⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Joseph Bille v. The State (2016) – SC
by NSA PaulPipAr
⦿ LITE HOLDING
The onus to produce the licence to own firearms is on the accused.
⦿AREA OF LAW
– Criminal Law
– Possession of fire arms.
– Reasonable doubt.
– Election petition.
⦿ LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Nwali Sylvester Ngwuta, J.S.C.
* FOR THE APPELLANT
– E. A. Oyebanji, Esq.
* FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Godwin Omoaka, Esq.
⦿ FACT (as relating to the issues)
On 11th day of September, 2010 there was a bye-election in the Bishiri South Council Ward of the Obaniliku Local Government Area. It was alleged that while voting was in progress the appellant snatched the ballot box and attempted to run away with it. As voters rushed to stop him he pulled a pistol from his back pocket and threatened to shoot anyone who would venture to go near him. As appellant started running away with the ballot box he fired a shot from the pistol. The shot hit one Godwin Annang on his right leg. One Felix Ipua ran to the appellant, held him and recovered the pistol. Appellant and his pistol were handed over to the Police men who were on election duty.
To prove its case, the prosecution called a total of five (5) witnesses.
At the close of the prosecution’s case appellant through his Counsel elected to make a no-case submission urging the trial Court to hold that the prosecution did not, by the evidence on record, make out a prima facie case to warrant calling on the appellant to enter upon his defence.
In its ruling delivered on 16th November, 2011 over-ruling the no-case submission, the trial court concluded thus: “I shall therefore call on the accused person to enter his defence in this case as a prima facie case of unlawful possession of firearms and causing grievous harm has been established.”
Appellant testified on his behalf and called one other witness and rested his case, Learned Counsel for the parties filed written addresses and adopted same on 19th November, 2012.
In its judgment delivered on 30th March, 2012 the trial Court concluded that: “From the totality of the evidence adduced by the prosecution in this case, I find and hold that the ingredients of the offences of unlawful possession of firearm and causing grievous harm by the accused person have been proved and upon which the accused person could be convicted as such and sentenced accordingly.”
The trial Court convicted the appellant as charged and sentenced him to seven years imprisonment with hard labour without an option of fine in Count l and to five years imprisonment with hard labour with option of a fine of N50,000.00 in Count. The Court ordered that the sentences are to run concurrently (if the appellant does not pay fine in Count II).
On 13/4/2012 appellant filed a Notice of Appeal in the Court of Appeal, Calabar Judicial Division. On 3rd day of July, 2013 the Lower Court, in a well reasoned judgment of Otisi, JCA in which Garba and Ndukwe-Anyanwu, JJCA concurred/dismissed the appeal as devoid of merit and affirmed the conviction of, and sentence imposed on the appellant by the trial Court.
Aggrieved by the judgment of the Lower Court dismissing his appeal appellant on 29th July 2013, appealed to this court on three grounds.
1. Whether or not the prosecution proved the ingredients of the offence of unlawful possession of firearms under Section 3(1) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act?
⦿ RESOLUTION OF ISSUE(S)
1. The Supreme Court held that the case was proved against the Appellant.
i. In a charge of unlawful/illegal possession of firearms under section 3(1) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act, the prosecution proves the case beyond reasonable doubt if the following three ingredients are established. (a) that the accused person was found in possession of firearm; (b) that the firearm is within the meaning of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act; (c) that the accused person has no license to posses the firearm.
⦿ SOME PROVISION(S)
⦿ RELEVANT CASE(S)
In State v. Femi Oladotun (2011) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1256) 542 at 560 G-H limited the ingredients to three. In the said case, this Court held: “To prove the offence of unlawful possession of firearms against an accused person, the law requires the prosecution to establish the following three essential ingredients: (a) That the accused was found in possession of the firearms. (b) That the firearms were within the meaning of the Act. (c) That the accused has no licence to possess firearms.”
⦿ CASE(S) RELATED
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
Appellant’s formulation of issues is bedeviled with another fundamental defect. Issue 1 was formulated from Grounds 1 and 2 of the Grounds of Appeal. This is in accord with the principle of formulation of issues. A single issue is formulated from one or a combination of Grounds of Appeal. See Labiyi v. Anretiola (1992) 10 SCNJ 1at 2. Issue 2 was raised from Ground 1 of the Grounds of Appeal. In other words, issues 1 and 2 were formulated from Ground 1. This is a violation of the principle of appellate practice that on no account should issues for determination be more in number than the Grounds of Appeal from which they were raised. See Agu v. Ikewibe (1991) 3 NWLR (Pt. 180) 385. Appellant has raised two issues (issues 1 and 2) from one Ground of Appeal. It is a proliferation of issues in an appeal which should be avoided. – NGWUTA, J.S.C. Bille v. State (2016)
There are three ways of proving a crime in Court. These are: (1) Direct evidence. (2) Confessional statement/statements made by the accused, and (3) Circumstantial evidence. – NGWUTA, J.S.C. Bille v. State (2016)
From a review of the evidence on both sides, it is my considered view that while the prosecution’s evidence rings with the truth, defence evidence is a fruitless attempt by the appellant and his sole witness to wriggle out of a bad situation he created for himself in the furtherance of the political fortunes of his associates. Be that as it may, I will deal with some specific issues in learned Counsel’s briefs. – NGWUTA, J.S.C. Bille v. State (2016)
Did the prosecution prove possession, simpliciter, of firearms against the appellant? The answer to the question posed above is a matter of fact on which the trial Court is a better judge than an appellate Court. There was before the trial Court an unbroken chain of evidence of the firearm passing from the appellant to one Felix Iqua to the Police who tendered same in Court. The issue of identity of the gun or its proper custody was not raised when it was tendered and admitted and marked Exhibit A. The evidence of possession found favour with the trial Court and was affirmed by the Court below. There is no evidence of perversity in the decisions of the two Lower Courts with regards to possession of the firearm. This Court cannot, in the circumstances, disturb the concurrent finding of facts of the two Courts below. – NGWUTA, J.S.C. Bille v. State (2016)
Possession of firearm, without more, is not a crime. It becomes a crime when and if the possession is “without lawful excuse”, that is, without a valid licence issued by the appropriate authority. Appellantâ s case is that the onus of proof that the appellant had no licence to possess the firearm was on the prosecution. This, in my view, is tantamount to subjecting the prosecution to proof of negative assertion. – NGWUTA, J.S.C. Bille v. State (2016)
In any case, whether or not the appellant had a licence for the firearm in his possession is a matter peculiarly with his person knowledge. Contrary to the argument of learned counsel for the appellant and in conformity with the argument of learned Counsel for the respondent, the onus is on the appellant to justify in law his possession of firearm by positive proof that he has a licence issued by the appropriate authority. – NGWUTA, J.S.C. Bille v. State (2016)
The facts giving rise to this appeal are replications of incidents in past elections in the country and may be replicated in future elections unless Nigeria, particularly, the political class, learn to appreciate that defeat is inherent, and a decisive factor, in the process of election, and the winner learn to be magnanimous in victory. Bitter losers and vindictive winners constitute a threat to the electoral process. – NGWUTA, J.S.C. Bille v. State (2016)