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APPEAL COURT IS IN A POSITION TO RE-APPRAISE EVIDENCE ON RECORD

Dictum

I have gone through the evidence of the witnesses on record and the judgment of the trial Court and I am firmly of the view that there was no issue of the trial court’s assessment of the credibility of witnesses. The result is that this Court, like the court below, is in as good a position as the trial court to appraise or re-appraise the evidence on record to see if the concurrent findings of the two courts below are not perverse. With respect to the evidence itself, there is a lot of oral as well as documentary evidence. I am however of the view that the issues raised would be resolved mainly by the documentary evidence. I am guided in this view by the settled principle of law that oral evidence is only to be hangars on for documentary evidence.

— F.F. Tabai, JSC. Mini Lodge v. Ngei (2009) – SC.231/2006

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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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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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EVALUATION AND PERCEPTION OF EVIDENCE

In carrying out its sacrosanct function of evaluation of evidence, the trial judge begins by receiving into its record all relevant evidence on the case or the fact in issue, and this is perception of evidence. He then proceeds to weigh the evidence in the light of the surrounding circumstances; this is evaluation of evidence. The findings of fact by a trial Court involves both perception and evaluation. See ONI vs. JOHNSON (2015) LPELR (24545) 1 at 35-38.

— A.A. Wambai, JCA. Aliyu v. Bulaki (2019) – CA/S/36/2018

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WHEN WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE IS ALLEGED, MEANING

In the case of AWUSA v. NIG. ARMY (2018) LPELR-44377 (SC) the Apex Court held that: “The position of the law is that when an Appellant alleges that a decision is against the weight of evidence, he means that when evidence he adduced is balanced against that of the Respondent. Judgment in the Respondent’s favour is against the weight that should have been given to the totality of the evidence adduced – See Akinlagun v. Oshoboja (2006) 12 NWLR (Pt. 993) 60 at 82 SC. The complaint is only concerned with appraisal and evaluation of all the evidence and not the weight to be attached to any particular piece of evidence…”

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THERE MUST BE IMPROPER EVALUATION FOR APPEAL COURT TO RE-EVALUATE EVIDENCE

Unless and until the appellate Court comes to the conclusion that the trial Court had not carried out its duty of proper evaluation and ascription of probative value to the evidence before it, the duty of the appellate Court to re – evaluate the evidence on the printed records would not arise. The law is that for an appellate Court to embark on such a duty it must be demonstrated that the Court below had either not carried out its duty of evaluation of the evidence led before it or had carried out an improper evaluation of the evidence and had arrived at findings which are perverse, and which ought in law to be set aside so that proper findings as dictated by the proved evidence as in the printed record are made by the appellate Court in the interest of justice and to avoid the perpetuation of injustice should the perverse judgment of the trial Court be allowed to stand.

– B.A. Georgewill, JCA. Ganiyu v. Oshoakpemhe & Ors. (2021) – CA/B/12A/2021

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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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