This is an appeal against the judgment of Court of Appeal, Ilorin division delivered on 18th December, 2014, wherein the learned justices of the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the Kwara State High Court. The Appellant was charged at the High Court of Kwara State, for offences of stealing and criminal breach of trust, in respect of the sums of N46,201,100.00 and N25,000,000.00 belonging to Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB). The money was part of the sums, to be loaded into the Automated Teller Machine (ATM). The trial Judge held that the Respondent had proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and found the Appellant guilty. Consequent upon the Appellant’s conviction, the trial Judge inter alia, ordered that the Appellant pay the sum of N25,000,000.00 to GTB as compensation, and further ordered the forfeiture of the proceeds of the crime to GTB, in addition to a prison term of 3 years. The Appellant’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was unsuccessful; hence, his further appeal to the Supreme Court.
Issues for Determination:
1. Whether the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal were right, in their failure to express the reasoning for affirming the judgement of the learned trial Judge.
2. Whether the Appellant’s property is liable to be forfeited, despite the terms of sentences and payment of compensation orders made against him.
3. Whether the Court of Appeal was right in affirming the decision of the trial Court, admitting the statement credited to the Appellant as his confessional statement worthy of being relied upon, in convicting the Appellant.
On issue 1, Counsel for the Appellant argued that, there was no appraisal of the case before the Court below, and that the Court of Appeal merely restated arguments of both Counsel and the position of the trial Court, without giving its input or reasons for agreeing with the position of the trial Court. He submitted that, the basic rule of law that a judgement must have reasons for the Judge’s conclusion in the judgement, was not compiled with; therefore, the judgement of the Court below, occasioned a miscarriage of justice. He relied on CHIEF GREAT OGBORU & ANOR v EMMANUEL UDUAGHAN & 2 ORS (2010) 2-3 SC 66 at 92-94.
Counsel for the Respondent in his response, submitted that, once the appellate Court affirms the decision of the trial Court, the reasoning of the trial Court is deemed to have been the reasoning of the appellate Court. He submitted further that, the Court of Appeal was on a perfect pedestal, in affirming the findings of the learned trial Judge.
On issue 2, Counsel to the Appellant argued that, the learned trial Judge had no power under Sections 19 and 20 of the EFCC Act, to forfeit the Appellant’s property to GTB, when the Appellant had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, and also ordered to pay compensation to GTB. He stated that, for the trial Court to have the power to order forfeiture, the Appellant must have been charged under the EFCC Act. He submitted that, it would amount to double jeopardy having convicted the Appellant, and having ordered the payment of compensation to GTB.
On his part, Counsel for the Respondent argued that by the combined provisions of Section 78 of the Penal Code and Section 365 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the trial Judge had the requisite jurisdiction to order restitution to the victim of crime, and that no limit has been set on the amount that a trial Judge can award to the victim of a crime, by way of compensation. He relied on MARTINS v COP (2013) 4 NWLR (Pt. 1343) page 25 at 47 paragraph F-GG.
Arguing issue 3, it was submitted on behalf of the Appellant that, the Court of Appeal wrongly admitted the statements credited to the Appellant, as his Confessional Statements. He submitted that, exhibits P5 and P21 being purported as Confessional Statements of the Appellants, were not legal evidence, as they were not admissible. He stated that, the statements were wrongly admitted, notwithstanding the conduct of a trial-within-trial. He pointed out that, a certain DSP Ronke Oyeleyin, the Superior Police Officer before whom the Appellant was said to have been taken, ought to have been called as a witness at the trial-within-trial. He also submitted that, the Appellant was denied the right to have his Counsel present, despite the request by the Appellant. He stated that the Appellant was directed to write Exhibit P21, contradicting the fact that he wrote the statement voluntarily, because a statement requested from an Accused can never be said to be voluntary. He referred to THE STATE v MATI AUDU (1971) NNLR 91 at 92. He concluded by submitting that, the Confessional Statements did not pass the test of admissibility i.e. (i) whether it is corroborated; (ii) whether there is anything outside the confession to show that it is true; and (iii) whether the confession is possible. Responding to the argument on this issue, Counsel for the Respondent stated that, the recordings in the statements conform to the formal requirements of the statements of the Appellant. He stated that, the failure to call DSP Ronke Oyeleyin was not fatal to the Prosecution’s case; that the practice of taking an accused person along with his Confessional Statement before a Superior Officer, is not a requirement of law, and failure to comply with such practice, would not render a Confessional Statement inadmissible. He relied on DIBIE v THE STATE (2007) 9 NWLR (Pt 1038).
Courts Judgement and Rationale
Deciding the first issue, the Supreme Court held that judgement writing is an art of itself, and there could be numerous ways or methods of writing judgements. The methods normally adopted by Judges, may vary from one Judge to another. There is no particular style approved for Judges to adopt, in judgement writing. – GARUBA v YAHAYA (2007) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1021) 390. In the instant case, the learned Justices of the Court of Appeal, had summarised the submissions of Counsel for the parties, and also relied on or endorsed the findings of the trial Court, and adopted them before resolving the issues. It would therefore, not be very correct to say that the lower Court merely resolved the issues without appraising them, or without giving reasons for its resolution. Their Lordships concluded on this issue, by holding that there was no evidence that the method adopted by the learned Justice of the Court below, had by the said judgment, caused a miscarriage of justice to the Appellant, which could be said to have vitiated the judgement in question. The Court referred to DAVID OMOTOLA & ORS v THE STATE (2009) 2-3 SC 7.
In resolving issue 2, the Supreme Court stated that, a Court Order cannot be vitiated or does not become null and void. The Apex Court held further that, the Appellant was tried for committing offences under the Penal Code, and that the same Penal Code by its Section 78 and also by Section 365 of the Criminal Procedure Code, gives a trial Court power to make Order of Forfeiture or compensation to any party, after convicting an Accused person, and such forfeiture order remains valid. Reference was made to MARTINS v COP (supra). The Supreme Court concluded on this issue that, the lower Court was right in affirming the decision of the trial Court, as the Court had powers under both Section 78 of the Penal Code and Section 365 of the Criminal Procedure Code, notwithstanding that the Court stated that it granted the Order under Sections 19 and 20 of the EFCC Act. Resolving issue 3, it was held that a free and voluntary confession of guilt by an Accused person, be it judicial or extra judicial, if direct and positive and properly proved, is sufficient to ground a conviction, once the trial Court is satisfied with its truth.- ODEH v FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2008) 3-4 SC 147.
The Supreme Court stated further that, the burden is always on the Prosecution to prove that a statement was made voluntarily. In the instant case, the trial Court, after a trial-within-trial, found that the Confessional Statement, was made voluntarily by the Appellant. On the question of endorsement of the statement by a Superior Police Officer (SPO), the law Lords held that the practice of having an SPO to verify and confirm that a confessional statement of an Accused was voluntarily given, does not have the force of law. It is merely a desirable practice; therefore, any Confessional Statement which was not so verified, should not, of necessity, without more, be viewed with any air of suspicion. In other words, the Court stated that failure to call an SPO to testify, would not affect the admissibility or credibility of the Confessional Statement. Reference was made to the case of DIBIE v THE STATE (2007) 2 NSCQR 1431. The Appellant, in this instance, had confirmed that he was taken to Ronke Oyeleyin’s office, who endorsed the statement after same was read over to him, before he signed it. It is not the law, that the Prosecution must call a host of witnesses to establish its case. All it is required to do, is to call witnesses who are material and would assist in proving its case. The confessional statements of the Appellant in this case, were adequately corroborated by the testimonies of the Prosecution witnesses.
Finally, the Supreme Court found that the two offences were duly proved by the Respondent against the Appellant, beyond reasonable doubt. The appeal was found to be without merit, and was consequently, dismissed.
Representation Dr. D.A. Auyonsu with M.A. Oladipo for the Appellant
Rotimi Oyedepo Iseoluwa for the Respondent Reported by Optimum Law Publishers Limited
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