Rex V. Agumagu Nwaoke (1939)
LawGlobal Hub Judgment Report – West African Court of Appeal
Manslaughter contrary to Section 325 of Criminal Code—Definitionconvictionof Manslaughter in Section 310 of Criminal Code—Juju causingCounth Hig Court.inimitable and irresistible apprehension of serious harm or death.
Held : No evidence that the particular juju used had ever resulted in a person committing suicide, and no evidence that the accused had knowledge that the invoking of this ” juju ” would be reasonably likely to cause the deceased to take her own life.
Appeal allowed and conviction and sentence quashed.
The facts are sufficiently set out in the judgment.
E. Hainan for Crown.
Appellant in person.
The following joint judgment was delivered.
BUTLER LLOYD, AG. C.J., NIGERIA, GRAHAM PAUL AND
The appellant was charged with the murder of one Nwoacha was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years Imprisonment with Hard Labour. Against that conviction he has appealed to this Court.
The facts of the case are simple, and not seriously in controversy. The woman Nwoacha was at one time the wife of the accused. She refused to continue living with the accused and in consequence the accused demanded the repayment of El 10s. ” head money ” which he had paid. Nwoacha, and apparently her mother, promised to repay the money as soon as they could do so, but the accused was not satisfied with these promises. He brought a ” Juju ” called ” Onye Uku,” pointed it towards Nwoacha and said something to the following effect :-
“Since you refuse to pay me my money this juju will kill you or sinci
you refuse to pay me you shall no more eat or drink.”
He left the juju at the house where the deceased lived.
It is proved that Nwoacha was much affected in mind by. thp= juju and the threat. She became very depressed, though there is no evidence that she stopped eating or drinking, or thit her physical health was in any way affected.
Six days after the bringing of the juju by the accused the womar_ Nwoacha went out and hanged herself by the neck with a cloth from a_ tree, so high that her feet hung six feet above the ground—a method of suicide requiring considerable strength, deliberation an determination.
The learned Judge applied to these facts section 310 of the Criminal Code which is in these terms :—
” A person who, by threats or intimidation or by deceit, causes another person to do an act or make an omission which results in the death of that other person, is deemed to have killed him.”
and found the accused guilty of the manslaughter of Nwoacha.
In so finding, the learned Judge expressly pointed out that the case was not within the English decisions as to the effect in this branch of the Criminal Law of acts directly causing death and induced by a well-grounded apprehension of immediate serious violence. He held however that to the native mind ” juju may be a well-grounded apprehension of serious harm and even of death– if not immediate, yet inevitable and irresistible.”
The learned Judge expressly found this case analogous to the case of the man who is so terrified by another that he jumps out of a window.
We are unable to agree with the conclusions at which the learned Judge arrived on the facts of this case. The evidence as to the juju in question is very vague. There is no really independent evidence about this juju or its reputed powers. It is variously described by the deceased’s relations but neither in their evidence nor in the two different versions of the alleged threats by the accused is there the slightest suggestion that the juju is designed to persuade a person to take his or her own life. There is no suggestion in the evidence that the invoking of this particular juju has ever resulted in a person committing suicide.
There is no evidence whatever that the invoking of this juju, to the knowledge of the accused at the time he invoked it, would he reasonably likely to cause the deceased to take her own life, and in our opinion that element of reasonable likelihood must be present in order to make section 310 applicable.
In this case there was between the threat and the death of the woman the interposition of an act of the woman herself, an act which we are unable to say was the immediate consequence of the accused’s invocation of the juju. The case of a terrified person jumping out of a window to avoid the terrifying danger is to our mind quite different in fact and principle from the present case.
If the accused had locked the woman in an upstairs room with the juju and the threat that if she remained in the room with the juju it would kill her and to escape that threat of death she had fatally jumped in fear out of the window that set of facts would have come near to the analogy to which the learned Judge refers, but there is nothing like that set of facts in the present case.
In our opinion the appeal should be allowed and the conviction and sentence appealed from should be quashed.