Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Relevance Of DNA Database In Nigeria

There was no way the 2015 Nigerian General Elections would have been credible without the instrumental role played by the National Voters database (or Register). Everything the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega, did in the hall of the Abuja International Conference Center was to
ensure efficient management of that database.
Taking into consideration the number of registered voters, accredited voters, total votes cast, invalid votes to valid votes, the INEC boss only ensured that every bit of the data was accounted for. That database was the election's backbone. That was why he employed the card reader which immensely helped in verifying the authenticity of voters in the database. It was the success behind that election.
There is no country in the world that is successful in fighting crime that has no dynamic, reliable and effective DNA database system. DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) is the material on which the genetic information in living things is stored. And no two human beings can have the same DNA profile, except they are identical twins.
The US has one of the most sophisticated and robust databases on planet earth. Take for instance, the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) managed by the FBI. According to the FBI's Quality Assurance Standard For Forensic DNA Testing laboratories, CODIS links DNA evidence obtained from crime scenes, thereby identifying serial criminals. CODIS also compares crime scene evidence to DNA profiles from offenders, thereby providing investigators with the identity  of the putative perpetrator.   In addition, CODIS contains profiles from missing persons, unidentified human remains and relatives of missing persons.

This has made countries like the US and UK successfully achieve multiple convictions in criminal and terrorism related cases. Criminals are caught by comparing the DNA sample recovered from the crime scene against a DNA database. And if there is a match, the individual whose DNA profile in the database matched that of the recovered sample becomes a prime suspect liable for conviction. One thing is evident, DNA does not lie.  This is only possible when a country gives priority to forensic science and invests in forensics related applications.
The need for Nigeria to becoming forensics compliant can never be over emphasized. Developing a DNA Data bank will be a step in the right direction. The most important thing needed now is the Federal Government's will in making forensics a priority in our judicial system. And by that, I mean setting up standard forensic labs, enhancing training of forensic experts. etc. It should be a major focus in enhancing Nigeria's internal security.
Among several processes involved in developing a DNA database is:
i. A systematic collection of all DNA samples found at every crime scene, be it homicide, arson, rape, bomb blast, armed robbery, kidnapping or even riot situations in the country.
Personnel trained in sample evidence collection should be tasked with this responsibility. They could be hired or employed forensic scientists, crime scene investigators or specially trained law enforcement agents. This is important because the procedural methods involved in sample evidence collection determine the admissibility of evidence in a competent court of law. If the evidence is not recovered properly, it might get damaged or destroyed. If standard procedures are not followed in recovering, packaging, labelling and storing the evidence before analysis; that evidence might be thrown out by the court and all efforts wasted!
ii. Processing of the sample evidence. This involves the real work in scientifically analysing the samples to building DNA profiles. The main morden method of analysing DNA is by using an STR PCR- based equipment.
In simple terms, an STR PCR(Short Tandem Repeats Polymerase Chain Reaction) based equipment is a machine that amplifies minute DNA materials to sufficient quantity enough to develop a genetic profile from.
Since in most cases, samples to be analysed are usually in very small quantities, such as a drops of blood, tiny bubbles of saliva, dried patch of semen, sweat stains from feet or palms.....PCR multiplies the extracted DNA into sufficient levels for a profile to be developed.
Interestingly, the PCR machine is said to be scarcely available in Nigeria. The Nigerian Forensic Lab that is managed by the Nigerian Police in Lagos does not have a PCR machine. Samples for DNA analysis are sent 'abroad' and may take up to four weeks for results to return. DNA analysis is not cheap depending on the lab.
You can now see the challenges involved in building our own DNA database. You cannot have a DNA profile bank without DNA equipment!  More so, qualified personnel must handle these equipment. These could be geneticists, molecular biologists, trained technologists. I believe the Nigerian government can surmount this challenge.
iii. Very importantly, computing the developed DNA profiles into a database that can be accessible to only relevant agencies. The database can be in categories such as a Crime Scene Index (CSI), Missing Person Index(MPI), Convicted Offenders Profile (COP) and many other profile categories that can be developed. This will help in distinguishing what category to input a developed DNA profile.
Of course, Rome was not built in a day. It took the UK National Offenders Database 40,000 profiles per month to reach 1.2 million samples as at November 2001. That figure would have skyrocketed to over 7 million by now.
So, how can this challenge be overcome? Isuggest the approach should be thus: have at least one standard and functional Forensic lab in every state of the Federation. At worst, one state-of-the-art forensic lab should be installed in each of the six (6) geo-political zones in the country. These labs will process, analyse and upload to the main database any recovered DNA sample. By so doing and starting immediately, Nigeria would have gotten its first multi-functional and robust DNA Database in one year from now and counting! This will be a milestone. That Africa's most populous and No1 economy has a functional, efficient and dynamic DNA database is no small feat.
These labs should not be headed by persons who have neither the concrete nor relevant forensic backgrounds. As a matter of fact, strict standards and international accreditation protocols should be followed in setting up these labs. The set up should meet international best practices such that they could receive samples from all over the world for analyses. Our labs can be a reference point. This can generate revenue for the Nigerian state. It can increase the quality of our research content and competency to the world, especially the global forensic community. We stand to gain everything when standards are met.
The uses and applications of a National DNA Database can never be quantified in value. A developed and reliable database will help in:
1. Linking several crime scenes together.
2. Exonerate the innocent. (I believe our prisons will be decongested for once because many in there are wrongly detained)
3. Identify the potential serial offender.
4. Unraveling clues from cold cases and comprehensively closing the 'unsolved cases'.
5. Identifying the unknown perpetrator from numerous cases of only victims and no suspect.
6. DNA identification is particularly useful when a person has been involved in a fire or vehicle accident or if the body is  decomposed. In such circumstances where other methods are often impossible, DNA can provides the means of establishing the identity of the deceased...(when a database or recovered sample is available for comparison)
Also, studies have shown that escalation of criminal history of an individual can occur. This means that the common thief of today could be the rapist tomorrow or the murderer next year. Statistics in Florida State showed that burglary DNA matches linked to more than 28% of the state's homicide cases and 28% of its sexual assault cases.
Let me end with this stunning statistics from a rape survey that was carried out in Nigeria and published by the International Journal of Innovation and Scientific Research. With credits to the researchers (Ugochukwu et al, 2015)
Imagine with the availability of a DNA database how those rapists would have been caught and with the aid of forensics, successfully convicted. Please note that this survey was carried out on 400 female students from the Ebony State University, Abakaliki between March and April, 2014. Here it is...
The response rate (involvement in the survey) was 81.8%.
The incidence of rape was 19.3%.
17.7%  cases  of  rape  occurred  in  fair-skinned  females and  only  1.6%  occurred  in  dark-skinned  females.
Most  of  the  cases  of  rape  occurred  in  the  age  range  20-24  years,  12.5%  and among  the  singles,  19.0%.
Most  rapes  were  perpetrated  in  the afternoon,  33.4%,  followed  by  evening,  31.7%.
87.3%  of victims  recognized  the  rapists  and could  identify  them.
Most  of  the  perpetrators  of  rape  were  relations  of  the  victim,   60.3%.
Most of the rape cases took place in the residence of the  rapists, 48.6%.
The rapists were older than their  victims in  100% of  cases.
66.7%  of  victims  did  not  make  report  to  any  person/authority  and  the  commonest  reason  for  not  reporting  was  fear of shame and  stigmatization,  70.6%.
In summary, the Nigerian Government needs to pay focused attention to the field of forensic science and developing fully equipped forensic laboratories across the country along with appropriate legislation to control its practice and handle related ethical issues. This would enable Nigeria to have its own DNA database which will immensely assist it in successfully fighting crime, checking terrorism, achieving high reference resource status in the world of forensics thereby ensuring a better society for us to live in.