Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Forensic Utilization Of Fingerprints In Nigeria.

In 1978, a 61 year old man was murdered in his home.  Fingerprints were recovered from the crime scene as well as from his vehicle which was stolen by the murderer. It proved too difficult to identify the killer because the fingerprint results did not match any database at that time. The case went
cold. In 2008, an inquiry into the case with the help of the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), led to a positive match and identification of the killer(who was serving a jail term for burglary). After 30 years.
Latent prints are impressions—usually invisible to the naked eye—often left at crime scenes that are produced by the ridged skin on human fingers, palms, or soles of the feet.
In Nigeria, there are several databases operated by different organizations  containing tens of millions of fingerprints of individuals.
The National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) is carrying out a task to capture the over 160 million population in the country.
The National Voters Register operated by INEC contains over 68 million people according to its February 2015 publication.
Mobile telecommunications operators in the country also operate separate databases. According to the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the number of active mobile subscribers in Nigeria stood at 144, 386,841 as at May 2015.
The banks are not left out. The ongoing CBN's Bank Verification Number(BVN) exercise intends to capture the fingerprints of  banked customers which stands at about 30 million.
All the above databases have peoples fingerprints captured in them.
How then can this invaluable resource be utilized?
It might interest you to know that the FBI's IAFIS houses known records for approximately 73 million criminal subjects. It is used daily by local, state, tribal, and international law enforcement for current cases, but increasingly for help in solving cold cases as well.
The fingerprints records obtained by these organizations can be streamlined into an integrated system  in which  only relevant authorised agencies should be allowed access. The police, civil defence, SSS etc can mine this goldfield. They can utilize it to effectively fight crimes such as terrorism, fraud, questioned documents, theft...etc
The NIMC is tasked with the responsibility of harmonizing existing databases in the country. Concerted efforts to that regard will be welcomed.
Also, it is in my opinion that before we can have this central database, an interagency collaboration can be reached between the various operators of the databases and the security agencies. This will allow  the security agencies controlled access to the several existing fingerprint databases for the purpose of criminal identifications which would greatly enhance their crime fighting capacity.
Based on the available fingerprint databases, it will be difficult for criminals to escape apprehension and prosecution if their finger prints were left at a crime scene. An average Nigerian adult today has a mobile phone. And every mobile subscriber has a sim card. Every sim card must be registered before it can be used. Every registration requires the capture of fingerprints.
The same thing goes for bank account owners, National ID and permanent Voters card holders.  
So if a criminal's recovered fingerprint doesn't fit a match in the CBN's database, it should in INEC's , NIMC's or any of the mobile telecommunications' databases. 
One major challenge that I shouldn't fail to point out is coined in this question...
Do we have enough qualified fingerprinting experts in the country to carry out fingerprint analysis?
At the least, every police division should have a fingerprint expert. These are forensic scientists who specialise in analysing fingerprinting patterns of individuals. Every person on earth has a fingerprint pattern unique only to them. No two human beings can have the same fingerprints even if they are identical twins.
At the moment there is a dearth of adequate forensic scientists in Nigeria. The Police Academy Wudi  in Kano  is yet to graduate its first set of forensic students at the undergraduate level. Most commendably, the University of Ibadan now offers a Professional Masters course in Forensic Science. Its second batch of students are about to pass out while its third batch are also in session.
For the good of the country, it will be a welcome development and a step in the right direction if the Nigerian Government "invest" in developing this crop of forensic scientists. This will ensure that they are adequately trained in various specialties in the field of forensics such as fingerprinting, DNA analysis etc. Their level of expertise will be heightened. Efficiency and capacity will increase. Our country will be the better for it.
Therefore, with either a centralised or interagency fingerprints database system and an army of adequately trained forensic fingerprint experts, utilising this fingerprint resource will gain our country record successes in fighting and curbing crime.
Security  and intelligence agencies will work even more efficiently in achieving set objectives and visions. Our country will much more be the better for it.