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‘There Is No Better Evidence Than A Plea Of Guilty’

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In The Supreme Court of Nigeria
Holden at Abuja on Friday, the 25th day of January, 2019

Olabode Rhodes-Vivour
Kumai Bayang Akaahs
John Inyang Okoro
Chima Nweze
Ejembi Eko
Justices, Supreme Court SCI48/2013
Between
Duke Orji ———————————-Appellant
And
Federal Republic of Nigeria———-Respondent

Judgement Delivered by Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, JSC

Judgment Delivered By John Inyang Okoro, JSC

 

FACTS

The appellant as the accused person before a Federal High Court, (IIorin Division) pleaded guilty to a one count charge which reads: ‘’That you Duke Orji, Male, Adult on or about 14 June 2011 at Ogun-edu Village near Kambi town in Moro Local Government Area of Kwara State, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, without lawful authority, dealt in 3.4. Kilogrammes of Cannabis Sativa (otherwise known as Indian hemp) a drug similar to Cocaine, Heroin, LSD etc and thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under section 11 (c) of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act Cap N30 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004’’.

‘’The accused person is 27 years old. He lost his father whilst in SS2 and was recruited to work on an Indian hemp farm. After harvest, he stopped that job and worked as a bricklayer when he met a person who introduced him to the Indian hemp trade as a sales boy and was arrested cautioned and released. He went back to his Indian hemp sales bog business and later started his own business still in Indian hemp trade. He was arrested and escaped from lawful custody and still went back to the business. He was again arrested and this time he is in court and he pleaded guilty. I am not sure this accused person deserves any mercy as he has been brazen and had taken the law for a ride for too long. He was caught with 3.4Kg of Indian hemp and some seeds probably to start his own Indian hemp business and employ sales boys as he once was. The substance is in wraps. There are no mitigating circumstances whatsoever. 27 is not a young age and the accused person clearly knows what he was doing and he knew it is wrong. He probably knows the effect of Indian hemp and that explains why he said in his statement that he does not consume the product he sells. In the circumstances, I hereby sentence you Duke Orji to a term of 3 years imprisonment, with hard labour starting from today”, Federal High Court, (IIorin Division) decision on 13/7/2011.

On 2 July 2012, about a year after the appellant was convicted, he filed an appeal. The appeal was heard by the Court of Appeal, llorin Division and in a judgment delivered on 22 November 2012 affirmed the judgment of the trial court in these words:

‘’…the strongest evidence of guilt on the part of accused…stronger than the evidence of an eyewitness, because the evidence, borrowing the daily axiom, comes out from the mouth of the horse who is the accused person… I hold that there is no merit in this appeal as I resolve the issue against the appellant. The appeal is accordingly dismissed and the judgment of the learned trial judge affirmed…”

This appeal is against that judgment. Briefs of argument were filed and exchanged by counsel.

The appellant’s brief was filed on 30 May 2013, but duly filed and served on 14 May 2014, while the respondent brief was filed on 26 October 2018, but duly filed and served on 1 November, 2018.

Learned counsel for the appellant, T. Kupolati esq, formulated two issues for determination.

 

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION

 

  1. Whether the Court of Appeal was right when it held that there was no evidence in the printed record of appeal to suppose that the appellant was illiterate not withstanding that exhibit A discloses sufficient evidence of the appellant’s illiterate status.
  2. Whether the Court of Appeal was right to have affirmed the conviction of the appellant notwithstanding the several legal errors and defects inherent in exhibit A, the confessional statement which ought to have made the said exhibit A inadmissible, ab initio.

Learned counsel for the respondent, F.A. Oloruntoha adopted the issues formulated by the appellant. There would thus be no need reproducing them again.

At the hearing of appeal on 1 November 2018 learned counsel for the Appellant, T. Kupolati esq, adopted the Appellants brief filed on 30 May, 2013 but deemed filed and served on 14 May 2014.

He urged the court to allow the appeal.

Similarly learned counsel for the Respondent FA Oloruntoba esq, adopted the Respondent’s brief filed on 26 October 2015 but deemed filed and served on 1 November 2018. He urged the court to dismiss the appeal.

 

JUDGEMENT

 

I have examined the issues filed by the appellant, which were adopted by the respondent and found that none of the issues address the disastrous consequences of entering a plea of guilt by the appellant.

I shall take both issues together. In issue No.1 learned counsel for the appellant made lengthy submissions that the appellant is illiterate, contending that exhibit A, his statement, indicates that he is in fact an illiterate. In issue No.2 he pointed out that the confessional statement of the appellant is inadmissible since the Police Officer who recorded the statement was not called as a witness.

Learned counsel opposed these submissions, observing that the appellant after pleading guilty cannot be allowed to approbate and reprobate.

Both counsel, especially learned counsel for the appellant appears to have been oblivious of the significance of a plea of guilty to a criminal charge.

I earlier on in this judgment reproduced the proceedings on the day trial commenced and ended. It is clear that on that day the accused appellant was represented by MA. Lawal and Mrs O. Akintolarin. The charge was read to him and he pleaded GUILTY.

A plea of guilty in a criminal trial is made by an accused person who does not contest the charge. This arises where an accused person having committed a crime is simply saying by pleading guilty that he is responsible for the crime.

A plea of guilty to a charge is conclusive evidence that the accused committed the offence. When an accused person is represented by counsel and the charge is read and explained to him to the satisfaction of the court, the court can proceed to convict forthwith. There is no better evidence than a plea of guilty. It is even better than eyewitness evidence. See Akpa v state (2008) 14 NWLR (Pt.1106) p.72

Jua v State (2010) 4NWLR (pt.1184) p.217 The appellant was convicted on his plea of guilty. Thereafter any exhibits tendered are supplusage as the plea of guilty is conclusive proof that the accused person (the appellant) committed the offence.

The proceeding in which the appellant pleaded guilty, which I reproduced shows the active participation of his counsel. The fact that the accused person (appellant) was represented by counsel and the charge was read and explained to him in English without any protest from the accused /appellant or objection from his counsel is conclusive evidence that the accused /appellant understands English and was satisfied pleading guilty to the charge. In Nkie v FRN (2014) ALLFWLR (pt.754) p.186

Okoro JSC correctly pointed out that: “…the appellant, having voluntarily pleaded guilty to the charge at the trial court, cannot now be heard to be making a different case on appeal. He should not be allowed to approbate and reprobate in the same breath…”

The above sums up the plight of the appellant. After pleading guilty while being represented by counsel his case comes to an end.’ All that is left is for the judge to convict and sentence, and that is exactly what the learned trial Judge did. Coming on appeal complaining about inadmissible evidence or that he is an illiterate is a waste of precious judicial time.

This is best addressed in the trial court, and not on appeal. There is no merit in this appeal. It is accordingly dismissed.

 

 Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, JSC

 

Representations:

T.Kupoolati with T. Ajiboye  for the appellant; Y.S.Msheila with   W.I.Audu and M.Haruna for the respondent

 


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