Wadata Isah V. The State (2017)
LAWGLOBAL HUB Lead Judgment Report
SIDI DAUDA BAGE, J.S.C.
This is an appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division delivered on 17th May 2011, wherein the lower Court unanimously affirmed the judgement of the trial Court convicting the Appellant of the offence of culpable homicide punishable with death under Section 221 of the Penal Code.
SUMMARY OF FACTS:
On 29th October, 2008, the Appellant stabbed one Hamidu Mohammed a Police Constable with a knife at the back of his neck which resulted in the death of his victim. He was arrested, investigated, charged to Court, tried and convicted for the offence of culpable homicide punishable with death contrary to Section 221 of the Penal Code.
On 22nd May, 2010 the Appellant was found guilty of the offence for which he was charged and was consequently convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The judgement of the trial Court is laid-out on pages 45 to 70 of the Record of Appeal. Dissatisfied with his conviction, the Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal Sokoto Division through a Notice of Appeal dated 31st March 2010. The appeal was heard and on 11th July
2012, the Court below delivered its judgement and unanimously dismissed the appeal while affirming the conviction and death sentence of the Trial Court. The decision of the Court below is contained in pages 100 to 116 of the Record of Appeal.
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:
Both the Appellant and Respondent formulated one issue for determination at page 4, their respective Amended Appellant’s Brief and Amended Respondent brief both dated 5th January, 2017. To this extent, I have also formulated one issue for determination in this appeal:
“Whether the Court of Appeal was right to have upheld the conviction and sentence of the Appellant for culpable homicide under Section 221 of the Penal Code.”
CONSIDERATION AND RESOLUTION OF THE ISSUE:
The contention of the learned Counsel to the Appellant is based on the standard of proof required in criminal cases. Counsel submitted that the Appellant was not under any obligation to prove his innocence due to the presumption of innocence he enjoys under Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Counsel referred to the case of NWANGWA Vs THE STATE (1997) 8 NWLR (Pt.517) 457 at
page 463, paras. F-G and ABOKOKUYANRO VS STATE (2016) LPELR-40107 (SC).
The learned Counsel to the Appellant submitted further that the standard of proof required of the prosecution is such that the quality and quantity of evidence adduced before the trial Court must establish the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt pursuant to Section 139(1) of the Evidence Act 2011. Counsel also referred to the provisions of Section 221 of the Penal Code to show what the prosecution must establish thus:
“(a) That the death of a human being has actually taken place;
(b) That such death has been caused by the accused;
(c) That the act was done with the intention of causing death or that the accused knew or had reason to know that death will be probable and only likely consequence of his act.”
The learned Counsel to the Appellant also cited the case of GARBA VS THE STATE (2000) 6 NWLR (Pt.661) 387 at 387-388, para G-A and AFOLABI VS STATE (2016) LPELR-40300 (SC) to drive home the contention that the prosecution should have adduced credible evidence linking the Appellant with the death of the deceased. He stressed that this must be done both
conjunctively and concurrently.
The learned Counsel to the Appellant also contended that the Medical Report relied upon in convicting the Appellant violated the requirement of the Section 249(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code to the extent that a written report by any medical officer registered medical practitioner may at the discretion of the Court be admitted in evidence for the purpose of proving the nature of any injuries received by any person and the physical cause of the death of any person who was examined by him. Counsel cited the case of EDOHO VS THE STATE (2012) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1214) 651 at 678, paras. A-E. In his final submission, the learned Counsel to the Appellant submitted that this appeal presents a case where the concurrent findings must be disturbed. He urged this Court to allow the appeal, acquit and discharge the Appellant.
In his short and direct Respondent’s Brief, the learned Counsel to the Respondent contended that proof in criminal trial is attained against the background of the burden enshrined in Section 135(1) of the Evidence Act, 2011 which states thus:
“135. Standard of Proof where commission of crime in issue; and
burden where guilt of crime etc. asserted.
(1) If the commission of a crime by a party to any proceeding is directly in issue in any Proceeding civil or criminal, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt.”
Counsel contended that the section imposes only a burden on the prosecution to prove the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. Counsel relied on Section 36(5) of the Constitution which stipulates that:
“Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is Proved guilty;
Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.”
On the issue of respective burdens of proof imposed on the Accused and prosecution, the learned Counsel to the Respondent cited the case of BELLO VS STATE (2007) 10 NWLR (Pt.1043) 564; OLADELE VS NIGERIAN ARMY (2004) 6 NWLR (Pt.868) at 166 and OBIAKO VS THE STATE (2002) 10 NWLR (Pt.776) at 612.
The Learned Counsel also cited AKPAN VS THE STATE (2007) 2 NWLR (Pt.1019), page 50; UBANI VS THE STATE (2003) 18 NWLR (Pt.851) at 24, and BAKARE VS
THE STATE (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt.52) at 579.
The Respondent also contended, through its Counsel, that the prosecution had dutifully proved all ingredients of the alleged offence by adducing sufficient evidence. He stressed further that the medical evidence tendered and admitted as Exhibit ‘D’ reveals that the death of the deceased Hamidu Mohammed resulted directly from the knife attack inflicted on him by the Appellant. The Learned Counsel also pointed out that the confessional statement of the accused recorded in Hausa language with its English translation admitted as Exhibit C and C1 respectively established the guilt of the Appellant. He cited the case of JAFIYA VS THE STATE (1971) All NLR, page 50; PETER VS STATE (1997) 12 NWLR (Pt.531) at 22.
On the contention that the Medical Report was wrongly admitted, the learned counsel to the Respondent contended that the Appellant cannot now be heard to object to same having acquiesced and allowed the evidence to sail through at trial without any objection. This, according to him, would amount to crying over a spill-milk especially given the fact that there is confessional statement aside the medical report.
On this contention, Counsel cited the case of BELLO SHURUMO VS THE STATE (2010) 19 NWLR (Pt.1226) at 73.
In closing, the learned Counsel for the Respondent urged this Court to affirm the conviction and sentence of death by hanging on the Appellant for committing the offence of culpable homicide punishable with death contrary to Section 221 of the Penal Code.
The totality of the evidence presented in this case leaves this Court with little or no room to arrive at a different conclusion with the trial and lower Court. This stems from the fact that the duty of Court, is to interpret the statute in accordance with the intention of the law makers. In UGWU VS ARARUME (2007) 12 NWLR (P1.1048) 367 at 498 this Court stated thus:
A statute, it is always said, is “the will of the legislature” and any document which is presented to it as a statute is an authentic expression of the legislative will. The function of the Court is to interpret that document according to the intent of those who made it. Thus, the Court declares the intention of the legislature.”
Courts generally have deliberately shifted away from narrow technical approach to
justice which characterized some earlier decisions to now pursue the course of substantial justice. See MAKERI SMELTING CO. LTD. VS ACCESS BANK (NIG.) PLC (2002) 7 NWLR (Pt.766) 447 at 476-477.
The attitude of the Court has since changed against deciding cases on mere technicalities. The attitude of the Courts now is that cases should always be decided, wherever possible on merit. Blunders must take place from time to time, and it is unjust to hold that because a blunder has been committed, the party blundering is to incur the penalty of not having the dispute between him and his adversary determined upon the merits.”
See also AJAKAIYE VS IDEHAI (1994) 8 NWLR (Pt.364) 504, ARTRAIND LTD VS NBCI (1997) 1 NWLR (Pt.483) 754, DAKAT VS. DASHE (1997) 12 NWLR (pt.531) 46, BENSON VS. NIGERIA AGIP CO. LTD (1982) 6 S.C 1.
The law is that the Supreme Court will not interfere with concurrent findings of facts made by the trial Court and the Court of Appeal unless such findings are perverse; or are not supported by the evidence; or are reached as a result of a wrong approach to the evidence; or as a result of a wrong application of evidence; or as a
result of a wrong application of any principle of substantive law or procedure. See ARABAMBI VS ADVANCE BEVERAGES IND. LTD. (2005) 19 NWLR (Pt.959) 1 per Onnoghen, J.S.C (Pt.46), C-E. See also OCHIBA VS STATE 2011 12 SC (Pt.IV) p.79″ per Rhodes-Vivour, J.S.C. (pp.51-52, paras. F-B). See also CAMEROON AIRLINES VS OTUTUIZU 2011 12 SC (Pt.III) P.200; OLOWU VS NIG. NAVY 2011 12 SC (Pt. II) page 1; AROWOLO VS OLOWOOKERE & 2 ORS. 2011 11-12 SC (Pt.II) P.98.
The above finding also becomes inevitable given the provisions of Sections 222 of the CPC to the effect that:
“No error in stating either the offence or the particulars required to be stated in the charge and no omission to state the offence or those particulars shall be regarded at any stage of the case as material, unless the accused was in fact misled by such error or omission and it has occasioned a failure of justice.”
Also compelling are the provisions of 288 and 382 of the CPC, which state respectively (repeated for emphasis):
SECTION 288 OF THE CPC
“A Court exercising appellate jurisdiction shall not in exercise of such jurisdiction interfere with the finding or sentence or
other order of the lower Court on the ground that only that evidence has been wrongly admitted or that there has been a technical irregularity in procedure, unless it is satisfied that a failure of justice has been occasioned by such admission or irregularity.”
SECTION 382 OF THE CPC:
Subject to the provisions herein before contained, no finding, sentence or order passed by a Court of competent jurisdiction shall be reversed or altered on appeal or reviewed on account of any error, omission or irregularity in the appeal or reviewed on account of any error, omission or irregularity in the complaint, summons, warrant, charge, public summons, order, judgement or other proceedings before or during trial or in any inquiry or other proceedings under the Criminal Procedure Code unless the Appeal Court or reviewing authority thinks that a failure of justice has in fact been occasioned by such error, omission or irregularity.”
Moreover, by virtue of the provisions of Sections 28 of the Evidence Act, confessional statement is tenable and admissible. The section describes a confessional statement thus:
“A confession is an admission made at any
time by a person, charged with a crime tending to show or suggest the inference that he committed the crime.”
Confessional statement is the best evidence to ground conviction and, as held in a number of cases, it can be relied upon solely where voluntary.
The criminal guilt of an accused person could be established by confessional statement, circumstantial evidence and evidence of an eye witness.
A confessional statement does not become inadmissible even if the accused person denied having made it. This has been the settled position in our jurisprudence of criminal justice. See for example PATRICK IKEMSON & 2 ORS VS THE STATE (1989) 3 NWLR (pt.110) 455 at 476 para. D; JOSEPH IDOWU VS THE STATE (2000) 7 SC 50 at 62; (2000) 12 NWLR (pt.680), at 48, NKWUDA EDAMINE VS THE STATE (1996) 3 NWLR (pt.43S) 530 at 537 paras. D-E; SAMUEL THEOPHILUS VS THE STATE (1996) 1 NWLR (Pt.423) page 139 at 155 paras. A-B; and AWOPEJU VS THE STATE (2002)3 MJSC 141 at 151.
This Court, per the Learned Onnoghen, JSC (as he then was; now CJN) in PETER ILIYA AZABADA VS THE STATE (2014) All FWLR (Pt.751) 1620, para. B has made it abundantly clear in the following words:
confessional statement of an accused, where it is direct, positive and unequivocal as to the commission of the crime charged, is the best evidence and can be relied upon solely for conviction of the accused person. An accused person can be convicted on his confessional statement alone, where the confession is constant with other ascertained facts which have been proved.”
Confession in criminal procedure is the strongest evidence of guilt on the art of an accused person. It is stronger than evidence of an eye witness because the evidence comes from the horse’s mouth who is the accused person. There is no better evidence and there is no further proof. Therefore where an accused person confesses to a crime in the absence of an eye witness to the killing, he can be convicted on his confession alone once the confession is positive, direct and properly proved. In other words, a free and voluntary confession of guilt, direct and positive and if duly made and satisfactorily proved, is sufficient without corroborative evidence so long as the Court is satisfied as to the truth of the confession.”
The evidence of medical evidence is further
strengthened by the confessional statement of the Appellant. In view of the foregoing, it is our considered view that the judgment of the trial Court cannot, be faulted at all and the lower Court was right in affirming and endorsing it. The Appellant has failed to convince us that this is a situation in which this Court should interfere. See also MINI LODGE LTD VS NGEI (2009) 18 NWLR (Pt.1173) 254 per Musdapher, J.S.C (as he then was) (P.33, paras. B-D).
Apart from the confessional statement of the Appellant, PW.5 one Buhari Yahaya, an eye witness testified at page 24 of the record as follows:
“On 29/10/2008 around 2:00p.m in the afternoon, accused was coming from one corner at Kwanni area in Sokoto following the deceased person one PC Hamidu Mohammed with a knife. I saw that when he reached the said Hamidu Mohammed, the accused stabbed him with a knife two times. The deceased was stabbed at the back of the neck by the accused. The deceased fall down. We then rushed with some other people and took the deceased to Kwanni police Station. The accused Wadata Isah Alias Zabo run away from the scene. The police then carried the deceased to UDUTH Hospital,
Sokoto. I led the police to the spot where I saw the accused followed.
While we were there checking on the whereabouts of the accused, we received phone call saying that the said Hamidu Mohammed police had died.
We returned back and proceeded to UDUTH.
We saw the corpse of the deceased Hamidu Mohammed laid down and surrounded by police men including the DPO who were all crying. I also cried. We went back into vehicle and returned back to Kwanni Police Station.
I made explanation to the DPO on what I saw. I was asked by the DPO to show the police the house of the accused which I did. The police then released me. I can identify the knife used by the accused on the accused. It has black sole tape it was made of iron – silver. Its length is about from the arm to the elbow. This is the knife.”
From the foregoing, the evidence of the prosecution in this case as to who stabbed the deceased is not circumstantial evidence, it is a direct and positive evidence of an eye witness.
The direct evidence required to prove the cause of death must be such as would connect the death of the deceased person with the act of the accused. This may
include evidence of medical officer who examined or performed post-mortem examination on the deceased or an eye witness who saw when the accused inflicted injuries to the diseased. See OGUNTOLU VS THE STATE (1996) 2 NWLR (Pt.423) 503.
There is overwhelming evidence from the fact of this case that the Appellant stabbed the deceased with knife on deceased’s neck. The deceased sustained serious injuries and was taken to the Hospital. The medical report certified that the injuries inflicted on the deceased by the accused are those that caused the death of the deceased.
In the light of all that has been said, the sole issue for determination of this appeal is resolved in favour of the Respondent. The prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt. The appeal is dismissed; the decision of the lower Court affirming the sentence and conviction of the Appellant is hereby affirmed by me.