EMMANUEL UMEH VS THE STATE
In the Supreme Court of Nigeria
Friday, February 9, 1973
Case Number: SC. 320/1971
COKER, JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
SOWEMIMO, JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
IRIKEFE, JUSTICE, SUPREME COURT
“In all criminal cases the onus is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt.”-Per Coker JSC.
We dismissed this appeal summarily at the hearing and stated then that we would give our reasons later.
The appellant was charged with the murder on the 14th May, 1970, at Igbo-Ukwu in Onitsha Division, of the East-Central State, of one Benjamin Orajiuka. He was tried by Oputa, J., (High Court, Onitsha) convicted as charged and sentenced to death. The case against him at the trial was that on the 13th May, 1970, he stabbed Benjamin Orajiuka with a knife (produced in evidence as Exhibit 2) in the side and that Benjamin died the following day of injuries which he had received. A brother of Benjamin, by name Nathaniel Orajiuka, was the 2nd P.W. He was a classmate of the appellant and an eye-witness of the stabbing of Benjamin Orajiuka. Benjamin had gone with his brother Nathaniel to the house of the appellant to demand the coconut seedling which Nathaniel alleged he had asked the appellant to buy for him and for which he had already given the appellant a sum of 2/-. The appellant denied having got any money from Nathaniel for a coconut seedling or having bought any such seedling for Nathaniel. As the argument over this went on, Nathaniel spotted a coconut seedling somewhere in the apartment of the appellant and proceeded to take it. The appellant struggled with him and wrested the coconut seedling from him and continued to hold him by the throat and to beat him up severely.
Benjamin Orajiuka then intervened and tried to pull away his brother Nathaniel from the grip of the appellant. Thereupon, the appellant went inside his room, got hold of the dagger, Exhibit 2, came out with it and mortally stabbed Benjamin with the dagger “ on the left side of the abdomen”. Another witness, Benedict Ifionu Anaedum, a neighbour of the appellant and the 4th P.W., also testified that on the day in question, he heard shouts of agony from the direction of Benjamin’s house. He proceeded in the direction of the house and found Benjamin in great pain, shouting and bleeding. The witness also testified that in the presence of the appellant, Nathaniel Orajiuka (P.W.2) told him that it was the appellant who had stabbed Benjamin with a knife and that the appellant said nothing in answer to the accusation. A doctor performed an autopsy on the corpse of Benjamin. He had seen Benjamin alive for some hours before his death and indeed had tried all he could to save his life.
On examination after death he found, inter alia:-
“On external examination I found the incised wound between the 10th and 11th ribs on the left side and a fracture of the tip of the 11th rib on the left. On internal examination I found 1/4 inch perforated gut which I sutured earlier.” After his arrest, the appellant made two statements to the Police in which he admitted having stabbed Benjamin with his knife (Exhibit 2) which he had fetched from his room and stated that he did this after the two brothers had continuously man-handled him for a long time.
In his defence at the trial, he gave evidence himself and called no witnesses. He told more or less the same story as contained in his statements to the Police, Exhibit 1 and Exhibit 3. In a reserved judgment, the learned trial Judge dispassionately considered all aspects of the case including the story of the appellant and the fight he described as having happened before he went inside his room to bring out the dagger which he used on Benjamin. The learned trial Judge observed on this point as follows :-
“I am satisfied that while there was a struggle – call it a fight – between the accused and the 2nd P.W. and that the deceased tried to prevent this fight. I do not believe the accused that the deceased took part in this fight. I am satisfied that the fight between the 2nd P.W. and the accused was to prevent the 2nd P.W. removing the seedling in the garden of the accused.”
The learned trial Judge then examined and considered the defences of provocation and self-defence. He held eventually, with regard to the facts of this case, that neither of these defences was made out. The learned trial Judge also considered the defence of accident and, rightly in our view, rejected it. We point out unhesitatingly that on the facts of the present case that issue did not arise at all. The learned trial Judge then convicted the appellant as we stated before. The appellant then appealed to this court against that judgment complaining that on the whole the verdict against him should have been one of man-slaughter and not murder. Learned counsel for the appellant before us argued thus much and drew our attention to the observations of this court in Ogbu Nwagu v. The State (1966) 1 All NLR 213 at 214.
We are not in any doubt whatsoever that the reference to Nwagu’s case was inapt. In that case the verdict was altered to one of manslaughter because the judge wrongly placed the onus of establishing a defence on the accused person. In a criminal case the onus is on the prosecution to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt. This principle is universally recognised as one of the plinths on which our criminal law is based: in the present case, there was not addressed to us any argument postulating the breach of this principle. We are convinced that in the present case the learned trial Judge clearly examined all the facts and drew the correct inferences. The appellant admitted the use of his own dagger on Benjamin Orajiuka and his several attempts in various ways to explain away his actions were not believed by the learned trial Judge who saw and heard him. The appeal was worthless in the extreme and the judgment of the learned trial Judge abundantly supported by the evidence.
We therefore dismissed the appeal.