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FEDERAL SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
3RD DECEMBER, 1959.
BEFORE THEIR LORDSHIPS
SIR ADETOKUNBO ADEMOLA, F.C.J. (Presided)
LIONEL BRETT, F.J. (Read the Judgment of the Court)
SAMUEL OKAI QUASHIE-IDUN, AG. F.J.
Appellant absent and not represented.
CRIMINAL LAW: – Murder by lynching – Killing ordered by community’s council of elders against deceased who kidnapped and sold a child – Attitude of courts thereto
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS: – Right to Life and Fair hearing – Extra-judicial lynching of a person accused of kidnapping and trafficking in child – Prosecution of killers – Attitude of Court thereto
PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE – EVIDENCE: – Accomplice’s evidence – Whether requires corroboration – Confession of accused person – When disputed -Admissibility thereof – How treated
CHILDREN AND WOMEN LAW:- Children and Security of neighbourhood – Law enforcement – Lynching – Murder of person who kidnapped and sold a child – Prosecution of young persons who carried out killing as ordered by community’s council of elders – Relevant considerations – Attitude of court to private citizens taken the law into their hands to punish child trafficking
BRETT, F.J. (Delivering the Judgment of the Court):
The appellants were convicted in the High Court of the Eastern Region of the murder of Akuma Okoha. We heard and dismissed their appeals on the 12th November, 1959, and now state our reasons for taking this course.
The deceased was suspected of having kidnapped and sold a child. He was brought before a “meeting” in his village where he admitted the offence and the elders thereupon directed that he should be killed. A number of “Ogaluzor” or younger men took him away and strangled him, and his body, after being mutilated, was tied to the root of a tree in the Ituma stream. The point at issue was whether the appellants were parties to the murder. The direct evidence was that of an accomplice, and the Judge rightly looked for corroboration, which he found against each appellant in a statement alleged to have been made by him to the Police after being arrested and cautioned. If these statements were made and were correctly admitted in evidence they undoubtedly provided the necessary corroboration.
The evidence for the prosecution was that after making his statement and attesting it by his thumbprint, each of the appellants was brought before the A.D.O. who read over the statement to him through an interpreter and the appellant acknowledged the statement as that which he had made. The statements were admitted in evidence without objection from defending counsel, though as each statement was tendered it was made known to the Court that the appellant would deny having made it, and in due course each appellant gave evidence and made this denial. The Judge accepted the evidence for the prosecution on this issue and treated the statements as evidence against those who made them, and as this was a matter which turned on the credibility of the witnesses we saw no reason for differing from him. In our view, however, defending counsel should have objected to the admissibility of the statements. If a confession made by an accused person but induced by improper methods, is inadmissible in evidence against him, a fortiori a confession purporting to be his but in fact not made by him at all, must be inadmissible against him. The exceptional rule by which, in a trial with a jury, it is for the Judge to decide whether to admit a confession as having been made voluntarily may arise from the special reasons for excluding confessions not made voluntarily, which are discussed in Ibrahim v. Rex (1914) A.C. 599, and we do not say that in this case it was necessary for the Judge to decide whether the appellants had made the statements attributed to them before admitting them in evidence, but if the appellants intended to deny having made the statements counsel should have objected to their admission and they should at least not have been admitted until the witnesses tendering them had been cross-examined. We consider, indeed, that it would have been open to the Judge to allow the appellants to give evidence on the point at that stage if he thought the justice of the case made it desirable: R. v. Cowell (1940) 2 K. B. 40.
In this case it cannot be said that any miscarriage of justice has resulted from the course which was followed, and we were satisfied that the appellants were rightly convicted of murder. No doubt the offence of child stealing, which is punishable with imprisonment for fourteen years, arouses great popular indignation, but it is not for private citizens to take the law into their own hands, and lynch law will receive no recognition from the Court.