Sunday Onungwa V. The State (1976) LLJR-SC

Sunday Onungwa V. The State (1976)

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The appellant was on the 25th day of March, 1975 convicted by Umezinwa, J. in the High Court of East Central State holden at Aba of, and sentenced to death for, the offence of murder of one Egwuruanya Okonko at Mgbokonta Amuzu village on the 26th day of March, 1974, and we dismissed his appeal from the said judgment on 11th December, 1975 for the reasons we now give.

Following the custom of the people of Mgbokonta Amuzu Village the 26th March, 1974 was set aside for harvesting of palm fruits from all communal palm trees in the said village; this is an annual event which is intended to benefit every member of the village. According to the evidence which the trial court accepted any member of the village or his duly appointed agent who is the first to arrive at the base of any particular palm tree carrying at the same time his palm harvesting paraphernalia (i.e. matchet AND “climbing-ropes”) has the right to the exclusion of any other member of the village to climb and collect palm fruits from such a tree; if, however, a member of the community arrived at the base of a palm tree although holding a matchet but not carrying with him ‘climbing-ropes’ he has no such right. On the fateful day the deceased’s agent – one Ihediwa Wobasi (P.W.3), a ‘professional’ palm fruit collector hired by the deceased for the purpose – was the second to arrive at the base of one of the communal palm tree, carrying at the time his matchet and ‘climbing-ropes’ (hereafter referred to as “Ropes”); the appellant was already,at the time, standing at the base of this particular palm tree holding a matchet but not carrying any ropes.

Although the appellant asked Ihediwa not to harvest tthe fruits on this particular palm tree, the latter felt he had a right to do so. As Ihediwa (P.W.3) attempted to climb the tree (palm) and harvest the fruits thereon the appellant held on to him and prevented him from harvesting the fruits. Observing what was happening the deceased asked his agent (Ihediwa P.W.3) to leave that particular palm tree and come along with him in order to harvest from a nearby palm tree but as Ihediwa was about to follow the deceased the appellant held on to his (Ihediwa’s) ropes. As the deceased pleaded with the appellant for the release of Ihediwa’s ropes, the appellant drew his matchet from its scabbard and dealt the deceased a severe matchet blow on the abdomen; whereupon the deceased fell and died on the spot. Ihediwa’s alarm which followed immediately brought a number of villagers to the scene. Later Ihediwa made a report to the police at the nearest village Police Post. The appellant tried to escape on a bicycle from the village but was apprehended in the “village square” (i.e. centre of the village) by members of his village.

Later the police arrived at the scene; although somewhat unwilling at first to assist in the investigations the appellant later admitted to the police ownership of a blood-stained matchet which was recovered near the scene adding that he had killed the deceased “as a result of the work of the devil”. A member of the village council, one Paul Nwogbe (P.W.4) also stated in his evidence in court that during police investigations the police had asked the appellant who killed the deceased and the latter had, in reply, admitted that he did. Wogu Onungwa (P.W.5) the appellant’s elder brother testified in the same vein and confirmed that the appellant admitted ownership of a blood-stained matchet which the police recovered near the scene adding at the same time that he killed the deceased.

In his defence the appellant told the court that a struggle ensued between himself and Ihediwa (P.W.3) when the latter refused to refrain from harvesting from the particular palm tree he (appellant) was about to harvest; he had arrived at the base before P.W.3 who, notwithstanding this fact, had insisted on climbing the tree. Both he (the appellant) and P.W.3 (Ihediwa) had each a matchet which each wielded indiscriminately during the struggle. The deceased had earlier on arrived at the scene and it was during his struggle with P.W.3 that he heard the deceased shout that he had been struck with a matchet. Appellant claimed that he did not know how the deceased received the injury which was the cause of his death. Under cross-examination the appellant denied ever having admitted to the police that he had killed the deceased.

The learned trial Judge after a careful analysis of the evidence before him was satisfied that the appellant told the police investigating officers that the blood-stained matchet (Exhibit C) was his and that he killed the deceased; and he was also satisfied on the evidence before him that the statements were freely made in answers legitimately put to the appellant in the course of investigations. In his judgment the learned trial Judge observed as follows:-

“There are a number of submissions on points of law made in this case which I will like to consider and dispose of ………………
Learned counsel for the accused submitted that the evidence of prosecution witnesses that the accused admitted being the owner of the matchet used in killing the deceased, Exhibit C and that it was the work of the devil that made him kill the deceased are statements made (sic) extra-judicial and therefore should be discountenanced and not considered at all by the court in determining the guilt or innocence of the accused in this submission. An extra-judicial confession if properly proved and admitted in evidence has the same effect as a plea of guilt by an accused in open court.

A free and voluntary confession of guilt whether judicial or extra-judicial if it is direct and positive is sufficient proof of guilt and a conviction could be based entirely upon such evidence – see R.v. Walter Sykes (1913) 8 CAR 233 at 236-237. This case was followed in R.v. Ajayi Omokaro (1941) 7 WACA 146. ………..  It was also submitted that it was improper for the police to have asked questions (sic) to the accused at the scene of incident. I do not agree with this submission. I do not see anything wrong in a police officer asking an accused where he kept the matchet alleged to have been used in killing a deceased.  When such matchet is recovered a police officer could properly ask the accused whether the matchet is his own and why he committed the offence …”

The learned trial Judge then proceeded to consider the case of R.v. Ajagbe 2 WACA 353, cited in support of the submission of counsel for the appellant that it was wrong for the police to have asked the appellant questions on the ownership of the blood-stained matchet and on the identity of the offender, and distinguished the facts in Ajagbe from the facts in the instant case.

We are satisfied that an admission made at any time by a person charged with a crime suggesting the inference that he committed the offence is a relevant fact against the maker and if made voluntarily is admissible in evidence. Equally any information given by a person accused of an offence leading to discovery of any fact material to the charge against him, if made voluntarily is relevant and admissible and such information is no less voluntary merely because it was given in answer to a question asked in the course of investigations in respect of the charge provided that no threat or inducement or promise by any one in authority was offered to the accused person.

Accordingly, since the learned trial Judge was satisfied that the appellant’s admission that he killed the deceased with the matchet Exhibit C was free and voluntary, we are satisfied that the conviction of the appellant can be sustained. On the evidence before him the learned trial Judge was justified in rejecting the suggestion that the deceased was killed by accident during the struggle between P.W.3 and the appellant. Both the learned counsel for the appellant and for the State who appeared before us had rightly, in our view, nothing useful to urge in favour of the appellant whose appeal was consequently dismissed.

Other Citation: (1976) LCN/2342(SC)

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