Afikpo Youths Meeting Turns Bloody As Supreme Court Affirms Murder Case On Joint Execution of Unlawful Purpose

PEGASUS LEGAL

The State v. Sunday OkoChukwu

FACT:
The Respondent was the Chairman of the Task Force of the Youths Association of Amaorie Ozziza Community in Afikpo North LGA of Ebonyi State.On 18th September, 2016, they called a meeting of the youths in the community to discuss the building project which was under construction, with a view to completing it. To ensure adequate representation/ number of youths, the Respondent led members of the Youth Task Force to go out and compel the attendance of youths of the Community who disobeyed a summons issued earlier for a meeting of the youths. They invaded the home of one Ali Agha,armed with sticks, machetes and axe, to compel him to attend. In the process of compelling Ali Agha to follow them, they inflicted multiple machete cuts on is body, and this led to his death. The Police was informed that a certain Ejike Obiahu killed the deceased. However, the Respondent and eight other members of the Task Force were arrested in connection with the incident, and arraigned before the High Court of Ebonyi State on a one count charge of murder contrary to section 319(1) of the Criminal Code Law of Ebonyi State.
At the conclusion of trial, the court convicted the Respondent and his co-accused persons for the offence of murder, and sentenced them to death by hanging. Dissatisfied with the judgement, the Respondent filed an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which court agreed with the trial court that the evidence adduced by the prosecution proved that the deceased was murdered. The Court of Appeal, however, held that the prosecution failed to prove that the Respondent had a common intention with other youth to invade the deceased’s residence, or that he participated in the act that resulted in the death of the deceased. The appellate court thereby, allowed the Respondent’s appeal and quashed his conviction and sentence. Aggrieved, the appellant filed an appeal before the Supreme Court.
Issue for Determination:
The Supreme Court determined the appeal on the sole issue formulated by the Appellant as follows:
Whether considering all the evidence placed before the court, the Court of Appeal was right in holding that the appellant failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
Argument:
Counsel for the Appellant submitted that by a proper interpretation of Sections 8and 9ofthe Criminal Code Law of Ebonyi State, the Respondent, having participated in the invasion of the deceased’s house, should not have been exculpated from criminal responsibility for the murder of the deceased. Counsel contended that the Court of Appeal was wrong to have exculpated the Respondent from responsibility for the murder of the deceased, despite having concurred with the decision of the trial court that the invasion of the deceased residence by the accused persons, including the Respondent was wrong, and it was in the Process that the deceased was killed. He submitted that the decision of the Court of Appeal was perverse, and not borne out of the records of the court. He urged the Supreme Court to set aside the said decision, and restore the judgement of the trial court.
On the other hand, counsel for the Respondent submitted that there were inconsistencies and material contradictions in the case of the prosecution which created doubts about the guilt of the Respondent, and thereby warranted his discharge and acquittal by the Court of Appeal. He argued that the Appellant failed to prove that the Respondent was complicit, or acted in concert with other accused Persons, to jointly commit the offence of murder of the deceased. He submitted further that the prosecution had failed to prove the guilt of the Respondent beyond reasonable doubt, hence the Court of Appeal was right to have reached the decision.
Court’s Judgement and Rationale:
Determining the sole issue, the Supreme Court referred to the provisions of Section 8 of the Criminal Code Law of Eboni State which provides that, when two or more persons form a common intention to prosecute an unlawful purpose in conjunction with one another, and in the prosecution of such purpose an offence is committed of such nature that its commission was a probable consequence of the prosecution of such purpose, each of them is guilty of committing the offence. The court relied on its earlier decision in UBIEIHO V THE STATE (2005) 2 SC (Pt. I) 18.
The court held further that itis not a requirement for each participant in the prosecution of the unlawful purpose to have had the intention to commit the crime that was committed in the joint prosecution of that unlawful purpose, before such participant can be convicted for the said crime. What the law requires is that, the said offence committed in the joint execution of the unlawful purpose must be of such nature that its commission was a probable consequence of the prosecution of such purpose. In the circumstance, what each of them did in furtherance of the commission of the offence is immaterial NWANKWOALA&ANOR V THE STATE (2006) LPELR – 2112 (SC).
Their Lordships reasoned that where the common intention to prosecute an unlawful purpose is not expressed by the group, it can be inferred from their joint execution of the unlawful purpose and the crime committed in the joint execution of an unlawful purpose need not be the common purpose that was commonly intended by the joint action. What matters is that the crime so committed in the joint execution of the unlawful purpose, is a probable consequence of the execution of the unlawful purpose. Every participant in the joint execution of the unlawful purpose will thus, be deemed to have committed the crime irrespective of their specific role in the joint execution of that unlawful purpose.
Relating the principles above to the case, the Apex Court held that the common intention to carry out that joint execution was established by the unchallenged evidence showing the decision of the Respondent another member of his group to go and compel the other youths, including the deceased, to attend the meeting, and the evidence of their participation in the joint invasion of the deceased’s residence to force him to attend their meeting.
In their joint invasion of the home of the deceased to force him to attend their meeting, which in itself is an unlawful purpose, and considering the nature of things done by the invaders during their execution of this unlawful purpose, each of them became responsible for anything done by any member of the Group to force the deceased to attend their meeting. In a concerted attack to prosecute an unlawful purpose, it is not the law to look for the person who struck the lethal blow. Everyone who partakes in the attack, is equally guilty of the crime committed during prosecution of that unlawful purpose.
Given that the killing of the deceased is probable consequence of what the Respondent and the other members of the youth task force did in the joint prosecution of their unlawful purpose, each member of the youth task force that invaded the deceased’s house is guilty of the murder, irrespective of who inflicted the actual machete cut that killed him. The question whether each individual participant in the joint invasion had the intention that the deceased, Ali Agha, should be killed or injured during the invasion or process of compelling him to attend the meeting, is irrelevant in determining the criminal responsibility of each member of the group for the killing or injury of the deceased by their acts to force him to attend their meeting.
Appeal Allowed. Judgement of the trial court convicting the Respondent for murder and sentencing him to death, restored.
Representation,A.O.Odum Esq.with T.Gbashima and F,D.Okeoga for the Appellant
Roy O.U Nwaeze Esq.with Maxwell Ezumezu for the Respondent
Reported by Optimum Publishers Ltd,Publishers of The Nigerian Monthly Law Report

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