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F.S.C. 444/1962







SIR VAHE BAIRAMIAN, J.S.C. (Read the Judgment of the Court)









CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – Eastern Region Local Government Law, S.43(1) – Omission of “corruptly” in charge of receiving bribe laid thereunder – Effect.

CRIMINAL LAW AND PROCEDURE – Eastern Region Local Government Law, S.43 (1) – Purport of

WORDS AND PHRASES – ”Bribe”, “Gratification, ”Reward”-Meanings of.



Kalu Ogba -for the Appellants.

J.I. Emembolu -for the Respondent.


BAIRAMIAN, J.S.C. (Delivering the Judgment of the Court): This appeal is from the judgment given by Savage J. in the High Court of the Eastern Re­gion on the 4th December, 1962, reversing the decision of the Magistrate, who had acquitted the appellants, and sending the case back to him with a direction to convict and sentence the appellants.


The charge against them is in these terms:


“That you, Golden Mgbemene, Okwara Emole and Agu Okoroji on the 24th day of April, 1962, at Mile 2 Diobu in the Port Harcourt Magisterial District, being members of the Port Harcourt Municipal Council, did accept for yourselves a bribe of £60 from Benedict Agba and Samuel Ogaju that their conservancy contracts may not be terminated which favour you are to show in exercise of your function as Councillors of the said Council and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 43 (1) of the Eastern Region Local Government Law No. 17 of 1960”.


The subsection last mentioned reads as follows:


“A member of a council, member of a committee of a council or servant of a council who accepts, claims or obtains or agrees or attempts to accept or obtain for himself or for another person a gratification, advantage, bribe or reward, whether in money or otherwise, for doing or forbearing to do an act which he is authorized or required to do in the exercise of his authority or function as a member of a council, as a member of a committee of a council or as a servant of a council, as the case may be, or for corruptly showing favour or disfavour to a person, is guilty of an offence: Penalty, imprisonment for three years or a fine of two hundred pounds”.


The learned Magistrate found on the facts against the appellants, but for sundry reasons acquitted them.


The foremost of them is that in his view the offence contemplated in section 43(1) is that of a gift in consequence of the Councilor having done something already, not of a gift for the sake of something to be done by him later. For his view he relies on the decision in R. v. Ibrahim, 20 N.L.R. 137, on the meaning of section 115 of the Criminal Code, which provides that:­”Any person who accepts, or obtains, or agrees to accept or attempts to obtain, from any person for himself, or for any other person, any gratification or reward whatever, whether in money or in kind, for inducing by corrupt or illegal means, or by personal influence, any native tribunal or any member thereof, to do or forbear to do any act which such native tribunal is authorized to do in the exercise of its jurisdiction or to show favour or disfavour to any person is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for two years.”


The interpretation in Ibrahim was that the wording meant a reward for actually inducing the tribunal or for the act of inducing as an act already done. It relied on the words “gratification” and “reward” in that section as indicating a return for something done already; it also compared that section with other sections of the Code. That decision was a decision at assize; it is not binding, and remains open for argument in our court when a case under that section arises. It may be right in the light of its own wording and in the context of the Criminal Code: it is not a safe guide in interpreting the subsection under which the present charge was laid. This must be interpreted in the light of the Law in which it is found and of its own wording and, as Savage J. pointed out, with due regard to the word “bribe”, which does not occur in section 115 of the Criminal Code.


“Bribe” is defined in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in the words of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, as “a reward given to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct”, which means that it is a gift for the sake of something to be done by the recipient afterwards. In the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, “bribe” is defined as –


“Money etc, offered to procure (often illegal or dishonest) action in favour of the giver” –


which, again, means future action. It becomes imperative to understand the words –


‘,bribe ………….. for doing …………an act”


in the subsection under discussion as meaning a corrupt gift for the sake of an act to be done afterwards.


The next question is whether the other words are obstacles to that meaning. In its context “advantage” merely means a benefit, and throws no light on the present question. “Gratification” is defined in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary as “a reward, recompense, gratuity; a bribe”; with the meaning of bribe, the word “gratification” is no impediment. There is also the term “reward”, which looks formidable. Its normal meaning, as given in that Dictionary, is this:


“A return or recompense made to, or received by, a person for some service or merit, or for hardship endured.”


It connotes that something has already been done, and the reward is given afterwards in return for it. That looks like a formidable obstacle ; but there are considerations which remove the difficulty.


As already noted, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary adopts Dr Johnson’s definition of “bribe” as “a reward to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct”. “Reward” is not inappropriate when the matter is viewed in this light: suppose a contractor says to a councilor, will you help me to secure such and such a contract; a corrupt councilor will say, I will help you, but I must have something; whereupon the contractor may well say, here is a pound by way of reward -that is to say, in return for the councilor’s promise or agreement to help him. In that light, “reward” is appropriate in the definition of “bribe”, and one must bow to the high authority of Dr Johnson. It turns out that “reward” is no impediment.


Moreover, the councilor is guilty if he “agrees ……….. to accept ………… a ……….reward”, which can mean a reward after he has done his part of the bargain. A wary contractor may well say, I will reward you if I get the contract; and the councilor may agree to wait for his reward. That would be a corrupt bargain.


The remaining point is the tense of the verbal term “doing” in section 43 (1) of the Eastern Region Local Government Law. Does it refer to the future? Does it mean “in order to do an act later”? It does. There are paragraphs (g) and (h) in subsection (1) of section 51 of that Law to show that it does: they read –


’51. (1) Subject to subsection (2), a person who –


“(g)   being a voter, directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, before or during an election, receives, agrees, or contracts for any money, gift, loan or valuable consideration, office, place, or employment, for himself or for another person for voting or agreeing to vote or for refraining or agreeing to refrain from voting at that election.


(h)     after an election, directly or indirectly, by himself or by another person, on his behalf, receives any money or valuable consideration on account of a person having voted, or refrained from voting, or having induced another person to vote or to refrain from voting, at that election.”


Plainly in (g), the words “receives ………… any money ………… for voting” mean “for voting afterwards”, or “in order that he shall vote”; which is clear from the words “before or during an election”. In (h) it is receiving any money after an election, “on account of a person having voted.”


The Court is of opinion that in section 43(1) the meaning is, for the sake of a future act or forbearance, favour or disfavour.


It may help those concerned if they look at section 1(1) of the English Prevention of Corruption Act, 1906, for a model in drafting a provision on corruption; and perhaps those who are reviewing the relevant sections in the Criminal Code, which have given endless trouble, may find it helpful. Incidentally, the wording used there lends support to the interpretation given in the present case. Reference may also be made to the case of Carr [1957] 1 W.L.R. 165,40 Cr. App. R. 188; [195613 All England Reports 979.


On the first point the appellants fail: the provision under which they were charged sustains the allegations in the Particulars of the charge.


The second point is that, in the Magistrate’s view, the charge is defective in that it does not describe the appellant’s duties. We agree with Savage, J., that it is not defective in that regard. The Particulars speak of their being members of a certain municipal council and of conservancy contracts. Section 84 of the law shows, in items 33 to 45, that public health and conservancy are matters within the duties of municipal councilors.


Finally, there is the point that the word “corruptly”, which occurs in section 43(1) before the words “showing favour”, does not occur in the Particulars of the charge. The Magistrate thought that omission made the charge bad; Savage J. thought that the word “bribe” in the charge was sufficient to connote corruption. We take the view that the charge was good. In the language of the law, the word “bribe” always means an unlawful gift or offer as a means of corruption, the essence of which is that the gift or offer should operate on the mind of the person to whom it is offered to make him do a certain act. That person is expected in the public interest to carry out his duties honestly and impartially, unswayed by considerations of benefit; for these are apt to deflect him from the path of integrity. The words in the charge –


“a bribe …………… that their conservancy contracts may not be terminated which favour you are to show in the exercise of your function as councilors” –


convey the sense of “corruptly”. The appellants cannot say they were embarrassed or misled by the omission of that word from the Particulars of the charge: they were told plainly enough that they were accused of corruption.


The Court had occasion in Reg. v. Enebiene Ijoma, F.S.C. 309/1961; [1962] 2 S.C.N.L.R. 157, to consider whether the absence of the word “false” from the Particulars of a count of uttering laid under section 468 of the Criminal Code, which speaks of a “false document”, made the count invalid; the Court said in its judgment (delivered on 7th July, 1962) that it did not. Likewise here, the omission of the word “corruptly” did not make the charge bad in law.


ADEMOLA, C.J.N.: I concur.


TAYLOR, J.S.C.: I concur


Appeal Dismissed.


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