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WHAT APPELLANT MUST DO WHEN HE ALLEGES FAULTY EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

Dictum

Evaluation of evidence entails the trial Judge examining of all evidence before him before making a finding. This is done by putting all the evidence on an imaginary scale to see which side outweigh the other by way of credible evidence. See LAFIA L. G. v. EXEC. GOV. OF NASARAWA STATE (2012) LPELR-20602 (SC). So where the Appellant complained that the judge did not evaluate evidence properly as in this case, he has the duty to show the Appellate Court how the correction of the omission will make the decision wrong and liable to be set aside. For example, the Appellant must show which admissible evidence the trial Judge rejected or inadmissible evidence he relied upon to the extent that resulted in a miscarriage of justice. In other words, it is not just enough to complain against the evaluation of evidence, but the Appellant must show that the decision of the trial Court was wrong. See PETROLEUM (SPECIAL) TRUST FUND v. WESTERN PROJECT CONSORTIUM LTD and ORS. (2006) LPELR-7719 and ODUNUKWE v. OFOMATA and ANOR. (1999) 6 NWLR (PT. 602) 416 at 425 (CA). The law has been stated and re-stated in uncountable number of decisions of this Court and the Supreme Court that the duty of evaluation of evidence and the ascription of probative value to such evidence is the primary duty of the trial Court. This is especially so where the evaluation of evidence is on the conflicting oral testimonies and belief or disbelief of such evidence. The Appellate Court cannot be in a position to recapture that advantage that the trial Judge had in observing the witnesses as they testified. Therefore, unless the Appellant satisfied this Court as an Appellate Court that the decision of the trial Court was wrong vide improper evaluation of evidence, we have no business re-evaluating the evidence to substitute our own decision for that of the trial Court.

— B.B. Aliyu, JCA. Oboh v. Oboh (2021) – CA/B/372/12

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DUTY OF TRIAL COURTS IN EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

“In carrying out the evaluation of evidence, a Court is not to merely review or restate the evidence, but it is expected to critically appraise it in the light of the facts in issue, what is relevant, admissible and what weight is to be attached. In other words, the evaluation of evidence is much more critical, crucial and tasking than a mere review of evidence. For unlike the review of evidence, its actual evaluation involves a reasonable belief of the evidence of one of the contending parties and disbelief of the other, or the reasoned preference of one version to the other. There must be an indication on the record of the Court to show how the trial Court arrived at its conclusion preferring one piece of evidence to the other. Thus, the act of reaching conclusions by drawing necessary inference is a product of a legal mind and not an indulgence in speculation – Aregbesola V Olagunsoye (2011) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1253) 458; Olonade V Sowemimo (2014) 9 SCM 106, 121, per MD Muhammad, JSC; Michael V Access Bank (2017) LPELR-41981(CA)13.”

— J.H. Sankey, JCA. Ibrahim Muli v Sali Akwai (2021) – CA/G/423/2019

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DUTY OF TRIAL COURT; PERCEPTION & EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

There is a duty in a trial court to receive all available relevant evidence on an issue. This is perception of evidence. After that there is another duty to weigh that evidence in the context of the surrounding circumstances of the case. This is evaluation of evidence. A finding of fact will entail both perception and evaluation. But very often in actual practice it is difficult to say when perception ends and evaluation begins.

– Oputa JSC. OLUFOSOYE v. OLORUNFEMI (1989)

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EVALUATION, ASCRIBING PROBATIVE VALUE, DUTY OF TRIAL JUDGE

Generally, and it is settled law that the evaluation of evidence adduced and ascription of probative value or weight to such evidence is the primary duty of the trial judge who saw and heard the witnesses testified. The trial judge is therefore in a position to access the credibility and watch the demeanour of the witnesses.

– O. Ariwoola, JSC. Tukur v. Uba (2012) – SC.390/2011

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EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE AND IMAGINARY SCALE

Re-evaluation suggests and presupposes a prior evaluation. If evidence has already been evaluated by the trial Court, on what grounds, on what basis, on what principles would an appellate court undertake another re-evaluation of the same evidence? Before tackling this main issue, it may be necessary to dispose of a subsidiary but related issue: What does evaluation of evidence consist of? What is the meaning of the expression evaluation? To evaluate simply means to give value to, to ascertain the amount, to find numerical expression for etc. Thus if a plaintiffs case is supported by witnesses, while the defendant’s case is supported by 6 witnesses then the numerical expression, the quantum of evidence, the amount, would be 4 to 6. If cases are decided solely by the number of witnesses called by either side, then in the above instance the plaintiff will lose, having a preponderance of 6 witnesses to 4 witnesses in the scale against him. Now talking of scale naturally leads one to the famous dictum of Fatayi Williams, J.S.C.(as he then was) in A.R. Mogaji and ors v. Madam Rabiatu Odafin and ors (1978) 4 S.C.91 at 93:- “When an appellant complains that a judgment is against the weight of evidence, all he means is that when the evidence adduced by him is balanced against that adduced by the respondent, the judgment given in favour of the respondent is against the weight which have been given to the totality of the evidence before him, (the trial Judge) ….. Therefore in deciding whether certain set of facts given in evidence by one party in a civil case before a court in which both parties appear is preferable to another set of facts given in evidence by the other party, the trial Judge, after a summary of all the facts, must put the two sets of facts on an imaginary scale, weigh one against the other, then decide upon the preponderance of credible evidence which weighs more, accept it in preference to the other, and then apply the appropriate law to it ….” (italics ours). This scale though imaginary is still the scale of justice, and the scale of truth. Such a scale will automatically repel and expel any and all false evidence. What ought to go into that imaginary scale should therefore be no other than credible evidence. What is therefore necessary in deciding what goes into the imaginary scale is the value, credibility and quality as well as the probative essence of the evidence.

— Oputa JSC. Onwuka & Ors. V. Ediala & Anor. (SC.18/1987, 20 January 1989)

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IT IS THE PRIMARY DUTY OF THE TRIAL COURT TO EVALUATE EVIDENCE

There is no doubt that the evaluation of evidence and ascription of probative value thereto are the primary duties of the trial court, which had the singular opportunity of seeing and hearing the witnesses testify and an appellate court would ordinarily not interfere. It is also trite that this court will not interfere with concurrent findings of fact by two lower courts, unless it is shown that the findings are perverse, or not based on a proper and dispassionate appraisal of the evidence, or that there is an error, either of law or fact, which has occasioned a miscarriage of justice. See Ogoala v. The State (1991) 2 NWLR (Pt. 175) 509, (1991) 3 SCNJ 61; Saleh v. BON Ltd (2006) 6 NWLR (Pt. 976) 316 at 329 – 330 – C; Agbaje v. Fashola (2008) All FWLR (Pt. 443) 1302, (2008) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1082) 90 at 153- E.

— Kekere-Ekun, JSC. Nyesom v. Peterside (SC.1002/2015 (REASONS), 12 Feb 2016)

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THE APPELLATE COURT IS IN A GOOD POSITION TO EVALUATE EVIDENCE AS THE TRIAL JUDGE

Indeed, if there is a complaint that a trial judge did not make findings based on the evidence placed before him, the appellate court is in as good position as the trial court to do its own evaluation of the evidence contained in the records of appeal. See: Narumai and Sons Nig. Ltd v. Niger Benue Transport Co Ltd (1989) 2 NWLR (Pt.106) 730. And where the appellate court finds that there are inadequacies on the part of the trial judge in reaching his decision or finding that is perverse, the appellate court has a duty to examine the inferences and conclusions drawn by the trial judge and then re-evaluate the evidence in order to come to its own judgment, to see that justice is done. See: Atolagbe v. Shorun (1985) 1 NWLR (Pt.2) 360; Eki v. Giwa (1977) 2 SC, 131; Lion Building Ltd v. Shadipe (1976) 12 SC 135.

— T.S. YAKUBU, JCA. Fayose v ICN (2012) – CA/AE/58/2010

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