In a recent judgment, a Lagos High Court threw out a criminal case involving the rape of a three-year-old girl. The case was thrown out not on the strength of the fact that the little girl in question was not violated, but there was no strong and compelling evidence to link the man that was charged to court for the alleged rape to the said crime. In the end, the accused person in the said case was discharged and acquitted, but the victim and her family were left to continue to contend with the consequences of the crime.
Many cases have suffered the same fate as that of the little girl above, on the strength of lack of evidence and in law, any doubt whatsoever must be resolved in favour of the accused person. Over the years, the issue of lack of evidence to sustain allegation of crime has led to the frustrating dismissal of many prominent cases, and on the other hand, left to even conviction of innocent people wrongly accused of committing crime.
Such era can be conveniently said to have come to an end in Nigeria as Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, last week commissioned a state-of-the-art DNA and Forensic Centre built by the State Government which is the first of its kind not only in Nigeria but West Africa.
With the opening of the centre, it can also be said that the era of delay and huge cost associated with DNA testing and forensic analysis on wide ranging issues such as crimes, paternity question, among others, is now a thing of the past.
Speaking during the historic commissioning of the DNA centre, Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, said the development was an eloquent testimony of the commitment of Governor Ambode’s administration to security of lives and property and judicial sector reform.
Kazeem, who recalled the significant investments in security by the present administration, such as lighting the streets, providing law enforcement officers with the requisite tools needed to fight crime and introducing local policing, among others, said the DNA centre would give a massive boost to support the judicial system, law enforcement and criminal investigation. While highlighting four critical benefits derivable from the DNA centre, the Attorney General said with the centre, the process of securing a crime scene and collecting forensic evidence would now be professionally done using modern scientific methods which would ensure a more professional investigation process as prosecutors would now utilize standard protocols and procedures for collecting evidence including ensuring that chain-of-custody is maintained at all stages.
Secondly, Kazeem said the justice system can now move away from relying almost exclusively on confessional statements to secure conviction, as the process of collecting scientific evidence would now be possible thus giving confidence to the criminal justice system and those deployed to run it. Thirdly, he said a scientific process that can help prosecutors exonerate or convict a suspect has now been established thereby ensuring that the justice system is respected, and it earns the confidence of the society at large.
Fourthly, the Attorney General said with the centre, the State now has a reliable DNA database that will enable investigators and law enforcement officers identify crime patters and identify suspects, adding that for the first time, it will now be possible to collect DNA evidence from crime scenes and bank the evidence, while the DNA profile will make it possible for investigators to establish reoccurring patters, and link the same criminals to multiple crimes.
“The DNA crime laboratory will especially be helpful when dealing with organised crime, including automobile theft, home burglaries and extortion. Many of these crimes are organised, gang related and committed by the same people. With DNA forensics, the DNA from the crime scenes and from suspects will be put in a DNA database,” Kazeem said.
Also speaking at the commissioning of the centre, Governor Ambode said the development would go a long way in resolving all form of crimes, paternity issues and others through technology which is the modern trend across the world. He described the DNA Centre as a significant milestone and a symbolic manifestation of his administration’s policies in reforming the justice sector and in line with his vision to make the safe for residents and investors, adding that with the completion of the centre, the State was joining other advanced countries of the world which had embraced technology to make life easier for people in all spheres of existence. His words: “From the domestic front to our places of work; from the way we learn, to doing business, the use of technology has become a way of life. You will therefore understand why our administration had no hesitation in approving this project which serves amongst other things, as an effective method of bringing perpetrators of crime to book and ensuring quick dispensation of justice.”
The governor recalled that from inception, his administration realized the fact that security was key to good governance and sustainability of investment to make life better for the people, a development he said necessitated the heavy investment in security equipment, recruitment and training of security personnel to assist law enforcement agencies in the maintenance of public peace and security.
The interventions, Governor Ambode said, had translated into tremendous success by the reduction in the incidents of crimes in the state, adding that the DNA Centre was another move demonstrating the state government’s resolve to stay ahead of criminals through scientific-led investigations.
Giving details of the DNA Centre, Governor Ambode said the facility has capacity to provide the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and private citizens with crime scene processing; serological screening for blood and semen; DNA analysis of bone, teeth and hair; maternal and paternal relationship DNA analysis; expert witness and case handling services; paternal and maternal ancestry DNA analysis; cold case file review and mass disaster human identification.
While assuring that the government would not rest on its oars in coming up with initiatives to secure the state, Governor Ambode said with the commissioning, the government would now move to the second stage of building additional capacity in the areas of Toxicology; Trace Evidence and Controlled Substance Analysis; Fingerprint and Latent Prints; Firearms, Ballistics and Tool Marks; Digital Forensics; and Questioned Documents Examination.
According to him, “The development of these other forensic sections at the facility will complement the DNA forensic section and enhance the level of services offered today.
“Before now, most, if not all DNA analysis and testing were performed outside Nigeria, a situation that caused longer turn-around times and an overall higher cost of bringing closure to a case.
“I am therefore convinced that the establishment of the Lagos DNA & Forensic Centre will improve the speed and quality of evidence collected to assist our courts in the quick dispensation of justice. This centre is a definite boost for our administration’s justice sector reform programme. It shows that our covenant with Lagosians to create a safe and secure state is being kept,” Ambode said.
On his part, Managing Consultant of the Lagos State DNA and Forensic Centre, Dr Richard Somiari, who was hired from the United States to manage the Center, said with the coming on board of the centre which has the technology and expertise to support all DNA testing needs, prosecutors, defence lawyers and law enforcement personnel, among others can now take advantage of the centre on various issues such as consultation on new and old cases, crime scene processing, evidence collection, serological screening for blood, semen and saliva, DNA analysis, mass disaster victim identification and cold case files review.
He said all the latest DNA analysis procedures currently possible can be performed at the centre, including Short Tandem Repeat (STR), male specific Y-STR, biological relationship and ancestry tests, while evidentiary biological samples such as blood stains, hair roots, bone, teeth, saliva and semen can be tested and compared to reference samples such as blood and buccal swabs.
Somiari added that with the DNA Centre, “Gone are the days when crimes cannot be solved just because there was no eye-witness; gone are the days when sexual crimes cannot be solved partly because of the lack of DNA evidence; gone are the days when a murder investigation is limited to the use of traditional and unscientific techniques; gone are the days when prosecutors will rely on confessional statements during trials; gone are the days when we must wait for weeks or months to determine if a biological relationship exists between two individuals as result can now be ready in less than two hours; and gone are the days when human remains recovered from disasters e.g after a plane crash, building collapse or fire, can only be identified outside Nigeria.”
In his goodwill message at the commissioning of the DNA Centre, Consul General of United States Embassy in Lagos, Mr John Bray, congratulated Governor Ambode and the people of Lagos State for successfully completing the building of “the first DNA Forensic Centre not only in Nigeria but in West Africa,” saying that the development would enhance justice and progress.
Bray, who had worked as a law enforcement officer in United States for twenty-five years before being posted to Lagos, said the State Government deserved commendation for the foresight and vision to undertake such project as the DNA Forensic centre, adding that there was no question about the fact that the facility is of world class standard.
“The inscription on the logo of Lagos State Government says ‘Justice and Progress’. This is what the Lagos State DNA and Forensic Centre is all about. Having worked with the United States Law Enforcement for twenty-five years, I must commend the Lagos State Government for the foresight and vision to undertake this project which is of world class standard and the first of its kind in West Africa,” Bray said. Also, Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr Imohimi Edgal, said the completion of the centre was another first by the Lagos State Government and one of the greatest moves by any state government towards boosting security and justice delivery. He said with the opening of the centre, the State Police Command would now reopen unresolved high-profile cases hitherto frustrated by lack of solid evidence.
“I am perhaps the happiest person here today because this will enhance my job. We have a lot of pending high profile cases that we have not resolved yet. These cases, we intend to revisit with this new centre coming on board,” the CP said.
For sure, the DNA Centre is going to facilitate enforcement of laws and ultimately make Lagos, that is increasingly becoming a secured place more secured.
––Afolabi writes from Lagos.