Okorie Okoronkwo V. The State (1976) LLJR-SC

Okorie Okoronkwo V. The State (1976)

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We now give our reasons for dismissing this appeal on 11th December, 1975.  The appellant was on 29th May, 1975, in the High Court of the Umuahia Judicial Division convicted of the offence of murder of a woman, one Ijeoma Chukwu and sentenced to death therefor by Aniagolu, J.  The incident was said to have occurred on 8th February, 1975, at Amankulu village in Alayi district of the Bendel Administrative Division of the East Central State.

Put shortly, the case for the prosecution is as follows: The appellant had been away from home for some time, having lived for a while in the Island of Fananda Po (now part of Equatoria Guinea) and later in Jos in the Benue-Plateau State of Nigeria.  

While away from home he left his wife, Esther Okorie (P.W.3), in his village which he visited infrequently; and on one of such visits on 2nd February, 1975, he observed that Esther (his wife) was pregnant and his inquiries revealed that she became pregnant as a result of her association with one Ndukwe Mbakwe (P.W.4) a seventeen year old school boy who lived in the village.

Enraged at this discovery, the appellant in the evening of 8th February, 1975 went in search of Ndukwe in the house of the mother (Ugo Mbakwe, P.W.5) whom he subsequently beat up severely following his unsuccessful search for Ndukwe. Because the appellant threatened to kill Ndukwe’s mother as he was leaving the house, she went into hiding soon after he left.  Appellant later returned to the house of Ugo Mbakwe that night armed with a matchet but as he could neither locate Ndukwe nor the mother he dealt matchet blows on the deceased, a member of the same matrimonial family as Ugo Mbakwe (P.W.5), who at the material time lived in a separate room under the same house with P.W.5 and who was said to be sleeping at the veranda just outside her room when the appellant set upon her.

The evidence which the learned trial Judge accepted was that when the appellant later that night set out from his house for that of P.W.5 – a distance of over 400 yards – people who saw him armed with a matchet as he was heading in a menacing manner towards the premises of P.W.5 did their best to warn the occupants of that premises (P.W.5’s) of the approaching danger; consequently the deceased was roused from her sleep, just as the appellant set upon her, and ran away from her veranda for dear life but the appellant gave chase and caught up with her at the village square (ISIEKE) – a distance of about 100 yards from her house – and there dealt her several matchet blows until she died.  

A report having been made to a group of soldiers who lived not far away from the scene, the appellant was later that night apprehended in his house by those soldiers who also collected from him his blood-stained matchet (Exhibit 3) and later handed him over to the police.  Martin Osuagwu (P.W.6) who took custody of the appellant from the soldiers told the court that the appellant had said that same night – while in his custody – that he “was not satisfied with killing one person and that given the opportunity he would have killed more”.

In a confessional statement (Exhibit 2) which the appellant made later to the police he said that it was after he and Esther (his wife) had had some palm wine that Esther admitted to him that it was Ndukwe Mbakwe (not he, the appellant) that made her pregnant. Consequently he went to look for Ndukwe at the mother’s house. The deceased came in while he (the appellant) was discussing with Ndukwe’s mother and made unpleasant remarks, and the appellant described what followed (in that statement, Exhibit 2) thus:

“The deceased started to ask me how much I paid on the head of my wife. As my heart was very hurt, I told her that Eke was going to pay me back even if it was one penny. At this stage, I went out to take my knife from where I hid it, and met her standing outside the house. I then cut her with the matchet up to two time. As she ran, I met her along the street called Isieke gave her several cuts and she died.  I have no witness of any type. I actually killed her. No body asked me to kill her. This Ugo Mbakwe ran away when I was cutting Ijeoma Chukwu this matchet cuts with Ndukwe Mbakwe……” (The underlining is supplied). This confessional statement Exhibit 2 was latter confirmed by the appellant before the Divisional Police Officer Bende, one Alebe Ejedenawe (P.W.2).

Testifying in his own defence the appellant denied the charge; according to him the deceased who was present while he (appellant) on the fateful night complained to Ugo Mbakwe (P.W.5) about her son’s (P.W.4) illicit association with Esther (appellant’s wife) had violently condemned Ndukwe’s (P.W.4’s) behaviour and pleaded with him to forgive P.W.4. Consequently he (appellant) left P.W.5 and went home to sleep.

While asleep in his house some soldiers called about 11.00 p.m.and woke him up and in the company  of these soldiers was P.W.4 who, “pointing a finger at him” accused him of having killed the deceased. The soldiers then took him away and later handed him over to the police. The defence of the appellant differed substantially from the facts he gave in Exhibit 2 (the confessional statement he made to the police officer who investigated the complaint against him) and from which he, virtually, retracted in the course of his evidence; the relevant portions of Exhibit 2 have been referred to earlier on in this judgment.

We think it is desirable to mention at this stage that earlier in the proceedings in the lower court the appellant who was then represented by counsel, Mr. Obonna, suggested in the cross-examination of some of the prosecution witnesses that he was obliged to attack the deceased with a matchet in self defence. Later, at the request of Mr. Obonna, the court allowed him to withdraw from the defence of the appellant who was, in due course, assigned another counsel – a Mr. Igwe – for continuation of his defence. The cross-examination of the witnesses for the prosecution by Mr. Igwe suggested that the appellant killed the deceased as a result of the “insulting behaviour” of the latter. In the course of his judgment the learned trial Judge made the following observations:

“The accused had not been able to maintain a consistency in the facts he put forward to the court. The case Mr. Obonna put forward for the accused was that the deceased fetched a matchet and was about to cut the accused with it when the accused wrenched it from her hand and cut her with it. When Mr. Igwe took over the defence after the withdrawal of Mr. Obonna, his case was that the deceased insultingly asked him how much he paid as bride price over his wife’s head and that it was this insult which provoked him into running out to where he kept his matchet beside the house and seizing the matchet and cutting the deceased with it. Now in his evidence in this court he has denied he came into conflict with the deceased. Far from having any misunderstanding with the deceased, he testified on oath, that the deceased sided him in argument with Ugo Mbakwe. All these vacillations on the part of the accused are nothing but belated attempts to escape from the truth – a truth of which he is very much aware – that he made the statement, Exhibit  2 ………”

The learned trial Judge was satisfied that the appellant made Exhibit 2 voluntarily and that the facts set out therein represent “the nearest to the truth of this matter”.  Accordingly the trial court was, in our view, on the evidence before it justifiably satisfied that the prosecution established that the appellant’s wife was put in “a family way by Ndukwe Mbakwe, the school boy son of Ugo Mbakwe; that the accused was infuriated by this and went to the house of Ugo Mbakwe armed with a matchet; that he questioned and assaulted Ugo Mbakwe on account of her son’s deed; that the deceased who was a close neighbour …. joined in the discussion in the course of which she asked the accused how much bride price he paid on his wife; that the accused regarded this question as offensive and insulting and that he went and collected a matchet he placed beside the house and killed the deceased with it”.

After a detailed consideration of both the law and the evidence available at the trial the learned Judge was satisfied that neither the defence of provocation nor that of self-defence was available to the appellant. Having rightly, in our view, held that the deceased never at any time attacked the appellant it was clear that the defence of self-defence could not avail him. On the issue of provocation the learned Judge referred to the cases of Chukwu Obaji v. The State (1965) NMLR 417 and Adamu Kano v. The State (1968) NMLR 227 and thereafter made the following observation with which we entirely agree:

“That case (Adamu Kano) is on a different footing from the instant case, in which it is necessary to draw attention to these salient facts:

(1) The accused went to the scene of incident armed with a matchet showing a premeditation to go there and kill. Such a premeditation, as we have known in R.v. Duffy (1949) 1 All ER 932, is inconsistent with the sudden temporary loss of self-control upon which the defence of provocation is based.
(2) The accused had known of his wife’s pregnancy since his return to his home on or about 2nd February, 1974.  He had time to think it over and for his passion to cool. He did not act until 8th February, 1974 ….  It appears to this court that the accused … went to the compound of Ugo Mbukwe determined to kill.  ….. when he told Martin Osuagun that if he had the opportunity he would kill more people, it was a statement indicating his predetermination to make a clean job of his self-appointed assignment.  …….  That he picked on the deceased because she asked him how much bride-price he paid on his wife,was a  mere pretence that he was provoked”.

The learned trial Judge finally came to the conclusion that even if the insulting words used by the deceased, had indeed angered the appellant his mode of resentment made it clear that the appellant was acting for reason other than loss of control occasioned by the insulting behaviour; he killed his victim following “his predetermination to go to Ugo Mbakwe’s premises and kill”.

We are satisfied that these findings of the trial court are amply borne out by the evidence before it. Both the learned counsel for the respondent and the appellant rightly, in our view, had nothing useful to urge in favour of the appellant whose appeal was for the foregoing reasons accordingly dismissed.

Other Citation: (1976) LCN/2339(SC)

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