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Lagos DNA centre: Opening up on parternity, criminal investigations

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A Lagos High Court recently threw out a criminal case involving the rape of a three-year-old girl, for not being able to substantiate the strong and compelling evidence linking the man to the alleged rape.

And the inability to substantiate the evidence is principally because the technology to drive the substantiation process was not available.

Many cases have been thrown out for lack of evidence, because the plaintiff is not able to substantiate, and in law, any doubt must be resolved in favour of the accused person. Over the years, substantiation of evidence to sustain allegation of crime has led to the frustrating dismissal of many prominent cases, and sometimes to conviction of innocent people.

Such era can be conveniently said to have come to an end in Nigeria, especially in Lagos State, as Governor Akinwunmi Ambode last week commissioned a DNA and Forensic Centre built by the state government, the first of its kind in West Africa.

With the facility, the era of delay and huge cost associated with DNA testing and forensic analysis on issues such as crimes, paternity question, among others, is now a thing of the past.

Speaking during the commissioning of the DNA centre, Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem said the provision of the facility shows the administration’s commitment to security of lives and property and judicial sector reform.

Kazeem, recalling the significant investments in security by the present administration, said the DNA centre would give a massive boost to support the judicial system, law enforcement and criminal investigation.

Highlighting four critical benefits derivable from the DNA centre, the Attorney General said the process of securing a crime scene and collecting forensic evidence would now be professionally done using modern scientific methods. This, for him, 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.

Kazeem also argued the justice system can now move away from relying almost exclusively on confessional statements to secure conviction, as collection of scientific evidence would now be possible, thus giving confidence to the criminal justice system and those deployed to run it.

He further said with the centre a scientific process that can help prosecutors exonerate or convict a suspect has now been established, thereby ensuring that the justice system is respected, which earns the confidence of the society at large.

The Attorney General also believed that with the centre, the state would now have a reliable DNA database for investigators and law enforcement officers to identify crime patterns and identify suspects. For the first time, Kazeem said it will 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 patterns, 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.

For Governor Ambode, the centre 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, in line with his vision to make the state safe for residents and investors.

He said 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.

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 stated that from inception, his administration realised that security was key to good governance and sustainability of investment, which makes life better for the people. This, to him, 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, and a testimony to wanting 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, Defensc 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.

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, said with 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.

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.



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