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Stolen DDC Machines: ACN Seeks Independent Inquiry

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ABUJA, Dec 12, (THEWILL) - The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has raised an alarm over the transparency of next year's general elections, following the reported theft of Direct Data Capture (DDC) machines ordered by INEC at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos.

Dismissing as cock and bull story the published report that some people jumped over the airport fence to steal the machines, the party said in a statement issued in Lagos on Sunday by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, that there could be more to the 'stealing' of the machines that meets the eyes, hence the need for an independent inquiry into the development.

It said the desperation by some do-or-die political parties to gain undue advantage over other parties might be responsible for this ''stealing'', making it more compelling for the authorities to look beyond the story being put out in the public domain.

ACN said the report that some people who were playing football near the airport saw the equipment being dropped onto the tarmac from an aircraft and decided to steal them is so ludicrous that - if true - should lead to an automatic sack for everyone involved, from Leadership Chairman to the airport hierarchy.

''The story over the arrest of those who allegedly stole the machines does not allay our fears at all. If indeed it is true, it bothers on criminal negligence and complicity and should attract dire consequences for all those involved, starting from INEC to the airport hierarchy.

''But we doubt the veracity of this story, because the equipment involved are so critical to Nigeria's survival that no one in his right senses should put them in such a state where some scallywags will even have access to them. More worrisome is the fact that the equipment were said to be awaiting clearance when they were stolen.

''Why couldn't these machines have been pre-cleared and all necessary formalities completed and duties paid in view of their importance? Has it ever been heard that currency notes imported into the country are dumped at the airport for clearance before being ferried to the CBN? Or is not true that even day-old chics imported to the country are treated with so much urgency at the airport to prevent them from dying? Are military hardware imported into the country left at the mercy of thieves at the airport or sea port while a clearing agent battles to effect their clearance? Should equipment as sensitive and important as DDC machines not have been subjected to better treatment? These are some of the questions agitating our mind over this issue,'' the party said.

ACN said the claim by the police, that they were not even informed in advance of the arrival of the machines so they could ensure their safety, adds to the absurdity of the whole issue.

It said going by the history of voter's registration in Nigeria, especially the last one during which some unscrupulous politicians hijacked INEC's registration equipment and carried out their own independent registration in their homes, it will not be enough comfort for Nigerians to read that some 'thieves' have merely stolen the DDC machines so they can sell it, and that they have now been arrested.

''We are more inclined to believe that those behind the disappearance of the DDC machines have ulterior motives. They could be seeking to know how to manipulate the machines so they can then swing January's voter's registration to the advantage of certain persons or parties. They could also be seeking to carry out illegal voter's registration ahead of the exercise, which they can then smuggle into the main system after the authentic registration in January. Either way, only insiders and those powerful in government can undertake such illegal acts, since they must be able to eventually have access to INEC's systems if their efforts are to be worth the while. This is why we seek an independent inquiry,'' ACN said.

The party said it is not enough for President Goodluck Jonathan to continue to say that next year's general elections will be free and fair, everything must be done to ensure that they will not only be free, fair and transparent, they must also be seen to be so by all Nigerians as well as the international community.