Alabi Tope V. The State (2019)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
UWANI MUSA ABBA AJI, J.S.C.
This appeal is against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Ekiti Judicial Division, delivered on 20/2/2015, which affirmed part of the judgment of the High Court of Ekiti State, which convicted and sentenced the Appellant to 5 years imprisonment for house breaking and life imprisonment for attempted robbery, contained in the Charge dated 24/11/2010 at page 9-10 of the record as follows:
That you, Alabi Tope (M), on or about 7th day of April, 2010 at about 1:00am at No. 10 Bolorunduro Street, off Nova Road, Ado-Ekiti in the Ado Judicial Division, broke into the house of one Mrs Ademilua Risikat with intent to commit felony to wit stealing and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 411(1) of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38 Vol.4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004,
That you, Alabi Tope (M), on or about 7th day of April, 2010 at about 1:00am at No. 10 Bolorunduro Street, off Nova Road, Ado-Ekiti in the Ado Judicial Division, stole a Nec phone, Nokia phone 1208, Motorolla C17, Jewelries, one Desktop Charger, Three Nokia
batteries and the sum of (N35,000.00), properties of one Mrs Ademilua Risikat and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 390(9) of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C38 Vol. 4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
That you, Alabi Tope (M), on or about 8th day of April, 2010 at Road 2 zone 6 Olorunda Quarters, Ado-Ekiti in the Judicial Division while armed with offensive weapon to wit: cutlass robbed one Mr Michael Nwaobi of his Nokia phone and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 1(2)(A) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act, Cap RII, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.
The facts as alleged are that on 8/4/2010, the Appellant with others broke into the house of one Michael Nwaobi with cutlass and sticks at Olorunda Area of Ado Ekiti, Ekiti State. Unfortunately for the Appellant and his accomplices, they were caught by the occupants of the house who engaged them in a fight wherein the intruder injured one of the occupants but the police was alerted and they napped the Appellant before he escaped. He confessed to the crime and also revealed that he broke into the house of one Mrs. Risikat
Ademilua on 7/4/2010, carting away her valuables. He was then arraigned for house breaking, stealing and armed robbery. The prosecution called 4 witnesses while the Appellant testified for himself and confessed that although he went to rob, he did not carry any weapons and did not steal anything.
After the close of the trial, the trial Court convicted and sentenced the Appellant to 5 years and life imprisonment respectively for stealing and attempted armed robbery and struck out Count 2 as unknown to law. On appeal to the lower Court, the conviction and sentence for stealing was set aside while his conviction and sentence for attempted armed robbery was affirmed, hence this appeal by the Appellant.
By a Notice of Appeal, the Appellant formulated 2 Grounds of appeal with their particulars and to argue the appeal, the Appellant filed an Appellant’s Brief on 20/10/2015, wherein he formulated an issue for the determination of the appeal thus:
Whether the Court was correct in affirming the conviction and sentence of the Appellant handed down by the trial Court for attempted armed robbery.
On the other hand, the Respondent filed a Brief of
Argument on 7/3/2018, wherein he also formulated an issue for the determination of the appeal as follows:
Whether the lower Court was not right in deciding that upon the totality of evidence adduced by the Respondent, the case of House Breaking and attempted robbery against the Appellant were proved beyond reasonable doubt and whether the Court of Appeal was right in upholding the decision of the trial Court.
The parties adopted their respective Briefs and asked this Honourable Court for judgment in their favour. Having gone through the records and the evidence therein, this appeal shall be considered on the single issue formulated by the learned Counsel to the Appellant.
Whether the Court was correct in affirming the conviction and sentence of the Appellant handed down by the trial Court for attempted armed robbery.
The learned Counsel to the Appellant submitted that the Court below relied on 2 pieces of evidence in sustaining the conviction of the Appellant. The 1st is Exhibit A,. which is the confessional statement of the Appellant made to PW1 on 8/4/2010 and the 2nd is the oral testimonies given by PW1, PW2 and PW3. He
contended that for the prosecution to prove armed robbery, the accused must have been armed with firearms or offensive weapons. He cited DIBIE V. STATE (2008) 2 WRN 1, (2007) 3 SCNJ 160. Thus, that PW1 did not arrest the Appellant with any weapon, be it cutlass or stick in the house of PW3. He argued that the Court accepted and relied on Exhibit A because it was not objected to but did not care to examine the statement in the light of other credible evidence as decided in OKASHETU V. STATE (2015) 8 WRN AT 76-77. He also submitted that only Exhibit C and not Exhibit A is available to this Court to access and he urged that the mysteries that shroud Exhibit A ought to be resolved in favour of the Appellant. In conclusion, he submitted that the Appellant was only charged based on the suspicion that he was in PW3’s house to steal and suspicion no matter how strong cannot ground a conviction for any offence. He relied on OHWOVORIOLE, SAN V. FRN & ORS (2001) 13 NSCQR 1. He therefore prayed this appeal to be allowed and to set aside the conviction of the Appellant.
The learned Counsel to the Respondent on the contrary submitted that Exhibits A and C were tendered
without objection, hence its retraction cannot vitiate the proceedings and is an afterthought as decided in USUNG V. STATE (2010) (5) WRN AT 139. He also submitted that by Exhibit C, the Appellant confessed that he went to PW3’s house armed with a cutlass and stick. He argued that PW2 clearly identified Exhibit C as the statement recorded by him being volunteered by the Appellant during investigation. Thus, the administrative practice of confirming/endorsing the confessional statement before a senior police officer is not a legal requirement as affirmed in EDHIGERE V. STATE (1996) 8 NWLR (PT.464) AT 24. In proving the offence against the Appellant, he submitted that apart from the fact that the Appellant was arrested at the scene of crime, he can also be convicted on his confession alone. He cited in support the case of AKPOVETA V. STATE (2008) 9 WRN AT 95. In establishing the ingredients of armed robbery, he cited in support SOWEMIMO V. STATE (2011) ALL FWLR (PT.599) AT 1086. He submitted that in proving that there was robbery which was armed as constituting the first and second ingredients, the evidence of PW3 that he was robbed with a cutlass suffices,
reinforced by Exhibits K-K1, L-L1 and M-M1. On the ingredient that the Appellant was one of the robbers, the evidence of PW3 that he and his brother arrested the Appellant is sufficient. This was also confirmed by the Appellant in his confession. On what constitutes attempted armed robbery as stated in SHURUMO V. STATE (2011) ALL FWLR (PT.568) AT 869, it is clear that the Appellant with the other robbers had done the necessaries to consummate the offence of armed robbery. He contended that the prosecution has no duty to present as a witness the brother of PW3 since it is the law that 1 witness of truth can lead to a conviction as strengthened inAKPA V. STATE (2003) ALL FWLR (PT.420) AT 651. Also, production of items stolen is not one of the elements of the offence as held in GIKI V. STATE (2014) LPELR-22722. He finalized that findings borne out of credible evidence must not be disturbed by an appellate Court. He supported this with IBIKUNLE V. STATE (2007) 2 NWLR (PT.1019) AT 575. He thus prayed that this sole issue be resolved against the Appellant and to dismiss the appeal.
By my understanding of the respective issues formulated by the parties after
a thorough study of the proceedings and the records of the appeal, the Appellant’s lone issue shall be considered herein for determining the appeal.
To succeed in proof of a charge for attempted armed robbery, the prosecution must prove the following ingredients: 1. That there was an attempt to rob by the accused but he was stopped in the process or that he attempted to abet the commission of the offence. 2. That the accused was armed or was in the company of any person who was armed. 3. That the accused in the attempt did some act not of an ambiguous kind, directly towards the commission of the offence charged. See OKON DAN OSUNG V. THE STATE (2012) LPELR – 9720 (SC). The method of carrying out the proof can be any or a combination of the methods, viz: i. Confessional statement of the accused. ii. Circumstantial evidence linking the accused to the crime iii. Evidence of an eye-witness. See Per PETER-ODILI, J.S.C in ORISA V. STATE (2018) LPELR-43896(SC).
What comes to fore is the legal tenability and validity of Exhibits A and C sustaining the conviction and sentence of the Appellant by the lower Court with the testimonies of the witnesses of the
prosecution. Exhibits A and C are the confessional statements of the Appellant tendered and admitted in evidence on 9/1/2013 and 22/1/2013 respectively amidst “NO OBJECTION” from the learned Counsel representing the Appellant. See page 17 for Exhibit A and page 20 for Exhibit C. The contention now raised by the Appellant’s learned Counsel to the admissibility of the said Exhibits is not only puerile but a vain afterthought which cannot salvage his case. Does this issue even need to be hammered on When there is no objection to the tendering and admissibility of a document especially, a confessional statement, which is one of the strongest, indubitable, potent and undefendable ways and methods of proving a crime, the matter is settled and sealed. This matter was resounded by his lordship, Per OGUNDARE, JSC in OLALEKAN V. STATE (2001) LPELR-2561(SC), when a similar case came before him for consideration, wherein he said:
“When the voluntariness of a confession is being denied, a trial within trial will be held, but if the statement is voluntarily made then it is admissible by virtue of Section 27 of the Evidence Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.
It is however noteworthy that when an accused person alleged that the confessional statement credited to him is made under duress or not made voluntarily by him, objection must then be raised to its admission when the statement is sought to be tendered in evidence and not after they have (sic) been admitted in evidence.”
It is argued by the Appellant that Exhibit C did not contain the endorsement of PW2, the Investigating Police Officer, who took over from PW1. That the endorsement Form was not tendered alongside with Exhibit C to make it admissible in law. It is good that the administrative practice of endorsing the confessional statement of the accused person before a senior police officer be followed so that a gap in the evidence is not created, however, it has not yet received legal requirement for the admissibility of a confessional statement. “The failure to observe the procedure of taking the accused/appellant before a Superior Police Officer in respect to Exhibit has not rendered the statement inadmissible as it is not the requirement of any law. All that the taking or the endorsement of the Superior officer would portend is making proof of its
voluntariness easier and no more.” See Per PETER-ODILI, JSC in EHIMIYEIN V. STATE (2016) LPELR-40341(SC).
The issue of retraction or denial on involuntariness of the confessional statement of the Appellant contained on Exhibits A and C cannot hold water for him. It is nonetheless always cautioned and advised that some independent evidence should be relied upon even though the confessional statement of an accused is sufficient to ground his conviction and sentence. Per NWEZE, JSC in OFORDIKE V. STATE (2019) LPELR-46411 (SC), garnished this point further:
where an accused person retracts or resiles from his confessional statement, the trial Court would be perfectly right to admit it and determine the weight to be attached to it in its judgment. For this purpose, it [the trial Court] would, consider issues, such as the ones indicated hereafter. They are: whether there is anything outside the confession which may vindicate its veracity; whether it is corroborated in any way; whether its contents, if tested, could be true; whether the defendant had the opportunity of committing the alleged offence; whether the confession is possible and the
consistency of the said confession with other facts that have been established…
It is settled law that an accused person can be convicted solely on his confessional statement. If a Court of law comes to the conclusion that a statement made by an accused person satisfies all the legal requirements of a confessional statement, then the charge against the accused must of necessity have been proved beyond reasonable doubt. The reason is simply that the Court can and does convict an accused person solely on his confessional statement. See Per ONNOGHEN, J.S.C in FATAI V. STATE (2013) LPELR-20182(SC). I would have taken a halt here since the Appellant’s case appears knocked off already. However, let me take a little stretch.
The next lane of caution to follow in considering Exhibits A and C will be to look for independent evidence to corroborate the said Exhibits to the probability of the commission of the crime by the Appellant. In the instant appeal, we are not looking for any circumstantial evidence again. It is on record that the Appellant was caught and arrested at the scene of the crime by virtue of his own confession and the testimonies of PW1, PW2
and PW3. This as a necessity also obviates the need to go into a voyage and search for corroborative evidence! The eyewitness account of PW3 is contained at pages 37-38 of the record, where amongst other things he testified thus:
“I know the accused person. On 8/4/10 I was in my house sleeping with my wife when my wife called me that she saw someone passing from the room to the sitting room… The accused entered through one of the unoccupied rooms when I came out of my room to see the person. I was hit. I then shouted and my brother in the other room heard my voice and came out. He was attacked and was matchetted. The people that came to my house were four in number.
Three of the people ran away, we hold (sic) one of them who was this accused person inside my house. My brother ran out and called O,crack who is a police officer. That our neighbour then called the police station and the police came in their police van. The accused was then taken to the police station. On 10/4/10 the police visited my house on investigation. They took photograph of the damage to my house and the injury to my body. I was the person who hold the accused person…”
By the above excerpt and the evidence of PW1 and PW2, it is clearly established that there was attempted robbery involving the use of cutlass or matchet by the Appellant and his other 3 accomplices that were able to escape and leave the Appellant caught in the net of armed robbery red-handed. Thus, the 1st and 2nd ingredients of attempted armed robbery were proved beyond reasonable doubt.
That the accused in the attempt did some act not of an ambiguous kind, directly towards the commission of the offence charged it is revealed by the evidence of PW3 that he was caught red-handed at the crime scene and taken to the police station. This, undoubtedly and inescapably made him to not to have fulfilled his mission of armed robbery in the house of PW3. Aside the Appellant’s confessional statements vide Exhibits A and C considered above, the Appellant at page 44 during his trial opened up the can of worms albeit some denials and mix ups thus:
“I know sgt Akinniyi Tosin (PW1). He was the policeman who arrested me. I know sgt Adeniju Aguniejika. Did not rob Michael Nwaobi his handset. Nothing was found with me at the point of my arrest When I was arrested, I was
not seen with cutlass, gun or anything stolen. I was arrested at the house of Michael Nwaobi (PW3).”
There were also in evidence the photographs of the injured body of the brother of PW3 as testified by PW3 and the damaged windows which were without objection admitted in evidence as Exhibits K-K1, L-L1 and M-M1 respectively. It is beyond reasonable doubt therefore that there was an attempt to rob by the Appellant but he was stopped in the process when held and arrested, that the Appellant was armed with cutlass being an offensive weapon or in the company of some person(s) armed and that the Appellant in the attempt did some act not of an ambiguous kind, directly towards the commission and consummation of the offence of armed robbery charged. It actually does not matter if he was not armed himself or did not steal or rob anything from the house of PW3, all the ingredients and circumstances point to the fact that he attempted armed robbery which was aborted because of his apprehension.
The non-production of the stolen items and the non-calling of the brother of PW3 who was at the scene of the crime cannot affect the case of the prosecution since it has
been abundantly proved through many other ways and methods beyond reasonable doubt that the Appellant attempted to rob the house of PW3 until his arrest in the house of his victim. The issue is resolved against the Appellant and the judgment of the lower Court setting aside the 5 years imprisonment for house breaking and affirming life imprisonment for attempted robbery delivered on 20/2/2015, is hereby affirmed. Appeal is hereby dismissed.