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WITNESS CONTRADICTION – UNRELIABLE

Dictum

Until now, I had always thought that if a party to a case was foolish enough to produce a witness who testified to the contrary of the pleadings had only himself to blame if the court or tribunal comments on the contradiction. A witness who would testify to the contrary of a point agreed on by all concerned is a most unreliable witness and the court is entitled to regard his evidence as a contradiction in the evidence of the party who called him.

— Ikongbeh, JCA. Ugo v Indiamaowei (1999) – CA/PH/EP/97/99

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MINOR DISCREPANCIES ARE NOT SUFFICIENT TO RAISE CONTRADICTIONS

It is now well settled that for contradictions on evidence of witnesses for the prosecution to affect conviction, they must be sufficient to raise doubt as to the guilt of the accused. In the instant case the minor discrepancies in the evidence of the prosecution witnesses are not in my view, sufficient, by themselves, to entitle the appellant to an acquittal. See Ogoala v. State (1991) 2 NWLR (Pt.175) 509 at 525; Nwosisi v. State (1976) 6 SC 109; Ejigbadero v. State (1978) 9-10 SC 81; Atano v. A.-G. Bendel State (1988) 2 NWLR (Pt.75) 201; Ayo Gabriel v. State (1989) 5 NWLR (Pt.122) 457 at 468 – 469.

— Kalgo, J.S.C. Okon Iko v State (2001) – SC.177/2001

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FOR A CONTRADICTION TO BE FATAL, IT MUST BE MATERIAL

For a contradiction to be fatal to any case or evidence, it must be on material points. Put another way, discrepancies do not negative an otherwise credible evidence of a witness. Before the evidence of the prosecution is said to be contradictory in nature such as to create a doubt as to which of two or more alternative versions should be believed, it must be such as to change the course of events. The contradiction in this respect must be material and fundamental. That is, it must imply that there are two or more conflicting accounts or versions of the same incident. Contradictions can therefore be said to have occurred where an account of an incident by a witness is at variance and glaringly too with another person’s account of the same incident, such that accepting the account of one witness would mean rejecting the version of the other because both accounts are mutually exclusive and in conflict. If every contradiction, however trivial to the overwhelming evidence before the Court, will vitiate a trial, then almost all prosecution cases will fail. Human faculty, it is said, may miss details due to lapse of time and error in narration in order of sequence. Going forward and even assuming that there were inconsistencies in the testimonies of the witnesses, it is settled law that contradiction in the evidence of a witness that would be fatal must relate to material facts and be substantial. It must deal with the real substance of a case. Minor or trivial contradictions do not affect the credibility of a witness and cannot vitiate a trial. See Ojeabuo V FRN (2014) LPELR-22555(CA) at 21, Paras C-F; Iregu V State (2013) 12 NWLR (Pt. 1367) 92; Musa V State (2013) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1359) 214; Famakinwa V State (2013) 7 NWLR (Pt. 1354) 597; Osung V State (2012) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1332) 256; Osetola V State (2012) 17 NWLR (Pt. 1329) 251.

— J.H. Sankey, JCA. Brila Energy Ltd. v. FRN (2018) – CA/L/658CA/2017

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ONLY SUBSTANTIAL CONTRADICTIONS CREATES DOUBT

The law further requires that whatever evidence the respondent relies on in proving its case against the appellant, it must be bereft of substantial contradictions. Only material contradictions in respect of a fact in issue creates doubt in the mind of the Court thereby destroying the case sought to be established against an accused. Thus, only such material contradictions which affect live issues to which they relate avail an opposing party thereby entitling the appellate Court to interfere with the judgment on appeal giving the miscarriage of justice they occasion. See Maiyaki V. The State 2008) LPELR-1823 (SC), Sele V. The State 1 SCNJ (Pt. 1) 15 at 22 23 and Usiobaifo & Anor V. Usiobaifo (2005) LPELR-3424 (SC).

— M.D. Muhammad, JSC. Mati Musa v The State (2019) – SC.902/2014

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ONLY CONTRADICTIONS ON MATERIAL POINTS ARE RELEVANT

I have given careful consideration to the contradictions and inconsistencies highlighted in appellant’s brief. The law is clear. It is not every contradiction in the evidence of witnesses called by a party that is fatal to the party’s case but only those contradictions on material points – Nasama v. The State (1979) 6-9 S.C. 153; R. v. Ekanem 5 F.S.C. 14, (1960) SCNLR 42; Kalu v. State (1988) 4 NWLR (Pt.90) 503.

— Ogundare, JSC. Azu v State (1993) – SC. 131/1992

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TWO EVIDENCE CONTRADICT ONE ANOTHER WHEN THEY AFFIRM THE OPPOSITE

A piece of evidence contradicts another when it affirms the opposite of what that other evidence has stated not when there is just a minor discrepancy between them. Two pieces of evidence contradicts one another when they are themselves inconsistent. A discrepancy may occur when a piece of evidence stops short of, or contains a little more than what the other evidence says or contains some minor difference in details. See Gabriel v State (1989) 5 NWLR (Pt.122) p.460. If a witness makes a statement before trial which is inconsistent with the evidence he gives in Court and he does not explain the inconsistency to the satisfaction of the Court, the Court should regard his evidence as unreliable. See Onubogu & Anor v State (1974) (NSCC) p.358. I must say straightaway that it is only material contradictions that are to be considered.

– Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. Nwankwoala v FRN (2018) – SC.783/2015

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COUNSEL ALLEGING CONTRADICTION IN COURT’S JUDGEMENT MUST POINT TO THE SAID CONTRADICTIONS

Now, in the first place, it is significant and most remarkable, that the learned counsel for the Appellant, in their Brief, did not point out or identify, one single evidence of any contradiction either in the evidence of the prosecution witnesses or in any documentary evidence tendered before the trial court. I suppose, and with respect, this is commonsensical, that it is not enough or sufficient to complain or allege contradictions, without indicating the areas of any such material contradiction or contradictions either in the evidence of the prosecution witnesses or in the totality of the admissible evidence before a trial court.

— Ogbuagu, JSC. Moses v State [2006] – S.C.308/2002

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