Chief Reginald Udunze is a forensic document examiner and writing expert. He was formerly in charge of forensic disputed document unit, Alagbon, of the Nigerian Police force, Force CID Lagos. He served 35 years as a police officer and retired as Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).
At retirement he was urged to stay back to groom skills but now consults for the police in disputed documents investigation while also in private practice. He has trained 12 officers as forensic experts. He hails from Mbaise. In this interview with our Editor, AFAM ECHI, he calls for increased police training budget, indicates why state police cannot work and revealing that only 3 persons in Nigeria are trained to handle disputed document investigation.
You mentioned that you have trained 12 officers in different areas. Given the size of the country are 12 officers enough to serve the entire nation?
If they are spread according to the zones they would be enough. The disputed documents investigation is not like ordinary crimes like robberies and assaults. Again the costs of the equipment are so high that it will be difficult to create forensic units in every state. The economy may not be able to support it as at present. The police can be split into different zones if we are to achieve that just like when I was here I was in charge of the Eastern zone and even extending to parts of the West.
Is it only in the area of documents that you deal with?
Forensic has its divisions or departments. We have forensic pathology, forensic anthropology, forensic accounting etc. In police, when you talk about investigation you talk about forensic pathology where you talk about chemists, here you have senior officers in charge as experts.
In Nigeria we only recognize and deal with crimes that are consistent and common. When you talk about disputed documents like finger prints hand writing and signatures, those almost happen every day. When you talk about forensic investigation they are the largest in the country because people commit forgery every day, or crimes relating to falsification of documents. This is the reason it appears more pronounced than any other type of forensic.
‘If the government could, say private police,
then individuals will now register companies
where they will manage a set of police
force with the guidelines by the government
it will work. But if you say the state government
to fund police, just reflect on the agencies
that they have like the ones controlling traffic,
those ones that do not use arms, have no special
training, how well have they fared. If they want
a workable police system there must be training
not only in Nigeria. The police should be properly
equipped and I doubt if they have the capacity
relying on the monthly allocation.”
When you lamented the huge capital outlay that would be involved in setting up forensic investigation centres, do you not think that the benefits derivable from it far outweighs the cost and justifies cost of setting it up?
When you talk about setting up the equipment you also talk about the manpower to manage the equipment.
This should be a gradual process. Just like I have trained 12 people, they will also help to train others. This is a tasking training process equivalent to university education. It is difficult to train over 100 people in forensic. Here we don’t have equipment and trainers to train more people same time.
How would you evaluate the training budget in police and its effectiveness in combating crime?
Training is very very important in every aspect of police work. If a police man stays two three years without training he would lose touch with certain tactics in combating crime. He risks approaching it just like ordinary civilian. Constant training enlivens the brain and makes the police officer smart.
This is because everyday new system of crime emerges and in this generation of computer there are a lot of manipulations in crimes these days. Before people can look at another’s signature and simulate it but these days they not only simulate it they use computers to pick and place it in another document and it is exactly your signature.
Only a trained person can know that the signature is forged or is synthetic signature. Without regular training police officers cannot keep pace with sophistication of crime. I am advocating for a bigger budget on police training. In the past police usually have refresher courses and when they are back they will be abreast with new ideas but these no longer hold because of money.
The skill you are now practicing was it the police that trained you in it or you trained yourself?
Police trained me partly in the first phase of the course and I have to further it in the United States. Police gave me leave. If they have not permitted me I would not have achieved that on my individual basis.
As a consultant outside the police which other people enjoy your services?
The public do as well. The police consult me in the areas of disputed documents, the lawyers and courts and individuals consult me in the areas of forged documents for instance in the areas of suspected wills or powers of attorney or forged finger prints.
Are you a graphologist as well?
Yes as a well trained examiner of disputed documents I am a graphologist. If you don’t have knowledge of graphology you will not interpret the hand writing of an individual.
What we use in detecting individual writing is personal characteristics. There are three types of signatures. There is the copy book style, the personal characteristics and we have the class characteristics. Copy book refers to the writing taught by teachers when learning ABCD.
Here you use what your teacher taught you. What are used for identification are personal characteristics. This refers to the consistent patterns that you cannot deviate from that are regular even when you are sick or at old age. We call handwriting finger print and no two persons have the same finger print in the whole world. Human being starts to develop finger print at age 3 months.
If someone wants to acquire a skill in this area are there facilities and institutions where he can understudy it in Nigeria?
It is unfortunate that we don’t have. As far as disputed forensic documents we don’t have them
Outside your specialization do we have other areas of forensic studies?
We have some of them in the country like in the Universities. My daughter for instance is studying forensic anthropology.
How has it been consulting in this area given the level of crime in our society? How many cases have you handled since you set up shop?
I have clear statistics of the cases I have done since 2017 when I started business. I retired in 2016 and the company started functioning January 2017. You can’t believe that by the end of this year we are celebrating over one thousand cases, successful forensic cases of forged documents, signatures and handwritings.
What are the challenges that confront you in the performance of your job?
The common challenge is that people do not know how to present their cases. People do not know how to submit some of these samples. Sometimes some lawyers do not know how to package exhibits to the forensic lab. It gives us difficulties and creates long processes of handling such matters. The shorter is the period of treating the matter if properly packaged. Again, the materials that we use such as the software are very very expensive. They are not found here but ordered from outside the country.
In our elections issues of multiple thumb printing arise and this is common, how many of such cases have you handled?
Well I have handled so many, so many multiple impressions during elections.
Whom do you work for in this case, INEC or Court?
The documents will normally come as Certified True Copies (CTC) which people normally apply for and given by INEC. After the forensic test they will tender it in the court. INEC will not normally know that there are multiple impressions and may be evidence is being given in court. It is not easy to determine the number but they are in hundreds.
Is it all here in Imo?
This office covers the whole of Nigeria. Cases come from the whole country, not restricted to Imo alone.
What is your staff strength?
I have about eleven workers, core employees excluding service staff, majority of who are retired police officers. There is also another branch in Lagos.
Why focus on retired police officers instead of giving opportunity to fresh hands?
It is because of experience. We need those who have experience in finger prints because of arranging documents and approaching the scene of crime. If someone does not know how to approach primary scene of crime evidences might be destroyed.
But you can train some young graduates as a way to curb employment. Is there anything limiting you from this?
No, nothing at all. Like I said earlier I have trained 12 persons. This takes about 3-4 years. So many police officers have already applied from all over the country. We are commencing another course by February.
”Training is very important in every aspect of police work. If a
police man stays two to three years without training he would lose touch
with certain tactics in combating crime. He risks approaching it just
like an ordinary civilian. Constant training enlivens the brain and makes
the police officer smart. This is because everyday new systems of crime
emerges and in this generation of the computer there are a lot of
manipulations in crime these days. Before people can look at
another’s signature and simulate it but these days they not only
simulate it they use computers to pick and place it in another document
and it is exactly your signature. Only a trained person can know that
the signature is forged or is synthetic signature.”
Do you run your program like a school or how?
Very well like a school and we award certificates, (shows specimen of certificates awarded).
Are you affiliated to any school?
I am a member of World Association of Forensic experts. My certificates are recognized.
The National Assembly recently passed a bill allowing private detectives and it looks like what you are doing fits into it.
What are your thoughts on the workability of the law?
That is a very good idea. However, I know that government will definitely find a way of controlling any group of people and institutions that go into private investigation. This is because it is something that must be done with caution and you must be truthful and faithful to your job. Impeccable people that cannot be corrupted are needed in this area. What the NASS did is good but there should also be a law guiding it to protect the actors. Remember police have regulations guiding it as they cannot on their own do investigations or do whatever they like.
This is a very critical area in crime investigation. Outside you how many other persons are engaged in this practice in the country?
It is me and two other persons who are retired. In the whole country we are only 3. The other persons major only in handwriting. As a result of my training overseas I am able to deal with finger prints, etching and forged documents and signatures.
What is etching?
Etching is detecting mutilations on metals for instance someone stole your car and removed the engine number and then placed another engine number. If you come here we will detect it immediately.
Presently the argument rages that funding police is a serious challenge for the federal government and now there is clamour for state police.
Do you think that the state will do better?
If the government could say private police, then individuals will now register companies where they will manage a set of police force with the guidelines by the government it will work. But if you say the state government is to fund police, just reflect on the agencies that they have like the ones controlling traffic, those ones that do not use arms, have no special training, how well have they fared.
If they want a workable police system there must be training not only in Nigeria. The police should be properly equipped and I doubt if they have the capacity relying on the monthly allocation. Security demands a huge capital outlay.
People who are calling for state police are civilians who do not know the work of the force. No police man, can ask for the creation of state police. If you give a governor the power to manage police at the state level, given our nature, he can tell the police to ensure that elections do not hold in certain areas. The Commissioner of Police cannot mess up because the federal government is in control.
Think of a governor that has powers to control the police, there will certainly be problem. I do not support it at all.
What do you think should be the way out now that you have discouraged state police?
The federal government should recruit more qualified people in the force, provide them vehicles, pay them good salaries, train them adequately, the police will work. The question you should ask is why the police do well when they go on foreign mission, it is because of equipment. They need to be equipped with everything necessary. If police is properly remunerated they will work and would have no time for gratifications.
Thank you Sir.