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Enhancing Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System Through Forensic Science(Symposium News Report)

The First Abuja Forensics Symposium, organised by Eagloid, a forensic science consulting and training firm, in partnership with the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Business Entrepreneurship, Skills and Training Center( ACCI BEST), attended by forensics experts, took place on Thursday June 28, 2018 advocated for modernization and investigative techniques in crime fighting and administration of Nigeria’ criminal justice system.

Forensic Science is the application of scientific methods of analysis to resolve criminal and civil matters in a judicial process. It is the utilization of subjects such as chemistry, biology and physics to solve crimes. Broadly speaking, when the scientific process of analysis is used to process any evidence recovered from a crime scene becomes admissible in court, the evidence is referred to as forensic evidence. Forensics encompasses the processes of securing crime scenes, identifying, recovering and storing evidence using the proper storage materials, while adhering to strict protocols that records the movement of the evidence from the crime scene, through processing in the lab, to its presentation in the court room.

Thus, Forensic investigation is the utilization of forensics to determine the guilt or innocence of suspects or alleged offenders using forensic evidence.

For instance, to determine the complicity of an alleged rapist in a rape case, DNA such as sperm from the victim is recovered, analysed and developed into a DNA profile which is compared with the DNA obtained from the suspect. A forensic DNA analyst compares both profiles and determines if both DNA profiles match. A match would prove that the suspect was the perpetrator.

The attempt to modernise and enhance criminal investigative techniques, through forensic investigations, by law enforcement agencies in Nigeria has been a desired objective in the bid to attain efficiency in crime fighting. The development of forensic capabilities, according to experts in forensic experts, holds the key to addressing the glaring inefficiencies facing the administration of Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System.

Welcoming participants to the symposium, the Chief Executive Officer of Eagloid, Mr Isaac Israel, said that the objective behind the Abuja Forensics Symposium is to “harness ideas and advice from experienced forensic experts in the country with the aim of raising awareness on the importance of forensics investigations to tackle the challenges facing the nation’s criminal justice system and identifying challenges to growth and development of forensics in Nigeria.

Isaac told the symposium participants that Eagloid, a forensic science consulting and training firm, would continue to provide the platform for Nigeria’s forensic experts and those interested in the field of forensics to meet consistently for fresh ideas, networking and mentorship opportunities which would foster the growth and development of forensics in Nigeria.

Delivering his keynote address at the symposium, a prominent criminologist and the Head of Department of Sociology Bayero University Kano, Dr Ibrahim Bello, expressed urgent need for security and law enforcement agencies to modernise their methods of investigation by adopting forensic techniques which have been proven to promote security of all kinds from physical security, to personal security, information security, through environmental security to the overall national security.

In his presentation on the theme, ‘Developing Nigeria’s Forensics Capabilities For National Security and Development’, Bello stated that forensics ought not to be restricted to investigating physical evidence after a crime has taken place, but should be used to serve as both a proactive and a reactive security measure. He noted that solutions to the varieties of security challenges bedeviling the country such as terrorism, kidnapping, human trafficking, arms trafficking are as good as fighting cases of theft, robbery, murder, rape, and even pedophilia.

The Head of Forensics of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr Benedict Agweye, presented a paper on ‘Developing An Efficient Crime Scene Investigation Framework: What It Take takes’. He made a case for the basic requirements for an efficient forensic investigation to include but not limited to pursuance of forensic knowledge and consistent training in forensic practices, a well developed crime scene investigation procedure that minimizes the contamination of crime scenes and maintains the integrity and credibility of recovered evidence, quality control management of forensic equipment, kits and methods used by forensic scientists.
The EFCC’s top official called on crime-scene investigators to handle crime scenes using forensic procedures to avoid jeopardizing the credibility of forensic evidence in the court room due to avoidable technicalities.

Lamenting the absence of an agency or body backed by law to regulate the practice of Forensic Science in Nigeria, Barr. Firsts Isa Baba, SAN, highlighted on the need to set a common body of forensic practitioners in Nigeria that would be mandated with the responsibility of setting standards and qualification criterion for would-be and established forensic experts. This is necessary in order for forensic experts who present expert opinion to satisfy the court that they are qualified and possess the requisite proficiency in their area of forensic specialty.

The lawyer advised forensic experts in Nigeria to always ensure that their expert opinions in courts should be in simple English and to avoid unnecessary ambiguities in presentation. This is because to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt using forensics, simplicity and clarity in interpreting forensic evidence is important for the court’s understanding since members may not have sufficient knowledge in forensic science.

According to Barrister Baba Isa, the deaths of Bola Ige, Funso Williams and Dele Giwa, like many others in Nigeria, have remained unresolved due to our weak reliance on forensics. He lamented that “the forensic infrastructure and legal framework we have in Nigeria has failed to answer burning questions like: where fingerprints samples collected at the scenes of these murders? Where blood samples collected and screened? What about shoe prints, foot prints, strands of fabrics from clothes, where they collected and analyzed with the aim of getting these criminals? Do we even have the personnel, labs and other infrastructures to collect and analyze these forensic samples? Therefore, there is no way these murders can be resolved without recourse to forensics.”

Speaking on the deployment of forensics solutions to the nation’s security challenges, one of Nigeria’s unarguably top forensic experts in toxicology, fingerprinting and DNA forensics in the Nigerian Police, Dr Benedict Agbo, maintained that the nation stands to gain much in resorting to forensics to achieve the objectives of national security.

Agbo, who is an FBI trained forensic expert, presented a paper on ‘Utilizing Nigeria’s Forensic Capabilities for National Security’. He said that the utility of forensic capabilities in criminal investigations in Nigeria is less than three percent, just as he shocked participants with disclosure with an astonishing statistics that the use of forensics to National Security challenges in Nigeria is less than one percent.

Agbo, who is a police officer, has made over 2,000 appearances in court as a forensic expert witness identified among others, ballistics, fingerprinting, DNA forensics and private forensic firms as critical capabilities that require urgent development to effectively tackle security challenges presently facing the country.

Participants at the symposium proposed various solutions in addressing problems facing criminal judicial process in Nigeria. Some of the solutions are: consistent training of law enforcement and security agents in standard forensic investigation techniques; provision of adequately equipped crime laboratories staffed with qualified forensic scientists and technicians; creating awareness of forensics through a massive awareness campaign in conjunction with developing forensic science programs in academics to raise the forensic literacy level in the educational sector and passing bills that enshrines and supports forensic practices, procedures and techniques in Nigeria’s judicial processes.

Other solutions proffered by the symposium participants include the setting up of a legislatively-backed agency and professional body to regulate forensic practices and implementing a standard crime scene investigation policy that must be adopted during criminal and civil litigations.

Considering the level of interaction and robust engagements among forensics experts, the time has come to take criminal investigation in Nigeria to the next level by adopting the principles of forensic science on a broader scale to predict, prevent, disrupt and solve crimes. With Nigeria’s top forensic experts and criminologists in both the academia and the nation’s core criminal investigating agencies, such as the Nigerian Police and the EFCC, not a few participants expressed hope that the nation stands to benefit greatly in the deployment of forensics investigations to enhance Nigeria’s criminal justice system.

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