Sometime in March 2015, a certain nine year old girl selling rice, was directed by the Appellant to deliver the rice to his house at Rabazo Village, Gwaram Local Government Area of Jigawa State. On reaching the Appellant’s house, he further directed the girl to get a bowl from his room, to transfer the rice into it. The girl was reluctant, but upon the insistence of the Appellant, she entered the Appellant’s room. The Appellant immediately followed her, locked the door, forced her on his bed, prevented her from shouting by covering her mouth with a piece of cloth, and had sexual intercourse with her. After having sexual intercourse with the girl, the Appellant pushed her under his bed with her mouth still tied with cloth.
Subsequently, the girl’s mother, who had been searching for her daughter when she did not return home on time, got to the Appellant’s house. After interactions with the Appellant, who refused her entry into the house, she forcefully entered his room and found the girl under the bed with her mouth covered with a piece of cloth. The girl was taken away by her mother, and a report of the incident was made to the Village Head and the Police.
After investigation, the Appellant was arraigned before the High Court of Jigawa State, where he was convicted and sentenced to seven years imprisonment for the offence of rape. The Appellant unsuccessfully appealed to the Court of Appeal; he has further appealed to the Supreme Court.
Issue for Determination
In determining the appeal, the Supreme Court considered this sole issue formulated by the Respondent thus:
Whether from the totality of the evidence adduced, the Court of Appeal was right when it held that the Prosecution had, at the trial court, proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Counsel for the Appellant started his argument by stating that in criminal trial, a person charged with an offence is presumed innocent until the prosecution proves to the contrary. He referred to Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, Section 135 of the Evidence Act, 2011 and the case of AGBITI v NIGERIAN NAVY (2011) 4 NWLR (Pt.1236) 175 at 216, in contending that the Prosecution is required to place credible evidence devoid of doubt before the court.
Counsel stated further, the ingredients of the offence of rape as espoused in the case of POSU v STATE (2011) 2 NWLR (Pt. 1234) 393 and submitted that, the Respondent failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. He analysed the evidence of the Prosecution’s witnesses, stating that the first witness (PW1) failed to tender the first statement made by the Appellant to the Police, when the subsequent statement was retracted; the second witness (PW2) who is the prosecutrix’s mother, was not an eye witness to the act; the evidence of the third witness (PW3), who was the prosecutrix, was not corroborated; the fourth witness (PW4), a medical doctor, did not produce a medical report. He therefore, concluded that the evidence of the prosecution was unreliable, and this caused a high degree of doubt that should be resolved in favour of the Appellant. He relied on the case of SHEHU v STATE (2010) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1195) 112 at 141 and other relevant cases.
On his part, counsel for the Respondent stated that, the prosecution must prove the essential ingredients of the offence of rape beyond reasonable doubt, before an accused person can be convicted for the offence. He referred to Section 282(1) of the Penal Code, and the case of RABIU v STATE (2005) 7 NWLR (Pt. 825) 491 at 508 for what constitutes rape. Contrary to the submission of the Appellant, counsel for the Respondent contended that, the Prosecution proved that the Appellant had sexual intercourse with the victim, referring to PW3’s evidence and that this is fortified by the evidence of PW4. He also argued that, the evidence of PW3 and PW4 were strengthened by the Confessional Statement of the Appellant, which was tendered through PW1. Relying on the case of IKO v STATE (2001) 14 NWLR (Pt. 732) 221 at 245, counsel posited that, an essential ingredient of the offence of rape is penetration, however slight; and in this case, PW3 testified that the Appellant penetrated fully. Thus, the offence was complete. Counsel submitted in response to the Appellant’s argument on lack of corroboration of the evidence of the prosecutrix, that corroboration entails the act of supporting or strengthening a statement of a witness by fresh evidence of another witness. The evidence of the witnesses need not be in exact words. He urged the court, not to disturb the concurrent findings of the courts below.
Court’s Judgement and Rationale
The offence of rape is the unlawful sexual intercourse or carnal knowledge by a man of a woman or girl, without her consent, or with her consent, if the consent is obtained by force or by means of threats or intimidation of any kind, or by fear of harm or by means of false and fraudulent representation as to the nature of the act, or in the case of a married woman, by impersonating her husband. A man is also guilty of the offence of rape, where he has carnal knowledge of a girl with or without her consent, when she is less than fourteen years of age or of unsound mind – Section 285(1) of the Penal Code, Cap P3, Laws of Jigawa State, 2012 (as amended); RABIU v STATE (supra). Section 283 of the Penal Code prescribes the punishment for the offence of rape to be imprisonment for life, or for any less term with fine.
To secure a conviction for rape, the prosecution must prove the following essential ingredients: (i) that the accused had sexual intercourse with the prosecutrix; (ii) that the act of sexual intercourse was done without consent or that the consent (if any) was obtained by fraud, force, threat, intimidation, deceit or impersonation; (iii) that the prosecutrix was not the wife of the accused; (iv) that the accused had the means, via the intention to have sexual intercourse with the prosecutrix without her consent, or that the accused acted recklessly not caring whether the prosecutrix consented or not and (v) that there was penetration, no matter however slight.
The Supreme Court restated the age-long principle of law that, the prosecution is required to lead credible evidence to prove the above stated ingredients to the satisfaction of the court, in order to secure a conviction for the charge of rape. However, proof beyond reasonable doubt, is not proof beyond all doubt or all shadow of doubt; it simply means establishing the guilt of the accused person with compelling and conclusive evidence, a degree of compulsion which is consistent with a high degree of probability – SMART v THE STATE (2016) LPELR-40827(SC). Relating the above principle to the case, their Lordships held that, the evidence of PW3, the victim of the offence, was not contradicted or controverted, and the evidence including the testimony of PW2 and PW4 were weighty and credible enough to lead to an irresistible conclusion that, the Appellant had unlawful carnal knowledge of the girl without her consent. Even if she consented, such consent was unlawful as the girl was just nine years old.
The circumstantial evidence before the court disposed of the argument of the Appellant, as the evidence proffered by the Prosecution against the Appellant was strong, direct and left no remote possibility which can be dispensed with in light of the requirement of the law, that the prosecution must produce positive, credible evidence which is direct, or if circumstantial, have the quality or cogency that could be safely relied on to decide the case. More so, corroboration is not a rule of law, that an accused person in a charge of rape cannot be convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of the prosecutrix, as what is required is just a piece of evidence which shows the story of the prosecutrix that the Appellant committed the crime, is true – OGUNBAYO v THE STATE (2007) 10 QCCR 32.
Further, the Confessional Statement of the Appellant was so strong, that it added value to the evidence of the prosecution’s witnesses, and the lower courts were right to have relied on it. Once an accused person, as in this case, makes a statement under caution, saying or admitting the offence or creating the impression that he committed the offence charged, the statement becomes confessional, admissible and good to be acted upon – ISONG v THE STATE (2016) LPELR-40609(SC).
The Supreme Court concluded that, the Court of Appeal was right when it upheld the decision of the trial court, that the Respondent proved the charge of rape against the Appellant beyond reasonable doubt.
Y.A.H. Ruba N.O. Adogah and A.O. Jafaru for the Appellant.
M.M. Imam, DPP Jigawa State with Aliyu Abdullahi for the Respondent.
Reported by Optimum Publishers Limited , Publishers of the Nigerian Monthly Law Reports (NMLR)
“….. corroboration is not a rule of law, that an accused person in a charge of rape cannot be convicted on the uncorroborated evidence of the prosecutrix, as what is required is just a piece of evidence which shows the story of the prosecutrix that the Appellant committed the crime, is true”