By Uduma KALU
THE reason why the Nigerians police find it difficult toÂ solve high profile murders in the country has been explained.
This is because crime investigation has become part and parcel of forensic science which the force does not have. The police need to be equipped with experts and equipment to be able to fight and solve violent crimes in the country.
This was the sum total of two papers presented by Commissioner of Police,Â Yomi Onashile, of the Force Headquarters, Abuja and former Solicitor General for the Lagos, Mr. Fola Arthur-Worrey at workshop organised by the State Ministry of Justice and Office of the Chief Medical Examiner last September 29 â€“ 30 at the Events Centre, Agidingbi, Lagos.
Participants at the event included senior police officers from all the divisions/formations throughout the state, judges, magistrates, coroners, lawyers, forensic pathologists, anatomic pathologists and other forensic practitioners.
Resource persons were Dr. David Carter, Associate Professor of Forensic Science, University of Nebraska , Lincoln , USA and Mr. Larry Barksdale Adjunct Associate Professor of Practice of Forensic Science and expert in crime scenes and auto theft investigations, forensic photography, blood stain patters and shooting scenes reconstructions, Prof. John Oladapo Obafunwa a forensic pathologist, state Chief Medical Examiner and Provost, Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM) and the Executive Secretary, Lagos State Security Trust Fund.
Onashile, noting that the Nigeria Police Force Criminal Investigation Department (FCID) is responsible for the investigation of all criminal cases, however gave a damning verdict: Very few Nigerian Police criminal investigation sections take fingerprints of arrestees anymore, with the result that they are not able toÂ detect most of the crimes being committed in the country.
â€œIn my own opinion, the most reliable means of identification of a suspect or individuals is through the evidence of fingerprints,â€ he said. â€œThe ability to detect a crime, to large extent, indirectly prevents the commission of the crime. People are still being assassinated or murdered because of our inability to detect those behind the ones that have already occurred.
Nobody wants to go into a crime that could easily be detected,â€ he added.
Also, expended ammunition recovered at a assassination spots should be examined, a long with fingerprints.
Examination on the expended ammunition will it make easy to identify the type of fire-arm used afor the crime fire-arm if found.
But the police do not have the requisite equipment and the expertise, he pointed out.
â€œIf the fingerprints, ballistic and biology (DNA profiling) sections of the Nigeria Police Forensic Laboratory could be developed to world-class standard, cases of violent crimes will be reduced because perpetrators of the crime would easily be identified and arrested.
I also strongly believe that Engr. Funsho Williamsâ€™ case would have probably been solved if the police could carry out DNA profiling,â€ he continued.
â€œTaking fingerprints of arrestees and storing them after conviction are statutory requirements which. As at today have been ignored to a large extent at our own peril.
The police authorities acquired an Automated Fingerprints Identification System (AFIS) about two years ago. The equipment has the capacity to compare known fingerprints stored in its memory with unknown ones; if there is a match, the system will highlight it.
But since Nigeria Police has stopped taking fingerprints for quite sometime, I do not really know from where they are going to get the fingerprints that will be stored in the system (Data base) for the purpose of comparison.
The Nigeria Police, today, he lamented, do not have a Fingerprint Expert. Rather, the old hands with little or no science background and adequate training are still in charge.
â€œFingerprint technology has advanced so much that it could be developed on the human skin, clothing, porous surfaces, ammunition, fire-arms etc. Most car snatchers, kidnappers and armed robbers leave their fingerprints all over the place, including hi-jacked vehicles, bullion vans, etc. Nobody cares to lift these fingerprints for comparison and identification purpose. It pains me when criminal escape detection due to the unprofessionalism in the Nigeria Police Force,â€ he continued.
Shooting cases, he pointed out, are being investigatedÂ today without any appreciable assistance from the ballistic section of a forensic lab. And government emphasises on equipment and training, forgetting that the caliber of officers and men who will use the equipment and be trained is more important.
He was supported by the former Lagos State Solicitor General, Mr. Fola Authur-Worrey who attributed the failure of the Nigerian police in solving high profile murder cases in recent times to their reliance on confessional statements and eye witness accounts in place of hard evidence that could be obtained through modern scientific methods.
He said that the Nigerian police is faced with dearth of modern equipment, skills and capability to solve high profile murder cases. There is only one forensic laboratory in the whole country and it is poorly equipped, he said, and that finger printing, a basic but highly important means of investigation is no longer in use in Nigeria.
The country, he went on, has only one ballistician in the country â€“ which accounts for why the police cannot detect gun shot-related crime and that there is no data base for criminals in Nigeria.
Nigerian police, he argued,Â suffers institutional neglect and that the presence state of the countryâ€™s facilities makes a mockery of justice.
â€œOne of the major problems facing investigators in solving crime riddles is the critical dearth of forensic and scientific tools. Many crimes are committed in the dark, in secret, out of sight, that it is almost impossible to obtain statement from eye witness, identifying the actual participants on which to base a successful arrest and prosecution.â€
Due this problem, â€œNot once have the police checked the hands or clothes of a suspect alleged to have used a firearm for powder burns, a routine but nonetheless important procedure abroad.â€
The lawyer, like the police boss, said there is only one barely functioning forensic laboratory in the whole country at Oshodi. Worse still, â€œthe lab suffers serious government neglect, resulting in a severe shortage of relevant chemicals and reagents and poorly motivated staff.
Items such as knives, clubs and other weapons suspected to have been used to perpetrate homicide are often kept for months thereby holding up the investigation and trial process and even when they are returned, no useful findings would have been made,â€ he went on.
The police force whichÂ used to highly trained and competent experts in forensic criminal investigations today has one trained ballistician in the whole country and his equipment is a joke by todayâ€™s technological standards, he said.
Fingerprinting, described as the most reliable means of identifying an individual, he narrated, no longer features in crime investigation in Nigeria. He also described as unbelievable that suspects are noÂ longer fingerprinted in Nigeria not to talk of having their photographs taken during arrest procedure.
â€œI have searched in vain for any recent Nigerian criminal cases where fingerprints were relied upon in the course of the trial and it is hoped that judges will be more demanding of the police of their present unscientific levels of investigation so that perhaps the authorities might be forced to upgrade capability.
â€œIn spite of the dramatic fall in prices of basic computer components, the police authorities have felt no urgency in computing a data base of all persons arrested over the years by their various command so how much more a record of fingerprints.
The former commissioner also â€œblamed poor leadership of the police force, diversion of funds, amputation of key police functions from the force by various misguided governments to create multiple enforcement agencies rather than addressing police capacity deficit, overemphasis on harassment of perceived political enemies and deliberate weakening of the structure by years of despotic rule,â€ reasons why the force is its most poor shape.
The authorities should do something urgent to restore the police to an investigative capacity as the presence state of the countryâ€™s â€œ facilities makes a mockery of justice, he said, saying it is bad image â€œif every time there is a reported crime, the perpetrators get away scot free due to deficiencies in â€œinvestigation and discoveryâ€ capacity.â€