Dr Tersoo Shaapera is the author of ‘Forensic Psychology: A Pathway To Justice’ and a forensic and investigative psychologist at the headquarters of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) and also coordinates desk officers of the corps in the 36 states and the FCT. In this Interview with SUNDAY ISUWA, Shaapera advocates the need to involve forensic psychologists in the Nigerian justice system for rapid crime reduction, among other issues.
Tell us more about forensic psychological services
Forensic psychology is all about the application of psychological theories, methods, principles and techniques to legal matters. The field has attracted public attention in the 21st century when cases involving criminal intent, insanity defense, criminal responsibility etc became prominent. Forensic is a different concept. Psychology is also a different concept. Now to a large extent for you to understand the full concept of forensic psychological services, you have to bring the law into it as well. If you don’t understand the concept of law, It will not be very clear. So to be coherent and precise, I will conceptualize the focus of the two of the three. Forensics is science with all the key attributes; objectivity replication.
Before now, when you are talking about forensics, you are referring to a forum the ancient Romans used to deliberate over issues that had to do with crime. Today, the forensic setting is the courtroom. That is to say whatever we do at the level of scientific investigations, the end user is the courtroom. So, forensics is science, it has to do with human behaviour that has infringe on the legality of a system. I give an example, if one commits murder, it is a pure forensic issue, because an individual has killed another. Now, where I say you must have to bring in law is that which law says that is a crime.
For us in Nigeria, and particularly in the North where you have the penal code, under Section 221 of the penal code you have committed homicide punishable with death in the event where one is responsible for the killing of another, therefore, forensic is science. Now, psychology is the study of human behaviour. In a modern way I define psychology as a discipline devoted to identifying and solving behavioral problems. These behaviours could be different contexts. It could be in the context of law, it could be in the context of medicine that’s healthy or it could be in the concept of the society.
Take for instance, as you are sitting with me now, if I asked you, what is happening around your brain, how many neurotransmitters do you have there? What are they doing at the moment? It might be difficult to study. But what psychologists do is to investigate that professionally through the principles and the scientific methods to arrive at why a particular behaviour is being perpetrated. Take for instance, I go back to crime which is an aspect of the society, crime begins with an individual and particularly with the brain. If there is no plan, there will be no crime. Of course, there may be crime that might be by accident and when you investigate you discover that the person was not actually responsible.
He was in fear or he was influenced by one factor or the other. So, when you now bring that together, you have forensic psychology services in the sense that psychologists are out there to study the criminal minds to understand not just what they have done, or how they did it. But forensic psychologists investigate to identify the why of a crime. What is responsible for the individual action? Was the person in the right frame of mind? Was the person in the right state of mind? Is the person actually responsible for that crime or is there an influence either from alcohol or any other mental disorder?
So let’s look at the criminal intent, which you made us to believe is a forensic psychology concept. What do you think is responsible for the rising crimes in Nigeria?
Now I will answer it in two ways. What is the government doing to address psychosocial needs? and what is the society where you now have the so-called young men. I am also young, so it’s not just young men that are perpetrating those crimes. A lot is involved in every way you go. Go to EFCC now, is it not the young men that are only involved in Yahoo Yahoo in what you call cyber crimes, no. So why do I defend them? Let me come back to the talk about criminal intentions. There are two basic elements for you to establish a criminal offense against anybody: the law says there must be two elements, the actus and mens rea. One is the act itself. Another is the intention.
Now what happens? ordinarily, it is assumed that people think before they do things, people think before they say things. Now in our law, that’s why I say we’ll look at it in two dimensions. At the level of government and our jurisprudence. The Nigerian criminal justice system is aware of not just the fault, that is what is in practice, however, there is a question about what are the standards of checking or evaluating criminal intentions. Because if you investigate and evaluate criminal intent or problem, a court judgment might not be enough, there may be a need for professionals to work on criminals to address and to arrest the criminal intentions. We have some people and I stand to be corrected, that are very enlightened. They commit crimes.
They know the probable consequences. There are consequences and they know that after the crime, they are going through the police, after the police, the court and then the Correctional Service thereafter. They go outside the jail for a particular period, and they go back in what we call recidivism. Why? Because, criminal intention is yet to prove. It hasn’t been fully addressed in this part of the world. When a crime occurs, the attention is on the crime-the act, the intention, which is subjective, has not been properly addressed. With all due respect to the judges at all levels, practicing lawyers, investigators, prosecutors, and all of that, they are not psychologists, the issue of intention is pure psychological. If I may ask, have you heard of cases in Nigeria court or judicial system where you have a psychologist fully involved in the prosecution of the criminal offense? It would be very difficult. That’s why I say arguably, you could get some of them, but it is not very popular. What happens is that we always look at or consider what the person has done. Now what has influenced the person? The standard is that the two elements must be present, but we tend to rely on one and then we leave the responsibility to the court, the judicial system, to determine the criminal’s intention. Now in law, you have a subjective and objective standard of examining criminal intentions. One, what the judge thinks the person was doing or he was thinking at that particular moment that he committed a crime. What was the person doing, what was he thinking? On another hand, the judge or the magistrate is looking at what a reasonable person would do in a similar situation or in the same circumstances. Now, I asked, this is my question, who is the reasonable person and what makes him reasonable? Thus, the judges are usually in a fix to determine criminal intent, especially in absence of forensic psychologists who could evaluate cognitive styles. Probably they are looking at someone who is healthy, who is intellectually and mentally balanced, who thinks rationally. Who told you how you arrived at the fact that the person was not thinking rationally? and if he thinks rationally, why do you believe so? It is an area that we need to probe further and that was why in the book I wrote, “Forensic Psychology: Pathway To Justice,” What I did was to focus on eyewitness testimony. For example, when someone comes to testify, there are three things that happen in the courtroom. You get to a level of defense, where you are going to be examined, you will be cross examined, and then you will be re-examined at the three different stages. The eyewitnesses who testify weren’t at scenes to record or to really witness those events. You only pick them probably because they say they witnessed and if you assemble five, three, or even two of them to give you an account of what has happened, you will discover variations. So in my book, what I did was an experiment where I exposed them to a video and thereafter, I administered questionnaires to them to allow them to give me an account of what they have witnessed in the first instance. They got it wrong. In the second instance, they also got it wrong. People who saw white say it was all black. So these are areas that we need to bring in professional forensic psychologist, clinical psychologists to add value because the issue of intention, which is mainstream in law, has not been fully and properly harnessed. Why because the right persons have not been fully involved. And let me say this, I don’t think you need the law to do that. What happens in court, is the ability of the defense or the prosecution to convince the court. It is not all about the volume of evidence you have, it is about what you are able to use to convince the court about what you have so that you get judgment when the prosecution tends to believe certain things for the court. They are giving the judges, the magistrate too much work to do and that’s why we keep having cases. Forensic psychologists have been underutilized in the process.
Now, if these specialists are engaged, what role do you think the forensic psychologists would play in the evaluation of criminal intent?
I give an example, at the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, where I’m serving right now, the Commandant General, Dr Ahmed Abubakar Audi, OFR deemed it fit and he has this understanding that look, there is need for forensic psychological services in the courts so that what happened, the court will begin to benefit from these professional services. The idea is that by the time these services are fully implemented it will help in crime reduction. Again, I give an example: when an accused person is arrested, the person benefits from what is called forensic psychological first aid. There is a level of therapy. You make the person understand what has happened, after you interview the person, the consequences of that and that is not the end of the world. What is important is the person to say the truth the way it is, so that you extract this information voluntarily and at the end of it all, you change the cognitive aspect of the person because it’s all about the cognitive style of an individual. There are people with pathological thought that needs to be changed. And what happened is that when we are engaged to determine criminal intention when we discover the root causes, you find a way to address those root causes. It could be that somebody is a drunkard. So we are going to make a recommendation as to the best way to help this person. But I gave an example: if that is not implemented in the police or other services, there would be a problem because criminal justice is a system of three major pillars. The police, (which Civil Defense is part of), and then the Correctional Institution. Now you cannot jump from the police to the Correctional Center, where you should get rehabilitation and all of that; and how many times or how long does cases stay in the court? Sometimes it’s not the fault of the judge, it’s not the fault of the lawyer. Sometimes it’s not the fault of anybody. But you have cases where staying longer than necessary. I don’t have the right to say that but I’m only mentioning that because there are always factors that lead to that. Now, what the psychologists are going to do is to discover. For example, if you have discovered that one particular crime of rape has become the order of the day, we will now begin to think and analyze why is such happening and after doing that, will advise the citizens because there are sensitization Programme that you do because one person has committed, but to prevent it, you need to arrest not just one person, but to arrest the situation by providing awareness programme. People are beginning to think and act this way because they have been influenced by social factors, some by cultural beliefs, some by one form of pathological issue or the other. There are disorders and so many of those disorders that people are struggling with it in this part of the world unaddressed. Once you do that, you will be reducing the rate of crime in the society.
What you are advancing is very, very important. It will not only bring you to justice, but I think that it will address the rising cases of crime in society now if Nigerian institutions begin to engage forensic psychology experts. What will Nigeria stand to benefit from the entire process?
There will be reduction in crime rates. Just like I mentioned, people think about certain things, when somebody is helpless. Take for instance, I spoke about people involved in cyber crimes, they are doing those things for certain reasons when they are made to understand to live their lives through professional means, the other side of the coin is the alternative ways to live their lives independent of crime, they will do that. The moment they are looking at crimes as the best option, as lucrative businesses. It is pathological to think that it is through crime that you will bring food to the table. But if you don’t provide it. There could be a problem. We assess people to identify psychosocial needs. If those needs are addressed, the person is okay. So there are two ways. Is not just about psychologists doing what they are supposed to do, it will have to strike a balance. Government should also be willing, it should also be ready to listen to professional opinions from forensic psychologists in this regard. We will be working on those involved and when we balance the two because there are two ways. Criminals are stakeholders in the world of crime and the government is also a stakeholder. So, the two will have to strike a balance when we engage criminals to administer forensic psychotherapy and we will also advise the government as to what is needed. If people are stealing water for example, it is because they don’t have water in their community. What are you supposed to do? You will provide water in their community and advise them not to steal water. That is one way of doing it. If you are not able to provide, you let them understand, and I will help you to do that. As much as we talk about fraud in Nigeria, corruption cases, and all of that, not everybody is corrupt. Some people decided that in the face of opportunities, they will not commit any fraudulent behaviour. We would strike a balance. Now I will tell you what is key. There is a bill before Mr President for assent, a psychology bill. I will use this opportunity to call on Mr. President to exercise his discretion in favour of the society, the Nigerian society, not just in favour of the psychologists who have probably sponsored the bill in favour of the society, it should be signed into law so that psychologists will not be new but should be incorporated into the Nigerian justice system. There are pockets of organizations benefiting from psychological services, but yet they are not very popular. That is why most people think psychology should only be limited to universities or should be limited to the level of the classrooms. Every family should have a psychologist. You have a lawyer, you have a medical doctor, but what you even need more is a psychologist because sometimes you see people taking medication without understanding the symptoms. Sometimes all you need is for somebody to tell you what you want to hear. You don’t need any money. You don’t need to go to the hospital. You don’t need to commit a crime.
You author a book, “Forensic Psychology: A Pathway To Justice. Can you tell us more about this?
Just like I said, forensic psychology: a pathway to justice, when you go to court, what the court gives you sometimes is the judgment or the ruling of the court, and is not justice. That’s why sometimes you see judges, they will advise you to go and settle the matter out of court. It is what is called an out-of-court settlement. At that level, you see, that is justice and when justice is to be done, is not just to be done, but should be seen to be done. For instance, judges are not psychologists, what they study is the law. You have psychologists who have studied human behaviour. So, when one commits crimes, it means something is wrong. If you look at the crime or you limit yourself to the level of the crime, you do not address what is responsible for committing a crime and there is always a problem. Now for you to have justice, it means the two have to come together. You understand why the crime has been committed, not just what has been done, where it happened, how it happened, when it happened, but why it has happened is very, very key. When we talk about justice, it should balance society. What the judge has said is true and it should not be about technicalities. The judge is expected to come up with what is called justice and that is why the courtroom is a temple of justice. That is why you have the Ministry of Justice at the level of state and federal. So, for justice to be done two people must be involved, you need Psychologists and lawyers because psychologists are not psychiatrists, they study human behaviour in all ramifications, and where there is a fault. They say look, there is something here and they do diagnoses professionally to let you know that the person that just had an accident by the roadside was influenced by, probably, a sudden horn coming from another vehicle that destabilizes him. Who knows whether the person has been suffering with anxiety disorder. You look at the person without knowing what is influencing the person because the person will just appear normal. But there is something in his brain, there is something in his mental health that should be brought to limelight and unfortunately, you will not get it from medical doctors because they are not psychologists. With all due respect to them, that is why I say in the temple of justice, what happened ? 75% is psychological, all they do, they are talking about what Mr A has done or he has failed to do. It is about commission and omission, it is about plaintiff and defendant, it is about the accused person and the state. So, it revolves around human behaviour. The law itself is out there to regulate human behaviour. Now there is what is called recidivism. Yes, the law is there, but crime is still on the increase. So, why not try something new as well in this part of the world? I give an example. Mc Nathan had shot and killed the secretary to the prime minister in 1843 in London. he was discharged in the court and let go. In this part of the world, Now, the gist of insanity defense is that the person didn’t know what he was doing. When you discharge the person without correction is a problem. So, psychologists are deeply involved and we are very fortunate now to have psychologists on ground, particularly forensic psychologists who know at least elementary knowledge of the law and full knowledge of psychology. With these two together, you have what is called forensic psychology. As a matter of fact, in the past, you graduated from university and law school without studying psychology. But now, psychology has been made the core course for law students because of its importance. Now, what is important is that let’s not leave forensic psychology at the level of academic preparation. In practice, we should also involve forensic psychologists to add value. We are not trained to come and teach the court system. We are not trained to come and teach the judges. We’re not trained to come and teach lawyers. We are trained to bring what we evaluate and to testify in court. Look at the law. Look at what the person has done. Was the person under any mental health condition, or what else? So, if the legal practitioners begin to involve psychologists or the court themselves begin to call a psychologist to testify, they will add value to whatever decision the court intends to make. Today, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps can provide such services. We are here to do that not just for the corps, we could be engaged by anybody to help the court. We would do that and will do it professionally. Objectivity is part of our principles.
You projected Tinubu winning the presidential election with Kashim Shettima as running mate shortly after he picked the former governor of Borno State and there were fears that the APC will die after Buhari’s presidency. Now that the party has consolidated on its gains, do you see the party capturing more states in the gubernatorial election?
I am not a soothsayer but as a realist, you must come to terms with my predictions that have come out to be true reflections of the outcomes in the polity. It is not only about common sense but in-depth knowledge in the amphitheater. In this regard therefore, there are always distinctive differences between briefcase politicians and us realists. Whatever the formulae used during the presidential election will not fly at the Sub-Regional elections which are grass root entrenched. I can assure you the APC as the largest political Party in the Sub-Saharan Region and has become an enduring Party for the future and it shall undeniably win the governorship elections in all the states it governs at the moment and will go ahead to win more to its present 19 states participating at the March 11, 2023 elections. It is very simple as there is greater dynamism in the approach for Presidential and Governorship elections, taking cognizance of the fact that they are sub-regional governments. The APC is deep rooted in all the States it controls and have extended tentacles beyond its boundaries