The Lagos State Government has finally completed the construction and equipment of the first DNA and Forensic Centre in West Africa.Â Gboyega AkinsanmiÂ writes that this would go a long way in unraveling unresolved crimes and stemming new ones not only in the state but across the federationÂ Â
Previous administrations â€“ civilian and military â€“ attempted at different times to put paid to huge records of unresolved crimes in Lagos State. From the Bola Tinubu era to the Babatunde Fashola period, the Lagos State Government had recognised the centrality ofÂ deoxyribo-nucleic acid (DNA) facility if the trend of unresolved crimes must end, not just in the metropolis, but also in the federation.
But none of these administrations was able to put up a DNA centre to burst the cycle of unresolved crimes in the state. Concerned as it was then,Â Â the Fashola government came up with a plan to build a comprehensive forensic laboratory, which former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Dr. Femi Hamzat then said, would cost N82 billion and was designed to serve all West African countries.
Given the project cost then, Hamzat argued that it would make sense to construct the forensic infrastructure under the public-private partnership arrangement. He then cited the reconstruction of the 10-lane Lagos-Badagry Road to the DNA facility the administration proposed to construct somewhere before Badagry. Yet, the Fashola administration could not really achieve this lofty feat.
Amid optimism, however, Ambode came to office in 2015. And he inherited huge files of unresolved crimes. For instance, the murder of Alhaja Kudirat Abiola, wife of late Chief MKO Abiola has not been fully resolved over two decades after and the trial of the prime suspect, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha still unconcluded. Also, the murder of Pa Alfred Rewane,Â a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), remains unresolved. Almost all the prime suspects died in prisons.
Aside huge records of unresolved crimes it inherited, the Ambode administration was confronted with different crime incidents at its inceptions. The incidents ranged from traffic theft to armed robbery, burglary and cult violence, to which the administration responded both tactically and strategically. At least, according to crime statistics, a 65 per cent crime reduction was recorded one year after.
But Ambodeâ€™s sustained intervention did not end cases of unresolved crimes and delayed justice. The murder ofÂ the Managing Director of Lekki Worldwide Investment Limited, Mr. Tajudeen Disu, which is yet to be resolved too, threw up the imperative of a DNA facility. Also, the sudden rise in the trend of kidnapping in the state re-echoed the inevitability of the DNA technology to burst heinous crimes.
All for justice
Amid these heinous challenges, Ambode eventually conceived the DNA initiative almost one year into his administration with at least three clear mandates, which the State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem said, would redefine the stateâ€™s criminal justice administration and open windows for dispensing justice in all criminal matters without delay
Among others, Kazeem spelt out three core mandates the Lagos State DNA and Forensic Centre (LSD&FC) was established to perform one after the other. First, he said the centre was set up to deplete the stateâ€™s records of unresolved crimes and bring masterminds of heinous crime incidents to book, a real reason Ambode reeled out programmes to build the DNA centre under one and half years.
Second, Kazeem cited the need to end the culture of delayed justice, which he said, cost the state government much in terms of funding criminal prosecution and in terms of wasting precious time of the court. With DNA facility in place, according to him, there is end in sight for undue delay in criminal prosecution. Unlike in the previous years, he explained, suspects will now be confronted with stronger empirical evidence that they can hardly deny during the prosecution.
With stronger empirical evidence presented before the court, the attorney-general said a suspect â€œwill have to plead not guilty. And this comes with gains first for the state government and second for the suspects. In this instance, the suspect may plead guilty and asks for some mitigation when confronted with such evidence. It saves time of the court and in the process taxpayersâ€™ monies.â€
Before the advent of the DNA infrastructure, Kazeem lamented the burden of prosecuting criminal cases in the state. Kazeem acknowledged that it â€œoften takes a lot of time to prosecute criminal cases. It takes much time to get witnesses. It is also time-consuming to put together evidence and so forth.â€ But now that the forensic laboratory has been completed, he said, the era of undue delayed in criminal prosecution will drastically decline.
Likewise, the attorney-general said the forensic would serve the purpose of resolving issues around will and testament. For him, it is an area that the centre will bring empirical evidence to determine paternity of an individual. He said such cases often â€œarise everywhere in Nigeria. We often witness cases whereby someone dies, the issue whether a child belongs to him or not can be resolved at the centre.â€
Lastly, Kazeem cited the usefulness of the DNA centre to identify degraded human bodies. WhenÂ Dana Air Flight 992 crashed in June 3, 2012, the state had to result to use such a technology in South Africa to identify the remains of the victims.Â Even though the deceased has been buried, the attorney-general noted that experts â€œcan obtain samples from the remains of the victims and subject to DNA test.
â€œIn conflict situation, human bodies might been degraded beyond recognition. We can obtain samples from the degraded bodies and compare them with the identity of their relations. Only recently, some students were kidnapped. Even when the students have been rescued, there is a way the cloth they wear can be subject to DNA test. Sometimes, other DNAs may have been transferred to these clothing. It also can help determine the identity of their captors,â€ Kazeem explained.
A radical reform
Like other megacities in the world, the Solicitor-General,Â Mrs. Funmilola Odunlami justified the establishment of the centre. She argued thatÂ the emergent rate of crime was indeed a sufficient ground for the centre, which she said, would be unveiled this week. Over the years, she said, LagosÂ has faced more sophisticated crimes and criminals who are determined to escape the long arm of the law.
But with the forensic centre, she said the possibility of escaping the long arm of the law â€œhas been foreclosed because the centre will always provide stronger empirical evidence required for criminal prosecution or for bursting heinous crime.â€ She, therefore, said the state governmentÂ initiated the process of establishing the forensic centre â€œto demonstrate its commitment to criminal justice reform.â€
For Ambode, the establishment of the forensic centre represents a radical justice reform. At least, according to him, it is the first in the history of Nigeria and the most comprehensive centre in West Africa. To complement the forensic centre, the solicitor-general noted that under Ambode, that is not the only justice sector reform the governor has initiated since he assumed office in 2015.
Before the DNA centre, Odunlami pointed out different reforms the administration had implemented under two years. First, she cited the procurement of N4.76 billion security equipment for the Lagos State Police Command. She, also, cited Light-up Project, which she said, had created an entirely different environment unsafe for the activities of the men of the underworld
She, equally, cited the sustained partnership between the state government and all security agencies on crime flashpoints in different parts of the state. But all these initiatives have not completely faced out criminals from the shores of the state, which according to him, explained the result to the use of technology â€œto make investigation, prosecution and adjudication more dependable and effective.â€
On these grounds, theÂ Managing Consultant of LSD&FC, Dr. Richard Somiari gave insight into the background to the centre. As a megacity, Somiari said Lagos required a centre for DNA analysis â€œto support criminal investigations, law enforcement and the preservation of DNA evidence for the stateâ€™s judiciary system.â€ He explained thatÂ crime fighting â€œis better measured with the DNA technology.â€
He acknowledged thatÂ such a centre did not previously exist in Nigeria even though DNA analysis â€œhas been recognised worldwide as the most powerful and accurate form of human identification (HID). Until now, most, if not all DNA analysis requirements in Nigeria are performed outside the country or the instruments available for in-country testing are based on older technologies that utilise cumbersome protocols that are time consuming and sometimes inaccurate.â€
Somiari said the fact that such a comprehensive facility was not available in Nigeria before underscored the need for it. Also, she explained the imperative of the DNA facility in the world of the 21st Century. She, thus, said the LSD&FC â€œhas requisite technology and trained personnel to provide the highest level of DNA testing currently possible and that meets international standards.â€
Already, Somiari said the centre had started operation with the capacity â€œto analyse evidence and casework DNA rapidly and the capacity to store DNA from suspects, crime scenes and disaster victims. It can now provide DNA forensics services to support crime scene investigation, law enforcement, human remains identification, paternity, maternity, sibling testing, preservation of reference and DNA evidence, investigating rape cases and defense and internal security operations in Lagos State.
â€œThe DNA centre has the state-of-the-art equipment, computational tools and servers required for operations. All equipment comes with the standard manufacturersâ€™ warrantee. The laboratory is equipped with all items, regents and consumables expected in a world class DNA forensic lab. This includes equipment for DNA sample receiving, evidence examination, processing, analysis and reporting.â€
Sustaining the centre
Before this strategic intervention, the attorney-general explained that Nigeria had depended on South Africa â€œto conduct DNA analysis, processing and testing despite the central role of the DNA in forensic investigation, law enforcement and justice sector worldwide.â€ Yet, he said a high-powered DNA analysis centre â€œis not available in Nigeria and the DNA facility in Ghana has limited capacity.â€
Kazeemâ€™s narrative is indeed an indication that Nigeria â€œhas lost so much in foreign exchange and in time for failure to establish a DNA facility before now. By implication, according to him, most, if not all the DNA testing needs are performed outside Nigeria. It often leads to longer turnaround times and an overall higher cost of bringing closure to investigation and prosecution of crimes.â€
Now that a DNA centre has been established in Lagos, Kazeem said it would â€œfulfill an unmet need for DNA profiling, a forensic technique that is now used worldwide.Â DNA ProfilingÂ is an extraction of DNA from body fluids, semen, nails, hair and other DNA generic sources. This will controvert evidence of alibi and confirm physical presence of the suspect at the scene and the origin of DNA to the suspect.â€
He said the centreÂ would not only fulfill the growing DNA profiling needs of the judicial process. Rather he said it would definitely be a source of revenue for the state by serving the public, other states and neighbouring countries, noting that itsÂ standard â€œinternational requirements.â€ Other stakeholders, mainly security agencies, will benefit from it because it supports all levels of DNA collection from people and objects.
Sustaining the DNA centre has raised a lot of questions. But according toÂ Somiari,Â that will not be a challenge for all any reason. He disclosed that the Ambode administration had already worked out a maintenance strategy â€œto ensure the centre function effectively.â€ He, also, disclosed that the administration had signed a two-year management agreement withÂ ITSI-Biosciences, LLC .
Under the agreement, the attorney-general explained that the US-based company would manage the centre for the first two years. During the period, according to him, the ITSI-Biosciences, LLC would train select staff members of the Lagos State Government. It will train the trainers, share vital knowledge and transfer expertise to the select state officials under the two-year agreement.