CSI Nigeria: Inside Lagos’ DNA and Forensic Centre

DNA profiling made its way into criminal investigations sometime in the late 1980s.

One popular early case was the OJ Simpson murder trial in 1994, which ended with an acquittal following the establishment of “reasonable doubt” concerning the validity of the DNA evidence put forward by the prosecution. The defendant’s blood samples that were analysed had allegedly been mishandled by lab scientists and technicians.

OJ Simpson’s case spotlights the importance of a DNA forensic laboratory, setup with all the proper mechanisms to ensure the reliability of the results of DNA analysis and to make it admissible in court.

The Lagos State DNA and Forensics Center (LSD&FC) was commissioned in 2017, and was hailed as the first “high-powered DNA forensic laboratory in Nigeria” with the mandate to conduct scientific investigation of crime in the state, using DNA analysis. Early this year, the centre was accredited by the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA) for forensic DNA testing.

I visited the LSD&FC and spoke with Dr. Richard Somiari, the Center Director.

Dr. Richard Somiari is the Center Director at the Lagos State DNA and Forensics Center. (Photo: Omoregie Osakpolor)

“We are very different from other laboratories that perform DNA tests in Nigeria because we are a crime laboratory and maintain very stringent standards. We must produce accurate, reliable and unbiased results that can be used in court all the time,” explained Dr. Somiari during a tour of the centre.

Security at the centre is tight, to preserve the integrity of the DNA collection, processing and analysis carried out on the premises. Everyone who enters the building is tracked from the point of entry until they leave, and both staff and visitors carry automated pass cards that grant different levels of access within the building.

He said the centre was first conceived as a joint project of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice, and Ministry of Science of the Lagos State government. However, it became apparent that the needs of a DNA centre for each ministry would differ as a result of the processes. For example, the International Standards Organization (ISO) requirements for a forensic DNA centre (which is what the justice ministry required) is much different from one that would be set up for health purposes.

Dr. Somiari explained that a centre setup to profile DNA for the Ministry of Health may not have a need for such stringent security measures as necessary for the centre.  

“To date, the centre has supported 85 forensic cases and 191 relationship cases. Support includes crime scene investigation and testing of evidentiary items recovered from crime scenes or submitted by police and other law enforcement agencies.”

“Forensic cases include investigations concerning murder, sexual assault, suicide, burglary, child trafficking and human body part trafficking, whereas the relationship cases include disaster victim identification (like the victims from the Otedola Bridge fire incident) and resolution of paternity and maternity disputes.”

The centre operates sophisticated equipment that must be calibrated and serviced.

Finding certified technicians to work on the core equipment and ensuring that standards were met proved a challenge for the centre. Some of these technicians had to be brought in from outside the country.

Also, being the first DNA forensic lab in Nigeria, there were no experienced analysts on the ground in the country. “There are many people with the requisite education from foreign and Nigerian universities but zero practical experience, because they had no opportunity to work in a DNA forensic crime laboratory.”

“You must work in a crime lab for many years under supervision to gain experience before becoming a forensic analyst. To be able to start offering services immediately we had to bring in technical leaders with over 20 years’ experience from the USA to start working on real cases, and to use the cases to train new people hired.”

Then, the matter of processing crime scenes and collecting evidence brought in by people with no training or experience means, according to Dr. Somiari, that DNA samples may be compromised by improper handling or documentation of collected samples or contamination when DNA from one source gets mixed with DNA relevant to another case.

The temporary fix has been to send out the laboratory’s scientists to help with collecting and processing evidence. Dr Somiari said they will eventually set up a dedicated crime scene unit made up of individuals with adequate knowledge and experience in collecting and processing samples to assist law enforcement agencies and reduce cases of compromised or contaminated evidence.

There are also plans underway to expand the centre beyond DNA forensics and become a full forensic laboratory that can analyse most materials recovered from any crime scene. “We have started the establishment of two more disciplines–toxicology and chemistry. Toxicology will allow the center to test body fluids for the presence of alcohol, drugs, chemicals and controlled substances. The chemistry section will allow the center to test suspicious substances recovered from suspects or found at crime scenes,” says Dr. Somiari as he showed the parts of the centre under construction that will house these new sections. This would pave the way for improved crime investigation in Nigeria that relies on scientific methods for evidence.  

In response to a question on whether the centre would not eventually be affected by the inefficiency of government owned agencies in Nigeria, Dr. Somiari said that, “Although the center is established under the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, we have put in place an operational and organizational structure that gives it independence to operate in an impartial manner, and without the type of management that exists in typical government agencies.”

“It is expected that the model we have established will be sustained perpetually. That is, a private company will always take care of the management and operational aspects while the government, through the ministry of justice and a public safety advisory board will provide oversight. This will insulate the center from excessive government bureaucracies and mitigate the inefficiencies that exist in typical government agencies.

Lagos opens Nigeria’s first DNA forensic lab

The Lagos State Government has completed the construction of the first ever high-powered DNA Forensic Laboratory in Nigeria, the State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem has disclosed.

The State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode had last year approved the construction of the DNA forensic lab as part of the criminal justice sector reforms designed to solve crime through technology and fulfil an unmet need for DNA profiling which is a unique forensic technique that is now being used all over the world.

Speaking at a press briefing held at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre in Alausa, Ikeja to announce activities lined up by the State Government to commemorate the 2017 United Nations International Day of Peace, Kazeem said skeletal work had already commenced in the lab known as the Lagos State DNA Forensics Centre (LSDFC), and that it would be formerly commissioned in coming weeks.

Kazeem, who was represented at the briefing by the State’s Solicitor General and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mrs Funlola Odunlami said the lab, among other initiatives of the State Government, was part of efforts geared toward enhancing peace in the State.

“The DNA forensic centre just opened this month. We are yet to commission it but it has been opened and it is a DNA crime forensic lab and at the same time, it is going to deal with other DNA matters like paternity issue. What we are doing now is skeletal work which we started this month,” Kazeem said.

He recalled that since 2007, the State Government through the Citizens’ Mediation Centre (CMC), an agency under the Ministry of Justice, commenced collaborations with the United Nations Information Office to mark the International Day of Peace as an annual event to propagate the ethos of peaceful co-existence among residents in the State, thereby educating and sensitizing the public on the need for peaceful co-existence and respect for human dignity to engender socio-economic growth.

“The Lagos State Government recognizes the fact that the State is the commercial nerve centre of the sub-Saharan Africa where all races converge for various purposes such as business, hospitality, tourism among others, and has put in place mechanisms that will foster development and promote economic activities in the State by instituting agencies that will attend to matters relating to Land Grabbers, Special Task Force, donation of police vehicles for security, introduction of DNA Forensic laboratory to archive blood samples of criminals, among others.

“All these actions are geared toward enhancing peace in Lagos State,” Kazeem said.

Speaking on activities to mark the 2017 edition of the day tagged “Together For Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity For All,” Kazeem said on September 18, there would be a Walk for Peace/Legal Clinic on Ikorodu Road precisely from Funsho Williams Avenue through Ojuelegba to Yaba, while on September 19, a second Walk for Peace/Legal Clinic will hold at Jubilee Under-bridge in Ajah through Ibeju Lekki Expressway and back to the bridge.

On the same day, Kazeem said the CMC will hold a Legal Clinic at both venues where free legal services and mediation services will be rendered to residents of the State, while on September 21, the 18th Stakeholders’ Conference and Book Launch will hold at the Adeyemi Bero Auditorium in Alausa to mark the day.

Every year, September 21 is observed as the International Day of Peace as declared by the General Assembly of United Nations as a day devoted to strengthening ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. Read here

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Lagos establishes 1st DNA forensic lab in Nigeria

Three years ago 28263 views by  Soonest Nathaniel – Lagos state government has made final arrangements to establish the first DNA forensic laboratory in Nigeria – The laboratory will be called the Lagos State DNA Forensics Centre (LSDFC) – The LSDFC is to help in the war against domestic, sexual and violent crimes In furtherance of its commitment to the criminal justice sector reforms and take the fight against crime to a greater level, the Lagos State Government (LSG) on Tuesday, February 23, announced that it has concluded plans to establish the first ever high-powered DNA forensic laboratory in Nigeria. The Lab which will take off within the next six to twelve months would be called the Lagos State DNA Forensics Centre (LSDFC), when fully operational. It would fulfill an unmet need for DNA profiling which is a unique forensic technique that is now being used all over the world. READ ALSO: Photos: thief caught after trying to steal iPhone, beaten up by the local people Governor Ambode says he is poised to eradicate crime from within the Lagos metropolis Addressing journalists at the Bagauda Kaltho press centre in Alausa on Tuesday, the state attorney general and commissioner for justice, Mr Adeniji Kazeem, said the establishment of the centre was another eloquent testimony of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s sincerity and seriousness towards fighting all forms of criminality. Kazeem, who addressed the media alongside senior officials of the ministry, said Governor Ambode had been at the vanguard of the war against domestic, sexual and violent crimes, and that the centre was geared towards vigorous justice sector reforms. He recalled the ground-breaking donation of equipment worth N4.8 billion to the Nigerian police, the light-up Lagos project, and the recent solidarity visit of the governor to crime flash points like the Isawo area of Ikorodu where criminals have been terrorizing innocent citizens, among others as further proofs of Ambode’s determination to tackle crime. Speaking on the importance of the forensic centre, the commissioner said the facility which would be driven by the Ministry of Justice with active support of the governor, will focus on DNA analysis to support the justice sector in diverse areas such as “collection and preserving reference and evidentiary DNA which can later be used in identifying criminals; decoding familial relationships of individuals which could also be a tool for the judicial system; and identifying victims and remains after natural and manmade calamities.” Kazeem also explained that DNA profiling is an extraction of DNA from body fluids, semen, nails, hair and other DNA generic sources, adding that the centre would greatly help to controvert evidence of alibi and confirm physical presence of suspects at the scene of a crime and the origin of DNA to such suspects. He said: “Even though the role of DNA in forensics, law enforcement and the justice sector is well known globally, a high-powered DNA analysis centre is not available in Nigeria. This means that most, if not all the DNA testing needs are performed outside Nigeria, a situation that leads to longer turnaround times and an overall higher cost of bringing closure to investigation and prosecution of crimes.” Read more: Click here