus votes to partyâ€™s candidates.
Like some Nigerians have already stated, the theft of the DDC machines is theÂ beginning of the rigging of the 2011 elections. The argument that the stolenÂ machines are useless to the thieves and cannot be used to undermine the 2011Â elections, to us is a puerile argument.
Indeed, the unrecovered stolen machines can be used to perpetrate electoralÂ illegalities during the elections and discredit the outcome. This will again resultÂ in a re-enactment of the long and tortuous litigation process by aggrievedÂ politicians as witnessed after the 2007 polls. For instance, Governor RaufÂ Aregbesola of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) recently had his mandate restoredÂ by the Appeal Court after three and half years legal battle against the usurper,Â Olagunsoye Oyinlola of the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP) in Osun State.
To prevent this, we are calling on the government to rise to the occasion byÂ instituting an inquiry into how the DDC machines were stolen at the airport. This isÂ one opportunity the government must not miss to reassure Nigerians that it wasÂ serious about conducting a free and fair election in 2011. No stone should be leftÂ unturned to get to the root of this brazen attempt to undermine our collective willÂ to make the peopleâ€™s votes count next year.
It is also our stand that the government should make the identities of thoseÂ arrested in connection with the theft public for Nigerians to know them. TheirÂ principals should also be identified and appropriate punitive measures taken againstÂ them.
As a starting point, those in charge of security at the airport when the machinesÂ were stolen should be held accountable and punished for inefficiency. By punishingÂ them, the government will be sending a message that it will not tolerateÂ inefficiency at the nationâ€™s airports.
Secondly, the Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Fidelia Njeze, should be upbraided for theÂ lapses that led to the theft of the INEC machines at the Lagos airport. The controlÂ and management of the airport falls within her purview. She should be made toÂ explain why the security at the airport was so poor that the gunmen who carted awayÂ the DDC machines had an easy operation without any challenge from the airportÂ security officials. This is the only sane way to ensure that such an incident doesÂ not repeat itself.