A DELICIOUS DINNER WITHOUT THE MAIN COURSE (I)

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Sir Daniel Uwaezuoke, 92, –in this series – pens down his experiences during the 20 years he worked in the then CID headquarters in Lagos, a turning-point period before he got to the zenith of his career in the Nigeria Police, as the Central Criminal Registrar…

MEMOIR

The revelation only providence could make

Even a most lustrous career as a fingerprint expert and central criminal registrar had its own modest beginnings. Hence, it would not be out of place to relive those early years when I first knew what “fingerprint” was all about.

July 1945 had progressed into its second week. All new recruits had already gathered at what used to be called the Southern Training School (S. T. S.) in Enugu for a six-month course. Curiously, their fingerprints were taken and sent to the C.I.D. Headquarters in Lagos for clearance. This, our instructors informed us, would ascertain if we had been of good character. Of course, this information also came with the warning that those who were not cleared would not be allowed to continue the training.

How could a person’s character be known through his fingerprints? I wondered. I recall looking closely at my palms and fingers. May be, I thought, I could make some sense out of what they had to say about me or my future. Well, I could not at the moment. So, the matter had to be rested.

This scene blurs into sometime in January 1946. I had passed out from the S. T. S. and was posted to the Warri/Benin Police Province. It was from Warri that I was transferred to Forcados outstation, where every police personnel functioned as an investigator.
One remarkable day found me taking down the statement of a complainant. Soon after I finished recording his statement, he had validated it with his right thumbprint. Afterwards, curiosity spurred me on to examine his thumb impression. A surge of excitement coursed through me, as I pored over the lines. The whorls made by the lines – which I later came to know as “ridges” – were so distinct that I found myself wondering what they actually meant and also what our Creator intended them to be used for.

A few weeks later, the then Senior District Officer Mr Martin Davis was taking over the duties of the recently-transferred Mr J. G. Kerry. The former had found himself too busy that he could not attend to an invitation from Warri. This invitation requested interested constables to apply for a few weeks’ course at the C.I.D. headquarters, Lagos. There, the constables were expected to work in the Investigation Branch, which included how to take good fingerprints. But by the time my application managed to get to Warri, the deadline had passed.

May be Mr T. P. Philips, the superintendent in charge of Warri/Benin Province still remembered how useful he had found my “suggestions” when he wanted to introduce some changes. He therefore recommended that I be transferred to the C.I.D. This was accepted and almost soon after I got a telegram from Warri instructing our O/C to send me on transfer to the C.I.D. Headquarters in Lagos.

August 22, 1947 found me in Lagos. I had arrived on board a creek mail boat, which had started its journey from Warri four days earlier on August 18.
The C.I.D. warmly received me with wide-open arms. I might as well have been one of them returning from a leave of absence.
But it was down to business on my Day Two at the C.I.D. headquarters, Lagos. I was marched off straight to Assistant Superintendent of Police (Administrator) Biles. A. S. P. Biles informed me that I had three months to learn how to classify a set of fingerprints in order to qualify to be retained in the C.I.D. Otherwise, I would be sent back to my original province.

I didn’t need three months to show my special interest in fingerprints. It took me exactly 17 days to classify 34 sets of convicted prisoners’ fingerprints. This I was able to do so well that Inspector Akinyemi, who was the O/C Fingerprints Section, could hardly believe that I had never done fingerprinting before coming to the C.I.D. Ditto the entire personnel of the section.

Inspector Akinyemi’s face was wreathed in smiles as though he had won the first prize in a competition. Biles had to hear about this! He promptly marched me once more to Mr Biles to update him on what happened at the Fingerprints Section.

Beside himself with excitement, Biles told me there and then that I had been promoted to second class. This was because there was no establishment for a third class constable, which I hitherto was. From then onwards to a period of three months, I was assigned the duty of recording LAST CONVICTIONS OF HABITUAL CRIMINALS in their files.

Inspector Akinyemi before long noticed that I was as efficient as his searchers. This led to his promptly drafting me into searching. That means that I could now be relied upon to say whether or not a person had had a criminal record or not.
Shortly, I joined the Scenes of Crime teams whenever they were called to any scene. This was to initiate me into the skill of searching for fingerprints on smooth non-absorbent objects, which criminals must have touched in a scene of crime. This was no problem for me at all.

Fast-forward to early 1948. A Police Adviser (so, he was called) was on a visit to Nigeria from the Colonial Office, London. The C. I. D. Headquarters at Hunter Street, Lagos was one of the places in his itinerary. His entourage included the Commissioner of Police in Total Command of the Nigerian Police (now, he would be known as Inspector General) Mr T. V. Finlay.

A retinue of several senior expatriate police officers were also in the entourage. Among them were the Adviser’s personal assistant Mr S.P. George and all the superior police officers serving at the C.I.D. They were joined by the local pressmen.
As soon as the Adviser entered the Fingerprint Section, he asked Inspector Akinyemi to show him the most junior and, therefore, the least experienced searcher in his team. Inspector Akinyemi, without hesitation, pointed at me.

The Adviser nodded and moved over to one Lance Corporal Odukwe’s table. Here, he picked up one of the sets of fingerprints assigned to the latter to search. These, he brought over to me and asked me to classify and search.

I suddenly became the cynosure of all eyes. In less than three minutes, I was able to classify the set of fingerprints, searched and identify it to belong to a habitual with seven previous convictions. I was rewarded with a rapturous applause by everyone present.
After this incident, I became the talk of Hunter Street, where the C. I. D. Headquarters used to be. In addition, I also became a much-respected searcher, who was trusted enough to visit scenes of crime alone. Senior searchers were by this time seeking my opinion whenever they were in doubt about a ridge count or ridge-tracing of any fingerprint.

Everything was going swimmingly fine and I had nothing to worry about. But this was not until Satan created one.

-Sir Daniel lives in Enugu