By Monsuru Olowoopejo
MANY Nigerians, especially victims of crime and survivors of rape and other cases heaved sigh of relief when Lagos State government announced commencement of skeletal work at its Deoxyribonucleic Acid, DNA Forensics Centre, LSDFC. Their action bordered on the fact that many high-profile cases had been stalled due to lack of evidence that could link the suspects to the crime.
Until now most, if not all DNA analysis requirements in the country were often performed outside the country, with Nigerians slot flunk places such as South Africa to get their problems solved. The reason was that the instruments available in Nigeria for testing were based on older technologies that were often characterized by cumbersome protocols, time consuming and often times were inaccurate.
The announcement came as a relief because several relatives of people killed or survivors of rape cases and others have over the years been left grieving daily with their pains with no end in sight. While many had died waiting for closure, some have been compelled to abandon the case.
Among such high profile cases was alleged murder of late Managing Director, Lekki Free Zone, LFZ, Tajudeen Disu. Barely two years after he was killed while trying to appease residents of Lekki community to sheath their swords and dialogue with investors, while his relatives were still searching for closure. None of the efforts initiated by the Lagos State government has been able to identify the true culprit behind the act neither has the Nigerian Police been able to publish detailed report on how he was killed and whose bullets fell the Disu, a former staff of African Development Bank (ADB).
Even the appeal by the state governor to Inspector General of Police to capture the culprit fell on deaf ears. It would be recalled that identifying victims of the collapsed building at Synagogue Church of All Nation, SCOAN, Ikotun-Idimu Local Council Development Area, LCDA, the former state governor, Babatunde Fashola, now Minister of Power, Works and Housing, hinted that the DNA test to identify the victims were completed in a South African laboratory.
Identifying the victims
Aside these cases and others, the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Adeniji Kazeem, had barely two weeks ago at a media parley to commemorate domestic and sexual violence awareness month, disclosed that about 50 rape cases were still pending in court. The announcement at the briefing raised concerns over continued delay in such cases considering the trauma some of the victims had been subjected to.
In most cases, it was not that these victims do not have evidence that would expedite action on their case. But their evidence cannot be solely accepted by the court except that the accused too either owned up or there was an independent investigation that could state that the accused truly perpetrated the act. In most cases, the suspect claimed to be not guilty even when some residents could testify that he was sighted few minutes before the act with actions that suggested that he could have committed the act.
With this, the courts were most times unable to deliver judgement on the case. And the victims were often subjected to wait until possible help comes for them to get judgement. Explaining reasons for this persistent delay, magistrate Sherifat Sholebo, recently the said that reportage of rape and domestic violence has increased in the state, increasing the number of cases pending across the courts in Lagos State.
She noted that those cases pending in court were between the perpetrators and the state government, lamenting that a major contributory factor delaying the wheel of justice was because of stigmatization and family not wanting to continue with the case. “We need the family, neighbours and others to give evidence that will aid conviction urgently. The major ingredient to receive conviction is corroboration.”
This claim by the magistrate explained reasons behind the state governor, Akinwunmi Ambode’s resolve to embark on an all-male walk against rape and domestic violence in the state. Even with this, the governor discovered that appealing to residents conscience to desist from perpetrating such an act could not solely address the issue because some residents might have shruged-off his appeal.
State, contractor MoU
On discovering this, Ambode directed that a DNA Forensic Centre be established immediately to ensure that victims and relatives of crime cases could get justice without any further delay. This, according to the government, would help deepen the rule of law. And make the state destination for victims of crime cases in other states to seek answers to their challenges.
The state government added that the facility would also make Lagos the first destination for foreign investors and a centre of attraction for all categories of tourists.
While signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ITSI Bioscience LCC in Alausa last year, Kazeem said that the technique that would be provided at the centre conform to global best standards, saying, it is aimed at addressing growing DNA needs of criminal investigations and facilitate prompt and effective prosecution of criminal suspects in the state.
The Centre, according to the Attorney-General, would aid investigations on domestic and sexual violence cases, boost family and paternity proceedings, help in identifying victims of natural and man-made disasters and also be a tool for the judicial system.
Kazeem said that the Centre would be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to support all levels of DNA collection from people and objects, evidence examination, DNA analysis and provide evidential DNA storage. “I am certain that the Lagos DNA forensic laboratory is going to be another unique solution to fighting crime in our quest for a safer and secure Lagos.”
The centre: It was gathered that the centre will be under supervision of the state Ministry of Justice to support criminal investigations, law enforcement and the preservation of DNA evidence for the state’s judiciary system. According to ITSI Bioscience LCC, they 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, defence and internal security operations in Lagos State.
Internal security operations
It stressed that the impact that DNA forensics has had on saving life, liberty, and property simply cannot be measured because analysis from the centre would be used to solve cases that previously had no hope of ever being solved considering the age of the case, lack of eye witnesses and absence of traditional evidence.
The company added that whether evidence recovered from the crime scene were tiny drops of blood or semen, or traces of DNA left behind on a weapon or drinking glass, the centre has power to reveal answers to questions that investigators often ask whenever a crime is committed. It noted that even cases that have been delayed for years with evidence already cold could still yield crucial proof that will finally bring the culprit to book.
The company, in a document obtained by Vanguard, hinted that with the facilities at the centre, forensic DNA analysis from it has power to exculpate as well as inculpate in the state. Dr. Richard Somiasi, who signed on behalf of ITSI Bioscience LCC, assured residents that the company’s over 35 years of experience would be put into action while completing the centre.