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DNAEnsemble: Fixing Nigeria’s (NoDIS) in 90 days!

By Olumide Adenmosun
14 December 2020   |   3:02 am
Managing the biodata or a biometric database for 200million people is no ordinary feat. I am 34years old now, and I remember I was 17years at Bowen University in Iwo, Osun State when the National ID card

Managing the biodata or a biometric database for 200million people is no ordinary feat. I am 34years old now, and I remember I was 17years at Bowen University in Iwo, Osun State when the National ID card was initially in the works during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo around 2002/2003. I was not qualified to enroll for a National ID then because the age requirement was 18years and above. Although heads rolled for the mismanagement of that program, its execution remains shrouded in mystery.

There had been a few successfully established biometric databases that the country can leverage on – if harmonized and possibly improved. Two of those that readily come to mind are the INEC’s voters’ register and the CBN’s Bank Verification Number (BVN) database. A robust Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) could be curated from both agencies by the Federal Government if their biometric databases can be harmonized. The Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) records show that there are about a 70million active bank account owners in Nigeria. The last we heard about the BVN at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) was that you needed to have a BVN to access or actively run your bank accounts.

I remember that I had to make a 12-hour road trip from Florida-USA to Georgia to visit the nearest BVN center for Nigerians in the diaspora, to get my fingerprints and other biodata registered with the CBN – so I could still run my Nigerian bank accounts. A 70-million large AFIS database is a veritable tool that can be sourced from the CBN. INEC also has a total voter’s register with a sizable database of about an 84million people as of January 2019. The biometric fingerprint database from these agencies can also help the criminal justice system (following the legal retrieval procedures) – although it is not entirely the “be-all-end-all” of identity management systems that can be utilized for a criminal case conviction.

To be able to join the committee of nations that have taken identity management systems to the next level, primarily to help their homeland, Nigeria also needs to curate her own National DNA Index System (which I would coin NoDIS because an NDIS acronym already exists). And since the USA recently placed Nigeria in the list of nations with identity management problems, the categorized visa-ban sanction may have been the final wake-up call for the execution of the NoDIS project. I am aware that the legislative arm of the Nigerian government did attempt or may have presented bills at various stages to get the National DNA Database for Nigeria established since 2010 or earlier. But the intricacies of getting such a program established in Nigeria may indeed be a daunting challenge at the outset. First, there are limited DNA forensic scientists within the country that could man such agencies – if established.

Those who have such hands-on experience even in the private sector may have been expatriated. And for such sensitive national databases – I believe it should be primarily run by tested and trusted citizens with requisite knowledge and experience – as it is with other countries. Lagos State did, however, break the streak by being the first to establish and run a state-owned forensic DNA center to help her criminal justice system function more appropriately by working with DNA evidence. It appears the federal government may need to borrow a leaf from the “center of excellence” state and the actual “pacesetter”.

But beyond the use of a National DNA Index System for the Nigerian criminal justice system, a couple of private DNA labs have noticeably been seen to be operational in the health diagnostics and ancestry space – even in Nigeria. Indigenous startups like 54gene, a few DNA diagnostics labs dotted across Abuja and Lagos, may all be recruited, trained, and contracted to execute the curation of that massive DNA database for Nigeria. Even the United States, apart from forensic labs within their local sheriff’s offices or law enforcement departments, often recruit the services of accredited private labs to help reduce the DNA evidence backlog required to be tested by its criminal justice system. And with a couple of such labs across the nation, they still have a sizeable backlog of untested kits because of the service gap from limited testing labs available to meet the national criminal justice need.

For Nigeria to immediately remedy its marked identity management deficit, we may be able to coordinate with existing labs and leverage on DNAEnsemble’s algorithms to create a functional National DNA Index System in 90 days. Curating a National DNA database may indeed support security surveillance and intelligence sharing among nations and trusted allies. Considering that Nigeria has one of the lowest numbers of incarceration in its prison system, a DNA database of the 20,000+ convicted inmates in its prison systems may help to kick-start NoDIS for the criminal justice system in Nigeria.

DNAEnsemble is a biotech application that currently utilizes a forensic DNA identification system to generate digital DNA fingerprints from buccal swabs. While DNAEnsemble may not be set up for assessing forensic samples from crime scene investigations, it may, however, be used for “DNA-databasing” with sufficient DNA samples from known subjects. And with coordinated efforts and support from the Nigerian ministries of interior, foreign affairs, and justice, we believe that this project may indeed be achievable within 90 days with the objectives being – the development of a functional National DNA Index System (NoDIS) and onboarding of the first 20,000 subjects from the criminal justice system to the NoDIS database.

Adenmosun is a pioneering alumnus of Bowen University, Nigeria, a bioengineer, and currently a microbiology instructor and doctoral candidate at Florida Atlantic University, USA. He is also the Founder and CEO of Eurekan Biotechnologies, CoYP.biz, and DNAEnsemble. He can be reached at olucyno@gmail.com