ECOBANK NIGERIA LIMITED V ANCHORAGE LEISURES LIMITED & ORSJanuary 9, 2019
CHARLES IGWE V THE STATEJanuary 28, 2019
Legalpedia Electronic Citation: LER SC.883/2016
APPEAL NO: SC.883/2016
AREAS OF LAW:
Appeal, Court, Company Law, Criminal Law And Procedure, Interpretation Of Statute, Jurisdiction, Law Of Evidence, Practice And Procedure, Words And Phrases
SUMMARY OF FACTS:
The Appellant, herein was charged along with one Janada Mshelia before the High Court of Borno State sitting at Maiduguri on an 8-count charge of conspiracy, making false statement, used their positions to confer an unfair advantage upon their relation, and to receive some amount of money, all contrary to Section(s) 26(1) c, 25(1) a, and punishable by Section(s) 25(1) b, 19, of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000, respectively. They both pleaded not guilty to the counts against them. At the conclusion of trial, the court in a considered judgment, found both accused persons guilty in respect of counts 1, 2, 3 and 4. The Appellant was also found guilty in respect of counts 5, 6 and 7 but was however acquitted and discharged on count 8. The accused persons were sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with an option of N100, 000 fine in respect of counts 1 – 4, while the Appellant was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment each in respect of counts 5, 6, and 7 without an option of fine. The Appellant was dissatisfied with the judgment and appealed to the lower court. In a majority decision, the appeal was allowed in part. The Appellant’s conviction and sentence in respect of counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 was set aside. His conviction in respect of counts 5 and 6 was affirmed. In his dissenting opinion, Tine Tur, JCA allowed the appeal in its entirety and acquitted and discharged him in respect of all the counts. Aggrieved with the majority decision, the Appellant has further appealed to the Supreme Court contending that by virtue of Section 251(1)(p) of the Constitution, the only court vested with exclusive jurisdiction to try the offences with which he is charged is the Federal High Court. The Counsel to the Respondent on the other hand, argued that although the Federal High Court is conferred with jurisdiction to adjudicate on criminal cases and matters, the criminal jurisdiction is not exclusive.
Appeal Allowed In Part
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:
- Whether the lower court had jurisdiction to try the accused having regard to the provisions of Section 61 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and Section 251 (1) (p) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended.
- Whether the Court of Appeal rightly affirmed the conviction of the Appellant by the trial court.
JURISDICTION OF COURTS- NATURE AND IMPORTANCE OF JURISDICTION OF COURTS
“The jurisdiction of a court to exercise its adjudicatory powers in any cause or matter is determined and circumscribed by the law establishing it. It is so fundamental that the slightest step taken in a proceeding without jurisdiction renders the entire Proceeding a nullity, no matter how well conducted or how erudite a decision reached therein might be. Jurisdiction has been described as the life blood of adjudication. Without it, the whole case collapses, as if it never was. It is for this reason that the issue of jurisdiction must always be resolved first before delving into any other matters. It can also be raised at any stage of the proceedings and even for the first time in this court, as anything done without jurisdiction is an exercise in futility. See: Madukolu Vs Nkemdilim (1962) 2 SCNLR 341; Utih Vs Onoyivwe & Ors. (1991) 1 NWLR (Pt.166) 166; Shitta-Bey Vs A.G. Federation & Anor. (1998) 10 NWLR (Pt, 570) 392; Inakoju Vs Adeleke (2007) 2 FWLR (Pt.366) 2403.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES- RULE OF INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES
“In the interpretation of the Constitution or other statutory provisions, the first rule is that where the words used are clear and unambiguous they should be given their natural and ordinary meaning, unless to do so would lead to absurdity or inconsistency with the rest of the statute. See. Ojokolobo Vs Alamu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377 @ 402 F – H: Adisa Vs Oyinwola & Ors. (2000) 6 SC (Pt.II) 47; Dankwambo Vs Abubakar & Ors. (2015) 10 SC 63.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT – WHETHER THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT AUTOMATICALLY ASSUMES JURISDICTION IN MATTER INVOLVING ALL FEDERAL AGENCIES
“Firstly, it is necessary to stress the point that the mere fact that an agency of the Federal Government is involved in a proceeding is not sufficient, without more, to confer exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court. The subject matter of the proceeding is also a determinant factor. See: Ohakim Vs Agbaso (2010) 19 NWLR (Pt.1226) 172 @ 236 – 237 G – D; Salim Vs CPC (2013) 6 NWLR (Pt.1351) 501; Ucha Vs Onwe (2011) 4 NWLR (Pt.1237) 386.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
JURISDICTION OF COURT- COURTS CONFERRED WITH THE JURISDICTION TO ENTERTAIN CRIMINAL CHARGES BROUGHT UNDER THE CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT
“Section 26 (2) and 61 (3) of the Corrupt Practices Act provide:
26 (2) Prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be initiated by the Attorney-General of the Federation, or any authority to whom he shall delegate his authority, in any superior court of record so designated by the Chief Judge of a State or the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja under Section 61 (3) of this Act; and every prosecution for an offence under this Act or any other law prohibiting bribery, corruption, fraud or any other related offences shall be deemed to be initiated by the Attorney-General of the Federation.
61 (3) The Chief Judge of a State or the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja shall, by order under his hand, designate a court or judge or such number of courts or judges as he shall deem appropriate to hear and determine all cases of bribery, corruption, fraud or other related offences arising under this Act or any other laws prohibiting fraud, bribery or corruption; a court or judge so designated shall not, while being so designated, hear and determine any other cases provided that all cases of fraud, bribery or corruption pending in any court before the coming into force of this Act shall continue to be heard and determined by that court.” (Emphasis mine)
It is evident from the plain and unambiguous words used in the two provisions reproduced above that it is the High Court of a State or the Federal Capital Territory that has jurisdiction to entertain criminal charges brought under the Corrupt Practices Act. Section 26 (2) of the Act provides that the Attorney General of the Federation or of, a State may initiate charges under the Act in any superior court of record designated by the Chief Judge of a State or the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory. This is quite specific. If it was intended to confer exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court, the Legislature would have done so. I do not agree with learned counsel for the appellant that the Corrupt Practices Act is ultra vires Section 251 (1) & (3) of the Constitution.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
PROOF – BURDEN AND STANDARD OF PROOF IN CRIMINAL TRIAL
“The position of the law, which remains constant and inviolable, is that in order to secure a conviction in criminal proceedings, the prosecution has the onerous burden of establishing the guilt of the accused person beyond reasonable doubt. See Section 135 (1) & (2) of the Evidence Act 2011; Igabele Vs The State (2006) 6 NWLR (Pt.975) 100; Iko Vs The State (2001) LPELR-1480 (SC) @ 48 A – B; Lori Vs The State (1980) 8 – 11 SC 81. This is in line with the presumption of innocence guaranteed to any person who is accused of committing a crime, as provided for in Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended. The burden remains on the prosecution throughout the trial and never shifts.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
BURDEN OF PROOF – INSTANCES WHERE THE BURDEN TO PROOF SHIFTS TO AN ACCUSED PERSON IN A CRIMINAL TRIAL
“In a few limited circumstances, such as where the accused person raises a defence of alibi or insanity, he has the evidentiary burden of adducing such evidence as would raise a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. This is because the facts constituting the defences are strictly within the accused person’s knowledge. See: Ndukwe Vs The State (2009) 7 NWLR (Pt.1139) 43; Akpan Vs The State (1991) LPELR-380 (SC) @ 17 – 18 F – C; Madjemu Vs The State (2001) 9 NWLR (Pt.718) 349.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
PROOF – WHETHER AN ACCUSED PERSON IS OBLIGATED TO PROVE HIS INNOCENCE
“It must however be stressed that an accused person has no duty to prove his innocence. See: Adeniji Vs The State (2001) 13 NWLR (Pt.730) 375: Isah Vs The State (2017) LPELR-43472 @ 28 – 29 F – E. His failure to testify, for example, cannot result in a conviction. The prosecution must adduce cogent and compelling evidence to discharge the burden of proving its case beyond reasonable doubt. Any doubt created in the mind of the court must be resolved in favour of the accused person. See: Archibong Vs The State (2006) 14 NWLR Pt.1000) 349; Aiguoreghian Vs The State (2004) 3 NWLR (Pt.860) 367: Adie Vs The state (1980) 1 NLR 323; Shehu Vs The State (2010) 8 NWLR (Pt.1195) 112.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
GUILT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON- DUTY OF A PROSECUTION IN ESTABLISHING THE GUILT OF AN ACCUSED PERSON
“In order to establish the guilt of an accused person beyond reasonable doubt, the prosecution must prove all the essential elements of the offence or offences with which he is charged. The court must be satisfied that the totality of the evidence led supports the particulars of the offence as charged. See: Alor Vs The State (1997) 4 NWLR (Pt.501) 511: Nwaturuocha Vs The State (2011) 6 NWLR (pt.1242) 170: Orji Vs The State (2008) 10 NWLR (pt.1094) 31: George Vs FRN (supra).” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
OFFENCES UNDER THE CORRUPT PRACTICES AND OTHER RELATED OFFENCES ACT- INGREDIENTS OF THE OFFENCE ESTABLISHED UNDER SECTION 19 OF THE CORRUPT PRACTICES AND OTHER RELATED OFFENCES ACT, 2000
“Section 19 provides:
“Any public officer who uses his office or position to gratify or confer any corrupt or unfair advantage upon himself or any relation or associate of the public officer or any other public officer is guilty of an offence and is on conviction liable to imprisonment for five (5) years without option of a fine,”
The essential elements of the offence are:
- That the accused person is a public officer.
- That he used his office or position to gratify or confer any corrupt or unfair advantage upon himself or any relation or associate of his or upon any other public officer.
– PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
“PUBLIC OFFICER” – DEFINITION OF “PUBLIC OFFICER”
“The relevant terms identified and defined in Section 2 of the Act, for the purpose of this appeal are:
“Public Officer” means a person employed or engaged in any capacity in the public service of the Federation, State or Local Government, public corporation or private company wholly or jointly floated by any government or its agency, including the subsidiary of such company whether located in or outside Nigeria and includes judicial officers serving in magistrate’s, area or customary courts or tribunals.
“relation” includes father, mother, child, brother, sister, uncle, aunt and cousins where applicable and their spouses.
- PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
“UNFAIR” AND “ADVANTAGE” – DEFINITION OF “UNFAIR” AND “ADVANTAGE”
“Other relevant words not defined in the Act are “unfair” and “advantage”. The words are defined in the Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 8th edition (International Student’s Edition) as follows:
“unfair”: not right or fair according to a set of rules or principles; not treating people equally. Synonym: unjust.
“advantage”: a thing that helps you to be better or more successful than other people.
”unfair advantage”: something that benefits you but not your opponents.
From the definitions above, it could be said that a person is given an unfair advantage where someone in a superior or favourable position provides him with an opportunity, over and above others in similar circumstances, which he otherwise would not have had, to enable him succeed in a particular venture.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
LEGAL PERSONALITY OF A COMPANY- NATURE OF A COMPANY AS AN ARTIFICIAL PERSON
“The law settled a long time ago in the celebrated case of Salomon Vs Salomon & Co, (1897) A.C. 22, is that a limited liability company is a legal entity distinct from its members. It has a distinct legal personality and is capable of suing and being sued in its corporate name. Once it has complied with the requirements of incorporation, it becomes an artificial legal entity. It is different from the subscribers to its memorandum. It is neither an agent nor a trustee for them. It also has the capacity to enter into any agreement in its corporate name, in effect; it has all the powers of a natural person of full capacity. See also: Sections 37 & 38 (1) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act Cap.C20 LFN 2004; Marina Nominees Ltd. Vs F.B.I.R. (1986) 2 NWLR (Pt.20) 48: Afolabi Vs Western Steel Works Ltd. & Ors, (2012) 17 NWLR (Pt.1329) 286; Bulet International Nig. Ltd. & Anor. Vs Olaniyi & Anor. (2017) 17 NWLR (Pt.1594) 260. It is also settled law that a company has no mind of its own. It acts through others, such as directors and managers, who are its directing mind and will and who control what it does. See: Trenco (Nig.) Ltd. Vs African Real Estate and Investment Co. Ltd. & Anor (1978) LPELR-3264 (SC) @ 16 – 17 F – E; Interdrill Nig, Ltd. & Anor, Vs U.B.A, Plc, (2017) LPELR-41907 (SC) @ 11 – 13 F-A.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
DOCUMENTS – DUTY OF A PARTY TENDERING A DOCUMENT IN EVIDENCE
“It is a well-established principle of law that when documents are tendered in evidence, their purport must be demonstrated in open court by the party tendering them. It is not sufficient to merely tender documents without linking them to specific aspects of the party’s case. In the case of: Ladoja Vs Ajimobi & Ors. (2016) LPELR-40658 (SC) @ 48 – 50 E – B, this court held thus:
… the law is settled on documents tendered in court which purpose and worth must be demonstrated through a witness. It is settled also that the duty lies on a party who wants to rely on a document in support of his case to produce, tender and link or demonstrate the documents tendered to specific parts of his case. The fact that a document is tendered in the course of proceedings does not relieve a party from satisfying the legal duty placed on him to link his document with his case. See C.P.C. Vs INEC (2011) 18 NWLR (Pt 1279) 493 @ 546 – 547).
… It is not the courts lot to be not saddled with nor can it suo motu assume the partisan responsibility of tying each bundle of such documentary evidence to the appellant’s case to prove the malpractice alleged.
… The court as an arbiter must not get into the arena and engage itself in doing a case for one party to the disadvantage of the other party.
See also; Ucha & Anor. Vs Elechi & Ors. (2012) 13 NWLR (Pt.1317) 330 @ 369.” PER K. M. O. KEKERE-EKUN, J.S.C.
JURISDICTION OF A COURT- SIGNIFICANCE OF THE JURISDICTION OF COURT TO ENTERTAIN A MATTER
“Jurisdiction of a court to hear a case is a fundamental issue. Once a court lacks jurisdiction to hear a suit, and it goes ahead to hear the suit as if it had jurisdiction, the whole proceedings and judgment would amount to a nullity, no matter how well the suit was decided. It is so important in that it could be raised in the trial court, Court of Appeal, or even in the Supreme Court for the first time. Jurisdiction, being a question of law must be heard and decided first, when it is an issue before a court. See Emeka v Okadigbo & 4 ors (2012) 7 SC (Pt.1) p.1. Agbule v Warri Refinery & Petrochemical Co. Ltd (2012) 12 SC (Pt. vii) p.112.” PER O. RHODES-VIVOUR, J.S.C
JURISDICTION OF COURT- DETERMINATION OF COURT VESTED WITH JURISDICTION TO ENTERTAIN A MATTER
“When the issue to be decided is, in which court a trial should be conducted, the law in force at the time of the trial of the action determines the court that is vested with jurisdiction to try the case. See Obiuweubi v CBN (2012) 2-3 SC (Pt.1) D.46.” PER. RHODES-VIVOUR, J.S.C
INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE- PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION OF STATUTE ON THE COURT WITH JURISDICTION TO TRY BRIBERY, CORRUPTION, FRAUD OR OTHER RELATED OFFENCES -SECTION 26 AND 63 OF THE CORRUPT PRACTICES ACT
“It is long settled that when interpreting the constitution or statute it is very important that the intention of the Legislature must be revealed and this can only be done by given the words used their ordinary meaning devoid of embellishments. Sections 26 and 63 of the Corrupt Practices Act state that:
“26(2). Prosecution for an Offence under this Act shall be initiated by the Attorney-General of the Federation, or any authority to whom he shall delegate his authority, in any superior court of record so designated by the Chief Judge of a State or the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja under section 61 (3) of this Act; and every prosecution for an offence under this Act or any other law prohibiting bribery, corruption, fraud or any other related offences shall be deemed to be initiated by the Attorney-General of the Federation.”
While Section 61 (3) supra states that:
“61(3). The Chief Judge of a State or the Federation Capital Territory Abuja, shall, by order under his hand, designate a court or judge or such number of courts or judges as he shall deem appropriate to hear and determine all cases of bribery, corruption, fraud or other related offences arising under this Act or any other laws prohibiting fraud bribery or corruption; a court or judge so designated shall not, while being so designated, hear and determine any other cases provided that all cases of fraud, bribery or corruption pending in any court before the coming into force of this Act shall continue to be heard and determined by the that court.”
After examining sections 62 and 63 of the Corrupt Practices and other related offences Act, 2000, it becomes very clear that the intention of the Legislature is that for bribery, corruption, fraud or other related offences a State High Court or a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, shall have jurisdiction to hear such offences.” PER O. RHODES-VIVOUR, J.S.C
JURISDICTION OF THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT- WHETHER THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT HAS EXCLUSIVE JURISDICTION TO HEAR MATTERS UNDER THE CORRUPTION PRACTICES AND OTHER RELATED OFFENCES ACT 2000
“There is no legislation in force that confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court to hear matters under the Corruption Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000. However by virtue of section 251 (1) (s) (3) of the Constitution the National Assembly may make legislation conferring such exclusive jurisdiction on the Federal High Court to hear matters under the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000.”PER O. RHODES-VIVOUR, J.S.C
STATUTES REFERRED TO:
Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) Cap. C20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN) 2004
Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)
Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000
Criminal Code Cap. C17 Laws of Lagos State 2003
Evidence Act, 2011
National Drug and Law Enforcement Act Cap.N30, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004