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

Dictum

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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WHAT APPELLANT MUST DO WHEN HE ALLEGES FAULTY EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

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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TRIAL JUDGE HAS THE PRIMARY FUNCTION OF EVALUATING EVIDENCE

It is a basic principle of law that the evaluation of evidence and the ascription of probative value to such evidence are the primary functions of a court of trial which saw, heard and assessed the witnesses while they testified before it. The trial court has the exclusive jurisdiction on matters of appraising evidence and ascribing probative value to the evidence of witnesses whom it had the opportunity of seeing, hearing and observing while in the witness box. Where a court of trial unquestionably evaluates the evidence and justifiably appraises the facts and arrives at a conclusion on the credible evidence, the appellate court will not interfere with such findings of fact nor is it the business of such appellate court to substitute its own views of the facts for those of the trial court. What the appellate court ought to do is to scrutinise the record carefully and find out whether there is evidence on which the trial court could have acted. Once there is such evidence on record from which the trial court arrived at its findings of fact, the appellate court cannot interfere with such findings. See: Mufutau Bakare v. The State (1987) 1 NWLR (Pt.52) 579: Ogundiyan v. The State (1991) 3NWLR (Pt. 181) 519: Akpagbue v. Ogu (1976) 6 SC 63; Odofin v. Ayoola (1984) 11 SC 72: Amadi v. Nwosu (1992) 5 NWLR (Pt. 241) 273 at 280 etc.

— Iguh, JSC. Oguonzee v State (1998) – SC.131/97

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

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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GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

However, when the evaluation of evidence by a particular trial judge is in issue or being challenged, the guiding principles are as follows: (i) whether the evidence is admissible (ii) whether the evidence is relevant (iii) whether the evidence is credible (iv) whether the evidence is conclusive (v) Whether the evidence is probable than that given by the other Party.

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

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CASES SHOULD BE EXAMINED ON MERIT

Every effort must painstakingly be made to do justice. A snappy short cut decision bereft of an examination of the merits of the case settles nothing.

– Gumel, JCA. Ehanire v. Erhunmwuse (2007)

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