IN THE SUPREME COURT OF NIGERIA
On Friday, the 4th day of May, 1973
Before Their Lordships
GEORGE B. A. COKER….. Justice, Supreme Court
GEORGE SODEINDE SOWEMIMO….. Justice, Supreme Court
DANIEL O. IBEKWE….. Justice, Supreme Court
(1) JAMES UBA
(2) ALEXANDER OKAFOR
(3) BONIFACE ADIBE
(4) ALFRED UZOAGBADO
(5) CELESTIAN CHUKWU
: The five appellants were amongst seven accused persons who were charged with the offence of unlawfully killing one Ukobasi Uba in May, 1970, at Umeze Agbu in Okigwe. On the conclusion of the trial at the Umuahia High Court of the East Central State, the five appellants were convicted of the offence of murder and sentenced to death by Nwokedi, J., on the 18th of May, 1972. They have appealed to this court and at the hearing on the 19th of October, 1972, their appeals were dismissed and we now give our reasons for so doing.
The case for the prosecution was that Ukobasi Uba, who will hereinafter be referred to as the deceased, was a brother of the 1st appellant. At the time of the incident, their father was dead and had left some farmlands for the two sons. It did not seem from the records that prior to the time of the event, there was any dispute about the farmlands between the two of them. On the material date in May, 1970, at about 10 a.m., the 1st appellant raised an alarm that the deceased stole some of his drugs. It might be stated at this stage that the 1st appellant was described as a drug pedlar. As a result of the alarm, several people including the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th appellants, rushed to the house of the 1st appellant. There, they found the 1st appellant holding the deceased. He then announced to the crowd that the 1st appellant had caught the deceased stealing his drugs. It was then decided that the deceased be summoned before the villagers at the mission compound for the purpose of trying him on the alleged offence of stealing. In accordance with the custom, if an accused person was found guilty of any offence, he would be fined a sum of 5 (five pounds) and if he failed to pay, he would be rough handled.
After deciding to assemble all the villagers at the mission compound, the crowd dispersed and the deceased returned to his house. Sometime later, the 6th accused, now 5th appellant, rang the church bell as a result of which all the villagers gathered at the premises of the mission compound. The deceased did not turn up and the 2nd and 3rd appellants fetched and brought him to the mission compound. At the “trial” in the mission compound, the 1st appellant repeated his allegation before all the villagers that the deceased was caught stealing his drugs. This allegation was denied by the deceased. The villagers after consultations amongst themselves, decided that the deceased was “guilty” of the offence of stealing, and he was fined a sum of 5 (five pounds). The deceased asked for time to pay the fine as his wife, who was to give him the money, was away to the market. At this time, the deceased was carrying his son, clutched to his chest. The villagers refused the request of the deceased. There and then, some of the villagers including the appellants started to beat the deceased with whips and sticks. One of the prosecution witnesses took away the child of the deceased as he was being beaten. The deceased was so severely beaten that he fell on the ground and was stripped naked. The beating continued whilst the deceased was on the ground helpless.
The deceased, helpless and naked, was later carried to another spot known as Ikaeze by the appellants and others. There, the appellants continued to beat the deceased. Again, the deceased was removed by the appellants and taken to his house, where he was dumped on the ground at the entrance to his house. The appellants then left the deceased there unattended to and departed.
The wife of the accused later returned from the market and saw her husband covered all over with blood. She noticed that one of his ears was torn. She also noticed that he was bleeding from the scrotum which was apparently burst or cut open. The deceased was then alive and he told his wife what had happened to him. He died on the following morning.
The 1st appellant later came to the scene with the other appellants in the morning and having noticed that the deceased was dead, decided to cut off the finger-nails and toe-nails of the deceased to be used or given in evidence, in the preparation of a medicine to appease the spirit of the deceased from “troubling” the villagers. The corpse of the deceased was then wrapped in a mat and later buried in a grave.
About four to five months later, the Police having heard of the incident, came to the house of the deceased and on enquiry from the wife of the deceased, the grave where the deceased was buried was dug and the body was recovered wrapped in a mat inside a wooden coffin. A medical officer accompanied the Police to the scene. The body was identified to Dr. Samuel Kanu Nwangoro the 1st P.W, by the wife of the deceased. He performed a post mortem examination and gave evidence of his findings as follows:
“The body of the deceased was identified to me by the wife of the deceased: The deceased’s body was wrapped with a mat. On examination, I found the body to be that of a man of average height with scanty black hair on the head, a moustache and beard. There was a striking diastema in the mouth due to the loss of two upper incisors teeth. The body was nude and there were no peculiar marks: Further examination showed the body dehydrated and marasmic (thin). The entire body was covered by a whitish pigment. The head was skull-like but was covered with a thin layer of skin and had a few facial muscles: The eyes were completely sunken into their orbits. The chest and abdomen had macerated muscles and the muscles were covered with a thin layer of leathery skin. The penis and the scrotum were not seen. Rather, there was a wound on the mous pubis: The limbs were all bonny and skinny: In my opinion, the cause of death was unknown 1st because I did not see the patient before death and secondly he had died about four to six months before the post mortem. If the penis and scrotum had been removed before death, that would have the cause of the death. I found nothing from my examination to suggest that both the penis and the scrotum had been removed before death.”
The appellants, including the two others who were discharged at the trial, denied the allegation of beating the deceased to death. The learned trial Judge considered exhaustively the evidence both for the prosecution and the defence and made the following findings:
“I believe the prosecution’s evidence that the deceased was beaten to death by some of the accused persons and that the 1st accused master-minded and supervised the revolting crime. I have no difficulty in rejecting the defence of the 1st accused. Even if I accept that he had some disputes at one time or the other with some of the prosecution witnesses, that would not affect my finding that he was primarily responsible for the death of the deceased. I completely reject his denial of complicity in the wicked and brutal murder of the deceased. I also reject his defence that prosecution witnesses in conspiracy with his enemies planned the case against him.
“On the cause of death, although the Doctor, P.W. 1 in his evidence deposed that cause of death was uncertain, I am satisfied that although his evidence on this point is desirable, it is not essential to establish the case against the accused persons. It has been held in many decided cases that the fact of death is provable by circumstantial evidence notwithstanding that neither the body nor any trace of the body could be found
“Similarly, I hold the view that the evidence in this case point irresistibly to one conclusion, that the deceased UKOBASI UBA died as a result of the injuries received from the beatings at the hands of the accused persons. I am satisfied that the intention of the accused persons when they were beating the deceased with sticks was to inflict grievous bodily harm on him and to that extent they have been caught by Section 316(3) of the Criminal Code. I concede that there are some contradictions in the evidence of P.Ws. but I have already dismissed such contradictions as mere sentimental exaggerations and therefore not material to the case.”
On appeal before us, learned counsel for the appellants applied for leave to argue four fresh grounds of appeal in addition to the original grounds filed. Leave was granted for the four new grounds to be argued. They read as follows:
1. The learned trial Judge erred in law in ruling that the accused persons have a case to answer when it was clear from the evidence that the prosecution has not discharged the onus of proving the guilt of the accused persons.
2. The learned trial Judge misdirected himself in law and fact when he held that the deceased died as a result of the beatings at the hands of the accused persons when there is no evidence at all to show the cause of death or that it was the result of the beating.
3. In view of the apparent contradictions on material particulars in the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution, the learned trial Judge was wrong in convicting the accused persons.
4. The learned trial Judge grossly misdirected himself on the facts when he rejected the alibi as set up on the statement of the 3rd accused person as being vague and uncertain when the statement contains sufficient clear facts for investigation and thereby reasoned a miscarriage of justice.
The substance of the argument of learned counsel for the appellants were based on some minor discrepancies in the evidence of the witnesses for the prosecution. At the close of the case for the prosecution, it was clearly established that all the accused persons then before the court were involved one way or the other in beating the deceased to death. We cannot perceive any assistance in the argument addressed to us that at the stage when the prosecution closed its case, there was no evidence on which the accused persons could be called upon for their defence. Learned counsel himself found it difficult to pin-point any particular serious discrepancies to discredit any of the prosecution witnesses especially the accounts of those eye-witnesses. We were not addressed on any particular law or principle of law which the learned trial Judge had erroneously applied. As a matter of fact, learned counsel was hard put to it to tell us the nature of the complaints in the grounds of appeal field and argued by him. We did not call on learned counsel for the respondent.
The learned trial Judge had carefully and exhaustively analysed the evidence on both prosecution and defence. Learned counsel for the appellants could not successfully before us criticise any of the findings of facts. In our view, the trial Judge had come to a right decision. The savage attacks by the appellants on the deceased were indeed inhuman. That the appellants could so behave, especially in the catholic mission compound, is very disturbing. It is to be hoped that this incident is an isolated act. We found no substance or merit in the appeal and for these reasons the appeal was dismissed.
Mr. Bashua…..For Appellant
Miss Ayalogu, S.C.C., (East Central)…..For Respondent