Saturday, February 18, 2017 8:35 am
The Supreme Court on Friday discharged and acquitted Sopakiriba Igbikis on earlier judgment of murder passed against him.
Delivering judgment, Justice Musa Muhammad held that the decisions both the trial and appellate courts were based on assumption.
“At best, therefore, the circumstance the two courts found cogent and unequivocal enough to warrant the inference of appellant’s guilt are very remote basis for suspicion.
“No matter how pointing the suspicion is, it does not constitute proof of the appellant’s guilt.
“Thus, in the absence of any evidence linking the appellant with the two offences, the lower court’s affirmation of his conviction is perverse.
“Notwithstanding that the two courts are concurrent in their findings as to the appellant’s guilt, their findings which are not borne by the evidence on record cannot endure.
“No being maintainable, the findings are hereby set aside. The appeal succeeds, and the appellant is discharged and acquitted,’’Muhammad held.
The judge further said that it was evident that both court arrived at their decisions based on circumstantial evidence.
“Circumstantial evidence is very often the best evidence. It is evidence of a combination of circumstances against an accused person, none of which on its own provides the court with cogent proof of guilt.
“It must be viewed together to create strong conclusion of his guilt with the highest degree of exactitude.
“In a number of its decisions, this court has insisted that only such circumstances that make a complete and unbroken chain constituting sufficient proof that the accused person did commit the offence charged will sustain conviction,’’ he held.
He said: “ in the case at hand, the two courts relied on appellant’s animosity with, nay hatred for Late Chief Opusingi shown to be leader of the rival union that sent Igbikis on exile.
“On return from exile and given this circumstance, the trial court held appellant would settle for nothing short of the murder of the deceased Chief and his associates.
“This conclusion is arrived at in spite of the alibi which absolved the appellant from being privy to the agreement arrived at on Dec.5, 2007,’’.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the appeal was against the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt delivered on March 21, 2014 affirming death sentence on Igbikis.
The Rivers High Court in the state had tried and convicted the appellant for offences of conspiracy and murder on June 6, 2013.
The prosecution had alleged that the appellant had had agreement with some accomplices that arrived at a meeting in a hotel at Agudama Street “D’’ Line in Port Harcourt that led to the murder of some persons.
The prosecution had listed those killed as a result of the conspiracy to include Chief Dan Opusingi, Chief Okpara Brown, Chief Obaye Ojuka, Chief Telema Eferebo and Chief Anthony Opuari.
He gave the names of others to include Gbang Gbang Pere, Ibiemi Bobmanuel, Bode Faabere and Ezekiel Kumi.
The prosecution had said the deceased were traveling on a speed boat from Abonnema to Kula within Akuku Toru Local Government Area of Rivers state when the plan to kill them was executed.
The state had provided evidence showing agreement among the conspirators which was reached on Jan.5, 2007.
To further prove its case, the respondent called six witnesses and tendered series of exhibits which included appellant’s extra-judicial statement wherein he asserted being in Lagos at the time of the crime.
The appellant had totally denied knowledge or being part of any agreements to kill the chief Opusingi and his associates.
At the end of the trial, the court held that the respondent had proved its case and went on to convict him.
Aggrieved by the outcome of the trial, the appellant appealed to the court of appeal on nine grounds.
The court, however, dismissed the appeal and affirmed the trial court’s decision.
Dissatisfied, the appellant further approached the apex court seeking the determination of his appeal.
He had asked the apex court to decide whether there was any admissible evidence on record from which the court below could have justifiably affirmed the trial court’s inference of conspiracy to commit murder. (NAN)