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James Obi Achabua V. The State (1976) LLJR-SC

James Obi Achabua V. The State (1976)

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We dismissed this appeal on the 9th day of December, 1976 and now, as notified by us, give our reasons.

The appellant was in Charge No. HJ/13C/74 tried for the offence of murder contrary to section 319 of the Criminal Code by the High Court of South Eastern State (now Cross River State) presided over by Ntia, J. found guilty and convicted on the 5th day of May, 1975.

The particulars of the offence given in the charge reads:

“James Obi Achabua and Peter Nkpe between the 3rd day of April, 1973 and 21st day of April, 1973 at Bajanfue Beebo Ikom in Ogoja Judicial Division did murder Christopher Egada”.

Five witnesses were called by the prosecution while two testified for the defence and briefly the facts established by evidence before the learned trial judge are as follows:

Christopher Egada was a house servant to the appellant at Bajanfue village and had lived with him for about 2 years prior to his death. On or about 1st day of April, 1973, the Bajanfue village community including the appellant went fishing in the fishing pond when at about 7 p.m. information was brought to the appellant by his wife that the deceased had disappeared from the house with the appellant’s money, N99.00. The appellant then abandoned the fishing and traced the deceased to Obudu where he succeeded in recovering N90.00 out of the said amount from him and persuaded him to return. According to Exhibit 1, the 1st statement of the accused (in which he denied any knowledge of the whereabout of the deceased and disclaimed any knowledge of the death of the deceased) as they were returning the deceased pleaded for forgiveness. He offered to transfer his father’s land to the appellant to cover up the balance. In the alternative, he also offered to work for appellant to cover up the N9.00 balance. The appellant’s reply is better reproduced from his statement Exhibit 1 on 14th April, 1973 which reads:

“The boy himself na him tell me say make me I no take am for police if land him go go show me him papa land for the remaining N9.00 or make me I go give am some work where him go do for me to cover the N9.00 that very day where I catch am for Obudu.

I bring am for my house. As we been dey come from Obudu, me and him Christopher night meet us for road and I tell am say o.k. as you say if na land I want you go give me, or if na work you go work for the balance N9.00, me and you go go see councilor if day break. So for night now him go sleep for the room wey I give am and when day break I no see am again. As I no see am when day break I go for councillor go tell am for the matter”.

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Following a report to the police about the sudden disappearance of the deceased, the police organised a search into the village bush area. Accompanied by the appellant, Patrick Unya (PW1), James Mbuta (PW2), Jack Onya (PW3) who was Councillor in the village, and Gabriel Kekwa (PW6), two police officers namely, Cyprian Ajime P.C. No. 25751 (PW4) and Corporal No. 2015 Omini Ebri (PW5) conducted a search of the bush area and discovered a newly dug grave (referred to as a fresh grave) concealed by leaves. On the instructions of the policemen, PW4 and PW5, the appellant started to remove the leaves but frightened suddenly he took to his heels exclaiming “I don die” as he ran. He was chased and brought back by PW4 and others and restrained to prevent his escape. When he was asked why he ran he explained to the hearing of all in the search party that that was where he killed and buried the deceased.

On this point of explanation, the evidence of PW3 reads:

“He answered that because of this boy who stole my money na him make I kill am”

and the evidence of PW4 reads that:

“He said because we had seen where he killed and buried the deceased Christopher Egada”.

When the party reopened the grave, they discovered that it contained the headless body of Christopher Egada, and being puzzled they decided to search for the head. The appellant was then asked to help and when asked where the head of the deceased was, the appellant pointed to another spot in the bush as the place where it was buried which on being dug out was found to contain the head of Christopher Egada. The head was recovered from inside it. In addition to the oral confession made, statements Exhibits 4 and 5 admitting the killing and cutting off of the head of Christopher Egada were made to the police by the appellant. But in his evidence before the court, the appellant retracted both his confessional statements and denied making any statements to the police. He denied that he ran away on seeing the grave. He denied ever seeing the corpse till it was removed from the grave. He denied that the deceased was ever his houseboy. He denied that he at any time lost N99.00 in his house. He denied ever travelling to Obudu or catching the deceased. He admitted however knowing PW1, PW2 and PW3. He denied showing the spot where the head of the deceased was buried. He said it was the beating that the police gave him that made him sign the statements.

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After hearing evidence, the learned trial judge gave a considered judgment where he reviewed meticulously the evidence adduced by each witness who testified in the case and made the following findings and conclusions justifiably in our view:

“There is evidence that the 1st accused succeeded in getting the deceased but recovered only N90.00 from him, the deceased promised to serve him for the balance of N9.00 or give 1st accused land for value, Exhibit 1 refers, and the evidence from prosecution witnesses. I accept and believe this evidence. There is evidence that 1st accused brought back the deceased to his house and first accused said he would see the councillor with the deceased the following day and he gave the deceased a room to sleep that night but the following morning he never saw the deceased again and reported to their councillor. Exhibit 1 refers. But the councillor, PW3 says he never heard of the incident till the police arrives …..

I find as a fact that the first accused did take home the deceased from Obudu where he caught him around 3rd April, 1973. I conclude that the first accused clearly knew what happened to the deceased that very night after he had brought the deceased to his house……………

I believe the prosecution witnesses that on 21/4/73 during the search party and exhumation of the corpse in the bush the first accused was frightened and did escape and was caught and tied up to prevent his escape. There is sufficient and reliable circumstantial evidence even after excluding Exhibits 4, 5, 7 and 8 to come to the above findings of fact ………

First accused’s allegation of general hatred is unfounded. Even though I have discarded the statements of first accused recorded by PW5 because of the clumsiness with which they were recorded, I believe P.W.s, 4 and 5 and believe that accused was taken before DPO Ikom who duly interviewed him and filed Exhibit 10. I believe the other PW.s 1-3 along with PW.s 4 and 5 whatever little variation there exist in their stories do not amount to material contradictions in their evidence. …………

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I believe first accused did exclaim “I don die” when the grave was discovered by PW4 and that first accused told PW.s 4 and 5 at the bush that he killed his servant because the servant stole his money and ran away to Obudu from where he fetched him back ……………

I therefore find him guilty of murder and convict him”. (Underlining is ours).

It was against this decision that this appeal was lodged on five grounds.

The only point in the five grounds filed worthy of mention is the fact that there was no eye witness to the murder.

Only in few cases do criminals perpetrate their crimes in the open and the secrecy with which they execute their plans has tended to deprive the prosecution in some cases of eye witnesses. Happily, in this instant case, we have the extra judicial confessional statements in evidence and the recovery of the severed head of the deceased from the grave identified by the appellant as the place he buried it established the truth of the confession. It is settled law that confession alone is sufficient to support conviction without corroboration so long as the court is satisfied of the truth of the confession. (R. v. Sykes 8 Cr App R 223, R v. Kanu 14 WACA 30, Edet Obosi v. The State (1965) N.N.L.R. 119, Paul Onochie & 7 Ors. v. The Republic 1966 NNLR 307 and Jimoh Yesufu v. The State (1975) 6 SC.167).

The learned trial judge gave full consideration to the evidence before him and we are satisfied that on the evidence he could not have come to any other conclusion than that the appellant killed the deceased in cold blood. There is no merit in the appeal and for the above reasons we dismissed the appeal when learned counsel for the appellant informed the court that he had nothing useful to urge in favour of the appellant.

Other Citation: (1976) LCN/2184(SC)

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