Okechukwu Maraire V. The State (2016)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
KUDIRAT MOTONMORI OLATOKUNBO KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
On 21/11/2002, the appellant and three others were charged before the High Court of Edo State, sitting at Benin City (the trial Court) on a two-count charge of conspiracy and armed robbery as follows:
That you Jude Maduka Obi, Okechukwu Maraire Osamede Abbey and Francis Ehebholo, on or about the 25th day of March 1999 at Buvel Filling Station No. 222 Muritala Muhammed Way Benin City in the Benin Judicial Division, conspired with each other to commit a felony to wit: Armed Robbery and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 1(2) (a) of the Armed Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap. 398 Law of the Federation of Nigeria,1990.
That you Jude Maduka Obi, Okechukwu Maraire Osamede Abbey and others now at large on or about the 25th day of March 1999 at Buvel Filling Station, No. 222 Muritala Muhammed Way Benin City in the Benin Judicial Division robbed the sum of seven hundred and sixty-four thousand four hundred and thirty eight naira, eighty three kobo (N764,438.83), Four hundred Dutch (sic) Mark (400 Dutch (sic) Mark),
sixty-four US dollars (64 US Dollars), Fifty British Pounds Sterling cash (50 British Pounds Sterling) and coral beads of assorted forms valued at one hundred and fifty thousand naira (N150,000) properties of Prince Clement Okoeguaie and at the same time of the robbery were armed with a gun and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 1(2)(a) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap, 398 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
At the arraignment the appellant was the 2nd accused. All the accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Unfortunately, the 1st accused, Jude Maduka Obi, died in prison custody. The prosecution withdrew the charges against the deceased and amended the charge. The remaining three persons, including the appellant pleaded not guilty to the amended charge. The appellant then became the 1st accused. The 4th accused, Francis Ehebholo, who was charged on the count of conspiracy only, was discharged on a successful no-case submission, leaving only two accused standing trial- the appellant and one Osamede Abbey.
The prosecution called seven witnesses in proof of its case. The facts as
presented by the prosecution are as follows:
PW3, Thomas Iyere was a night guard at Buvel Filling Station, Muritala Muhammed Way, Benin City. He resumed work at about 7 p.m on 24/3/1999. After all workers closed for the day around 8 p.m he was alone in the premises. At about 2 a.m in the early hours of the morning of 25/3/1999 he heard some noise suggesting that the gate had been shaken. He went to investigate and saw two persons, who had already entered the premises, walking towards him. He asked of their mission but they did not respond. Sensing danger, he tried to escape to the nearby premises of New Nigerian Bank, which usually has a police presence. Unknown to him, there were other hoodlums in the premises. Two other men grabbed him by the collar and dragged him to the mechanic section on the premises. According to his testimony, they tore his shirt and used part of it to bind his hands and legs. They advised him to remain quiet, as he was not the one they were after. A gun was pointed at him to ensure he understood their command. The person in possession of the gun stood over him while others went to carry out the operation. From where he was held he could hear noises indicating that metal protectors were
being cut. The sound came from the main office block. After about an hour, the person guarding him left. He managed to free himself from his constraints and ran to the nearby New Nigerian Bank and narrated his experience to the policeman on duty. He also called the Managing Director of the Filling Station and narrated his experience. The first to arrive on the scene was Queen Igah (the office cashier- PW4)
PW1, Clement Kennedy Okoegwale, the Managing Director of the company received the news of the incident while away in the United States of America. He returned as soon as he could and arrived on 27/3/1999. He described what he saw thus:
a. the gate to his office had been sliced open with an electric saw;
b. the door leading to the strong room housing the safe (in the cashiers office) was destroyed; it had been sliced open with a cutting machine but the robbers were unable to force it open;
c. the safe in his office however was damaged and forced open. Various amounts of local and foreign currency and coral beads were found to have been stolen.
PW2, the Admin Manager and PW4, the cashier, both testified as to how they found the
strong room vandalized, safes opened and money carted away. PW5, attached to the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad, Force C.I.D. Annex, Adeniji Adele, Lagos, was a member of the team assigned to investigate the case. The case was transferred to them from Benin pursuant to a petition written to the Assistant Inspector General of Police D Department, Force C.I.D Abuja. The case file was handed over to him along with the first and second accused persons (the now deceased 1st accused and the appellant) from State C.I.D. Benin City. He visited the scene and testified as to what he observed and also mentioned the exhibits handed over to him. It was his testimony that the appellant volunteered a confessional statement, which he recorded and countersigned after the appellant confirmed that he made it voluntarily. An objection was taken to its admissibility on grounds of involuntariness. It was admitted in evidence after a trial within trial as Exhibit P1. PW6 is the Superior Police Officer before whom the appellant was taken to confirm his confessional statement. The attestation form was admitted in evidence as Exhibit P4. PW7, a process server attached
to the State C.I.D legal section, tendered copies of signals sent to one Sgt. Patasi Sam to compel his attendance before the Court.
In his defence, the appellant denied any knowledge of the crime. At the conclusion of trial, in a considered judgment delivered on 16/6/2006 the learned trial judge acquitted and discharged the appellant and his co-accused of the offence of conspiracy charged in count 1 but convicted and sentenced them both to death by hanging on the charge of armed robbery in Count 2. Being dissatisfied with this decision, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal Benin Division. The appeal was dismissed on 16/6/2013. The appellant is still dissatisfied and has further appealed to this Court. The original notice of appeal at pages 409-410 of the record contains two grounds of appeal.
In compliance with the rules of this Court, the parties filed and exchanged their respective briefs of argument. At the hearing of the appeal on 29th September, 2016, learned counsel for the Appellant was absent. The Court was satisfied from its record that he had been duly notified of the hearing date. The appellant having filed a brief of argument on
21/11/2013 settled by CHIEF OSAHENI UZAMERE of counsel, the provisions of Order 6 Rule 8 (6) of the Rules of this Court were invoked and the appellant was deemed to have argued the appeal. OLUYOLE IYAMU ESQ., Solicitor General, Ministry of Justice, Edo State, leading R.O. OAIHIMEIRE (MRS.) (S.S.C) and M.O ERUAGA (MISS) (S.S.C), adopted and relied on the respondents brief, which was deemed filed on 22/4/2015. He urged the Court to dismiss the appeal.
I observed that the appellant in Paragraph 4 at page 2 of his brief purported to seek leave to file additional grounds of appeal. Paragraph 4 reads thus:
LEAVE TO FILE AND ARGUE ADDITIONAL GROUNDS OF APPEAL/PURSUANT TO ORDER 6 RULE 5 (1)(C) OF THE SUPREME COURT RULES AS AMENDED IN 1999.”
The additional grounds of appeal are set out in Paragraph 5. I reproduced them below shorn of their particulars:
(a) The learned Justices of the Court below (Court of Appeal) erred in law to have upheld the High Courts assumption of jurisdiction in the case.
(b) The learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were wrong in law when they upheld the trial Courts admission in
evidence, (SIC) the faulty flawed confessional statement of the Appellant.
(c) The learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were wrong in upholding the perverted evaluation of evidence by the learned trial Judge.
From the two original and three additional grounds of appeal, the appellant formulated 4 issues for determination as follows:
- Whether the decision of the Court of Appeal in upholding the judgment of the High Court is borne out by the evidence before the trial Court. (Grounds 1&2 of the original grounds of appeal).
- Whether the Court of Appeal was right in upholding the findings/evaluation of facts by the High Court in so far as such evaluation was perverse. (Ground (C) of the additional grounds of appeal).
- Whether the Court of Appeal was right in law to have upheld the trial Courts assumption of jurisdiction in a matter it did not posses the requisite jurisdiction to hear. (Ground (a) of the additional grounds of appeal).
- Whether the Court of Appeal was right in upholding the trial Court’s admission in evidence of the fatally flawed confessional statement of the appellant. (Ground (b) of the additional grounds of appeal).
The respondent, on its part, formulated 2 issues for determination thus:
- Whether on the evidence of the prosecution witnesses and confessional statements of the appellant and his
co-accused, the lower Court was in error in not discharging and acquitting the appellant for the offence of armed robbery.
- Whether the proper mode for the commencement of trial for the offence of armed robbery in the High Court is by filing information or a charge
Before going into the merits of the appeal, I deem it necessary to have a further look at the additional grounds of appeal incorporated in the appellants brief Order 6 Rule 5(1)(c) of the Rules of this Court provided as follows:
If leave to file and argue additional grounds of appeal is to be sought at the hearing of the appeal, it may be so indicated in the brief and the proposed additional grounds shall be stated and argued in the brief under the appropriate issue or issues arising in the appeal. Provided that any fees payable under Order 2 Rule 13 shall be paid to the Registrar of this Court at the time of filling the brief.
In the instant case, I have carefully examined the Courts record and have been unable to find any application to regularize the additional grounds of appeal contained in the appellants brief. As noted earlier, learned counsel
for the appellant, though duly served with hearing notice, was absent at the hearing of the appeal. There was therefore no application at the hearing for leave to argue the additional grounds of appeal. I therefore hold that issues (b) and (c) of the additional grounds of appeal are incompetent. They are hereby struck out. Issues 2 and 4 distilled from the incompetent grounds of appeal are also incompetent and accordingly struck out.
Ground (a) of the additional grounds of appeal raises the issue of jurisdiction. The law is trite that the issue of jurisdiction can be raised at any time and even for the first time before the Apex Court. It is equally well settled that leave is not required to raise the issue of jurisdiction. See: Gaji Vs Paye (2003) 8 NWLR (Pt. 823) 583; Obiakor Vs State (2002) 10 NWLR (Pt. 776) 612; Omomeji Vs. Kolawole (2008) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1106) 180; Agbiti Vs. Nigerian Navy (2011) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1236) 175. I hold that Ground (a) is therefore competent. Issue 3 formulated from the said ground is also incompetent.
Based on the above observation, I am of the view that the issues relevant to the just determination of this appeal are the appellants issues 1 and 3, which are
substantially similar to the two issues formulated by the respondent. Issue 1 is distilled from grounds 1 and 2 of the original notice of appeal while 3 is distilled from additional ground (a). I adopt the appellants issues 1 and 3 for the resolution of this appeal, with a slight rephrasing of issue 3 and re-numbering it as issue 2. Issue 2 raises the fundamental issue of the jurisdiction of the trial Court to have entertained the case ab initio. Prudence therefore dictates that this issue should be considered first. Issue 1 will be determined thereafter if the need arises.
Whether the Court of Appeal was right in law to have upheld the trial Courts assumption of jurisdiction in this case.
Learned counsel for the appellant submitted that the trial Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case ab initio, for failure of the prosecution to file an information and seek the consent of the learned trial judge to prefer the charges against the appellant. He submitted that the appellant was wrongly tried upon a charge sheet used in the Magistrates Court for the trial of misdemeanors under the summary trial procedure. He
submitted that the correct procedure for initiating a Criminal trial at the High Court is as contained in Section 331 of the Criminal Procedure Law (C.P.L) Cap. 49 Vol. II Laws of now Defunct Bendel State 1976 applicable to Edo State. He submitted that failure to fulfill a condition precedent to the exercise of jurisdiction by the trial Court renders the trial a nullity. He relied on Madukolu vs Nkemdilim (1962) 1 ALL NLR NLR 587 @ 595; A.G. Lagos State v. Dosunmu (1989) 3 NWLR (Pt. 111) 552 @ 557-558; MacFoy vs U.A.C (1962) AC 152 and several other authorities in support of his submission. He argued that non-compliance with Section 337 of the CPL vitiates the entire proceedings.
Arguing further, he submitted that the word summary appearing in the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap 398 LFN 1990 cannot be imported into Section 4 of the Tribunals (Certain Consequential Amendment, e.t.c) Decree No. 62 of 1999, as was done by the learned trial Judge.
Section 4 provides:
- All Criminal proceedings brought before the Court relating to a matter for which the Court has jurisdiction under this Decree shall
be tried summarily in accordance with Section 33 of the Federal High Court Act and rules of procedure made under the Act or under the equivalent section of the relevant High Court Law of the State concerned and rules of procedure made under that Law.
He assumed that the section of the Federal High Court Law referred to above enjoins the Court to conduct Criminal Proceedings subsequently in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act. He contended that Section 4 of the Decree must be read in conjunction with Section 337 of the CPL of Bendel State as applicable to Edo State.
Learned counsel went further to contend that the charges against the appellant were brought under the defunct Decree and that the appellant was therefore tried under a non-existent law.
He relied on Aoko vs Fagbemi (1961) ALL NLR 100. He urged the Court to resolve this issue in the appellants favour.
Before considering the respondents submission on this issue, it is pertinent to note that there is no appeal before this Court on the issue as to whether the appellant was charged under a non-existent law. The only particular of error
under the additional ground (a), from which this issue was distilled is as follows:
Particular of Error
It was clear that the appellant herein (accused in the High Court) was not properly arraigned. Offences of felony are triable in the High Court on information and not by a charge sheet (summary trial) as was done in the case which is a felony- armed robbery.”
The submission as to the law under which the appellant was charged therefore go to no issue and are accordingly discountenanced.
In response to the submission of learned counsel for the appellant, the learned Solicitor General submitted on behalf of the respondent, that the proper mode for the commencement of trial for the offence of armed robbery at the High Court is by way of a charge and not by way of information. He submitted that by the virtue of Section 4 of the Tribunals (Certain Consequential Amendments, etc) Decree No. 62 of 1999 (now Act and henceforth referred to as Decree 62) and Part II of the Schedule thereto, which Act was saved by Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution, the High Court is vested with jurisdiction to hear and determine armed robbery cases
He reproduced Section 4 of Decree 62, Section 33 of the Federal High Court (FHC) Act and Section 12 of the High Court Law of Bendel State 1976, applicable to Edo State. He submitted that by the clear wordings of Section 315(1) of the Constitution, Section 4 Decree 62 and Section 33 of the FHC Act is the existing law on arraignment in respect of armed robbery cases.
He submitted that reliance on Section 337 of the CPL is misconceived, as the Section merely prescribes the form an Information should take where the need to file an information arises. He submitted further that the CPL is a residual law while the appellant was charged, tried and convicted under Section 1 (2) (a) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap. 398 LFN 1990. In the circumstance he argued that there was no basis for a combined reading of Section 4 of Decree 62 with Section 337 of the CPL.
He submitted further, relying on Aminu Tanko vs The State (2009) 1-2 MJSN 209 @ D-F and Din vs A.G Federation (1988) 4 NWLR (Pt. 87) 147 @ 186, that where the law creating an offence specifies the mode for the trial of offences created thereunder that mode applies
to the exclusion of the general mode of commencement of trial of offences in the Court. He maintained that the charge of armed robbery for which the appellant and his co-accused were tried and convicted was properly laid in accordance with the provision of the enabling law.
The Act creating the offences with which the appellant and his co-accused were charged is the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap. 398 LFN 1990, specifically Section 1(2)(a) thereof, which provides:
- Any person who commits robbery shall upon trial and conviction under this Act, be sentenced to imprisonment for not less than 21 years.
(a) any offender mentioned in Sub-section (1) of this section is armed with any firearms or offensive weapon or is in company with any person so armed
the offender shall be liable upon conviction under this Act to be sentenced to death.
Section 2(1) of Decree 62 provides:
2 (1) The Federal High Court or the High Court of a State, as the case may be, shall have jurisdiction to try the offences created under the enactments specified in the Schedule to this decree.<br< p=””
Part II of the Schedule thereto lists the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Decree 1984 (as contained in Cap. 398 LFN 1990) as one of such enactments. Section 4 of Decree 62 reproduced earlier provides that all Criminal Proceedings brought before the Court relating to a matter in which the Court has jurisdiction shall be tried summarily in accordance with Section 33 of the FHC Act and rules of procedure or under the equivalent section of the relevant High Court Law of the State concerned and under the rules of procedure made under that law.
As rightly submitted by Learned counsel for the respondent, Decree 62 of 1999 is saved as an existing law by virtue of Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Section 33 of the Federal High Court Act provides:
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, criminal proceedings before the Court shall be conducted substantially in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Act and the provisions of that Act shall, with such modifications as may be necessary to bring it in conformity with the provisions of this Act, have effect in respect of matters falling within the
jurisdiction of the Court.
(2) Notwithstanding the generality of Subsection (1) of this section, all Criminal Causes or Matters before the Court shall be tried summarily.
Learned counsel for the appellant has argued this issue on the premise that summary trial procedure is only applicable to the Magistrates Courts or other inferior Courts. This view is misconceived. The reason can be found, firstly, in Sections 2 (1) and 4 of Decree 62 and Section 33 of the Federal High Court Act (supra), which provide for summary trial in Criminal Proceedings before the High Court. Another reason is to be found in Section 277 of the C.P.L as rightly observed in Ogunwumiju, JCA’S concurring opinion in the Court below. Section 277 of the C.P.L. of Bendel State 1976, applicable to Edo State provides:
“277: The provisions of this part shall apply to offences triable summarily, that is to say;
(a) to all trials in the High Court other than information; and
(b) to all trials in the High Court in respect of offences for which it is provided that a trial can be had in the High Court otherwise than on information and for which no special procedure is provided;
(c) to all trials in any Magistrates Court to the extent of the jurisdiction of the magistrate adjudicating; and
(d) for all offences declared by any written law to be triable summarily or on summary conviction or in a summary manner by a magistrate.
Section 12 of the High Court Law of the Defunct Bendel State, 1976 applicable in Edo State provides that the jurisdiction of the High Court shall be exercised in the manner
(i) Provided by the High Court Law;
(ii) The Criminal Procedure Law; and
(iii) Any other Act of Parliament or written law or by such Rules and Orders of Court as may be made pursuant to this law or Act.” (Underlining mine)
The effect of the various provisions reproduced above, as held by the Court below, is that they all recognize the fact that the filing of an information is not the only method by which criminal trials may be instituted. It is correct, as submitted by learned counsel for the respondent, that where a statute provides for a particular mode of doing something, that method and no other must be adopted. See: Tanko Vs The State (Supra); Din Vs. A.G. Federation
(supra); N.S.I.T.F.M.B. Vs. Klifco Nig. Ltd. (2010) 13 NWLR (Pt.1211) 307.
In the instant case, since Section 4 of Decree 62 of 1999 has been saved by Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), it is an existing law, which provides that all Criminal Proceedings before the Court shall be tried summarily. This includes proceedings under Section 1 (2) (a) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap. 398 LFN 1990. Section 33 of the Federal High Court Act also makes specific provision for the summary trial of Criminal Matters.
There is therefore no doubt at all that the mode of instituting Criminal Proceedings before the High Court for the offence of armed robbery is by summary trial procedure i.e. by preferring a charge, as was done in this case.
Learned counsel for the appellant has failed to show that the finding of the Court below is perverse. No cogent legal argument has been advanced to warrant interference by this Court in the finding of the Court below. Indeed I observe that learned counsel for the appellant merely reproduced mutatis mutandis the argument contained in Paragraph 4 of his brief of argument filed before the
lower Court at pages 306 – 308 of the record. He failed to point out the specific findings of the Court below which he did not agree with. Consequently, this issue is resolved against the appellant.
Whether the decision of the Court of Appeal in upholding the judgment of the High Court is borne out by the evidence before the trial Court.
In arguing this issue, learned counsel for the appellant submitted that an appellate Court would not ordinarily interfere with the findings of fact by the trial Court unless the findings are perverse, not supported by evidence, or have led to a miscarriage of justice or practice has not been followed or complied with. He relied on Abokuyanro Vs The State (2012) 2 NWLR (Pt.1285) 530; Ajayi Vs Adebiyi (2012) ALL FWLR (Pt.634) 1; Gambari Vs Ibrahim (2012) ALL FWLR (Pt.644) 29; Ayorinde Vs Sogunro (2012) 11 NWLR (Pt.1312) 460, among others. The argument in support of the issue commence at page 8, last paragraph. From the last paragraph of page 8 through to page 12, learned counsel for the appellant did not challenge specific aspects of the judgment, which is the subject of appeal before us, but made several attack against the judgment of the trial Court.
Under the heading “Wrong Evaluation” in the final paragraph on
page 12 of his brief, learned counsel advanced arguments in respect of issue 2 predicated on Ground (b) of the additional grounds of appeal, which has already been struck out for being incompetent. Again, the submissions are wholly attacking the judgment of the trial Court rather than the Judgment of the Court of Appeal. In this instance also, learned counsel has merely lifted the argument in his brief of argument before the lower Court.
In reply to the submissions of learned counsel for the appellant, learned counsel for the respondent observed that learned counsel failed to particularize the alleged wrong evaluation of evidence or perverse findings by the Courts below or any special circumstance that occasioned a miscarriage of justice. He observed further that a substantial portion of the appellants brief is devoted to launching attacks on the trial Judge. Relying on the case of Enekwe Vs I.M.B. Nig Ltd. & 2 Ors (20061 19 NWLR (Pt.1013) 146 @ 1739, he urged the Court to take a serious view of the vicious attack by learned counsel on the competence and integrity of the learned trial Judge. He also relied on the case of Bolanle Abeke vs. The
State (2007) 9 NWLR (Pt 1040) 411 @ 432 B – E.
Learned counsel in Paragraphs 4.7 – 4.14 at pages 8 14 of the respondent’s brief addressed the issue of the admissibility of the appellant’s confessional statement Exhibit P1. I commend the industry of learned counsel. However, the submissions must be discountenanced, the issue upon which they are predicated having been struck out by me earlier in this judgment.
From Paragraphs 4.15 – 4.22, learned counsel sought to show why the concurrent findings of the two lower Courts should be upheld, the prosecution having, in his view fully discharged the burden of establishing the appellants guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Again, notwithstanding the industry and knowledge exhibited by learned counsel in his brief, the submissions go to no issue, as learned counsel for the appellant failed to properly challenge the judgment of the Court below but instead expended all his energy on attacking the judgment of the trial Court.
Due to the importance of the wrong approach adopted by learned counsel for the appellant to this appeal, I shall reproduce in extenso some portions of his brief of argument at pages
He submitted as follows:
“A careful study of the decision of the trial learned judge which was upheld by the Court below, i.e. Court of Appeal reveals that learned trial judge speculated throughout his judgment. He filled in the gaping gaps in the prosecutions case which as pointed out earlier in this brief is unacceptable on the authority of Nsofor v. State (supra). The important question that begs for an answer in these proceedings is: was the learned trial judge right to have engaged in utter speculation in his evaluation of the evidence before him On page 272 of the printed records, the learned trial judge observed
“Now to an all important question, (who) were these people [or persons or some of them] (who invaded Buvel on 25/3/99 at 2am). [now] described as conspirators” The learned trial Judge then indicated he would proffer an answer to the question he himself raised after due evaluation of the evidence. Instead the learned trial judge, with utmost respect. relapsed into sheer speculation.
“I must recall that the incident occurred on 25/3/99 while PW1 was away in United States and from his unchallenged
evidence, by 27/3/99, he was already back in his office I infer from the foregoing facts that things were still fresh for PW1 to observe as he said he did.
“Now, if the evidence of PW3, Thomas lyere, to the effect that he heard the cutting of protectors at the Administrative Building on the fateful night is considered along side with those of PW1, PW2 and PW4 as to the states they found the offices, and that certain properties were carted away, it comes to this that the robbers armed with a gun and PERHAPS some other dangerous implements ripped the offices open and carted away such properties and in the process dangled a threat over the head of PW3 with the use of a gun.”
We have capitalized the words ‘IF’ and PERHAPS in the above observation by the learned trial judge to highlight the very tentative and tenuous nature of his evaluation.
These two words connote doubt and the law is that whenever there is any doubt, it should be always resolved in favour of the accused. See the case of Longe v. Inspector General of Police (1959) 4 FSC 203. Instead of a dispassionate evaluation of the evidence before him, the
learned trial Judge was always in the habit of fine-tuning the prosecutions case for it. Instead of attempting to evaluate the evidence before him, he kept referring to this and that did accord with reason. Indeed the learned trial judge became an investigator and not an adjudicator.
He was always invoking common sense instead of invoking the law. The learned trial Judge relapsed into speculation again when on page 280 of the printed record, he began to invoke common sense in what is strictly a legal matter. It does not require too much intelligence to be aware that in 2013, Nigeria Police had become Nigerians greatest tormentors in all the ramifications of that word. Thus, the learned trial Judge ought to have taken judicial notice of the fact that the police in Nigeria would force any one in their net to confess to crimes they did not commit and if they fail to do so, would threaten them with death. This method of extracting confessions from suspects is known as hanging in police circles. And that is what happened in this
Very instructively, the learned trial judge intoned thus at page 280 of printed record.
“My careful examination of each of Exhibits P1 and P3 (confessional statements of the accused persons) respectively, shows that each of the documents more than anything else contains matters that COMMON SENSE will lead one to the conclusion that they emanated from the accused peculiar knowledge and that it is most improbable if not outright impossibility that the accused persons have been compelled to voice them out.
The importation of common sense into what is strictly legal, that is, the probative value ascribable to a piece of evidence is patently wrong. The speculations and resort to common sense (perhaps the Judges) led to grave miscarriage of justice. A Court of law is enjoined at all times to stick to the evidence before it and not to go out of its way to fish out evidence which will tidy up the evidence of any party…
It is our final submission on this point that the judges demeanor and/or attitude throughout the trial leaves much to be desired. One needs to read very comprehensively and closely the entire proceedings. The
learned trial judge was either lashing out at defence counsel or simply cursing them. He abused defence counsel roundly and at every turn, lost his temper on the filmiest of excuses. His entire attitude suggests bias. He scoffed at defence counsel’s right to raise any type of objection and, of course, threw out every application by the defence with such impatience as to leave everyone wondering whether this was justice. The learned trial justices handling of this case is enough to vitiate his entire judgment. Certainly the attitude adopted by the learned trial judge does not meet the standard set by the Court of Appeal as per Adenji JCA at pp 266 – 267 in the case of NICON v. Nze (2004) 15 NWLR (pt.896) 245 250, R5.”
He tried to save the situation with the following paragraph at page 12 of his brief:
“My Lords, we respectfully wish to point out that it is not the decision of the learned trial judge perverse as it is, that is being appealed against in this Court. This Court does not, as a matter of law, hear appeals from a High Court or indeed a Court of first instance. This appeal is against the Court of Appeals upholding of the
perverse findings of the High Court.”
With due respect to learned counsel, the feeble attempt could not repair the damage. The power of the Supreme Court to hear appeals is conferred on it by Section 233 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which provides as follows:
“233 (1) The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction, to the exclusion of any other Court of law in Nigeria to hear appeals from the Court of Appeal.”
From the above constitutional provision, it is clear that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction to hear appeals directly from the High Court. See: Guobadia vs The State (2004) 6 NWLR (Pt.869) 360: Harriman vs Harriman (1987) 3 NWLR (pt.60) 244; Usman Vs Garke (2003) 14 NWLR (Pt.840) 261.
The two original grounds of appeal upon which issue 1 is predicated read thus:
- The judgment of the Court below is against the weight of evidence before the Court.
- The Court below did not properly evaluate the evidence before it.
It is my considered view that the above stated grounds of appeal refer to the judgment of the High Court, as the duty to evaluate and consider the weight of evidence is principally that of the
trial Court that had the opportunity of seeing and hearing the witnesses and observing their demeanour and not the Court of Appeal. This view is confirmed by the thrust of learned counsels submissions against the judgment of the trial Court. Furthermore, the grounds of appeal contain no particulars and therefore do not specify which aspect of the findings of the Court of Appeal are being challenged
Learned counsel’s submissions in respect of issue 1 are devoted solely to attacking the decision of the trial Court. This Court lacks the jurisdiction to look into those complaints There are concurrent findings of fact by the two lower Courts, which have not been shown to be perverse. This issue must therefore be resolved against the appellant.
Before concluding this judgment, I deem it necessary to comment on the manner in which learned counsel for the appellant, CHIEF OSAHENI UZAMERE, castigated and lambasted the learned trial judge throughout his brief of argument. He submitted inter alia:
“the learned trial judge was always in the habit of fine-tuning the prosecution’s case for it”;
“the learned trial judge became an investigator and not
“it does not require much intelligence to be aware that in 2013, Nigeria Police had become ‘Nigerians greatest tormentors.”;
“his entire attitude suggests bias”;
“the judge’s demeanor and /or attitude throughout the trial leaves much to be desired.”
Significantly, there was no ground of appeal before the lower Court alleging a breach of the appellant’s right to fair hearing on grounds of bias, which could even be the subject of an appeal before this Court. I agree with learned counsel for the respondent that the vicious attack on the competence and integrity of the learned trial judge is uncalled for. We belong to a learned profession where decorum and etiquette are the rules we live by. In the case of Enekwe vs I.M.B. Nig. Ltd. (2006) 19 NWLR (Pt. 1013) 146 @ 194 E-F, His Lordship Tobi, JSC stated inter alia:
“Judges have no forum to defend themselves in the judicial process for positions they take in their judgments. They cannot speak one more word outside their judgments in defence of the positions they have taken. Let parties be slow in pouring venom on them. It is a serious attack on a judge to say that he introduced in the case new matters that
were not before the Court. So much is involved as so much could be read into or out of the allegation.”
The allegation that the learned trial judge was “fine-tuning” the case of one of the parties, that he became an investigator and the aspersions cast on his competence/intelligence are completely unwarranted and unbecoming of a legal practitioner worth his salt. Learned counsel for the appellant should be well-guided.
On the whole, I find no merit in this appeal. It is accordingly dismissed. The judgment of the Court of Appeal, Benin Division delivered on 16/5/2013, affirming the conviction and death sentence imposed on the appellant for armed robbery by the High Court of Edo State, holden at Benin on 16/6/2006 is hereby affirmed. Appeal dismissed.