Recent security incidents in Nigeria have exposed a fundamental weakness in the ability of our security forces to identify and classify criminals and their activities. When you have to make a statement at a Police Station, you are given a sheet of foolscap paper and a biro. Many Police Stations operate without a functioning computer even at the Divisional level. Our entire security apparatus is manual, fragmented and archaic. Individuals can commit crimes in one state and move to another state to join the Police Force.
I once joked to a friend that you can murder someone in Nigeria and leave your hair sample, finger prints and even your clothing and the Police would be none the wiser for it. An essential part of criminology is data gathering and management. The US operates several criminal databases at the Local, State and Federal levels. Before 1966, this information was not readily available to individuals. This changed with the promulgation of the Freedom of Information Act. Anybody with an internet connection can search for an individual’s name and recall their criminal history.
It is time for Nigeria to begin to work towards a National Crime Database (NCD). This may seem far-fetched but the tools to make this happen are already available. Most Nigerians have some data with at least one level of Government. Between the Register of births and deaths, census data, vehicle registration, income tax filing and voter registration most people have been photographed and fingerprinted by the Government. This data can be the starting point for an integrated NCD. The NCD can be hosted in a central sever at the Force HQ in Abuja with mirror servers hosted in every geographical zone or state. A few terabytes of server space should be able to store data on 80-90% of Nigerians. Additional data can be obtained from the Immigration authorities and from the recent SIM card registration undertaken by GSM operators.
Collating, analysing and storing this data will take a few years and the cooperation of the State Security Service, Nigeria Immigration Service, National Bureau of Statistics, National Population Commission and the Nigerian Police Force. The previous attempt at National ID card which was fraught with irregularities and corruption allegations will need to be revisited. Perhaps some data can be obtained from here as well.
If an individual commits a crime or is accused but acquitted, these details should be recorded against the individual’s name. Retrieval of criminal records from the NCD could be via specialised terminals/PCs at major police commands and Stations, SMS or web based. The SMS or web based option will also enable Policemen crosscheck an individual’s criminal record at the point of arrest. The Police will need to be trained to use computers and any specialised terminals.
A pilot programme covering major cosmopolitan areas could be undertaken to test the storage and retrieval capabilities of the NCD. This idea may seem outlandish for a developing nation like Nigeria but great ideas start as a flicker and metamorphose into workable solutions through a firm commitment and the cooperation of all.
This project is within the purview of the new Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, so I will attempt to sell the idea to the Honourable Minister, Omobola Johnson.