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MINOR DISCREPANCIES ARE NOT SUFFICIENT TO RAISE CONTRADICTIONS

Dictum

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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ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS TO IMPEACH CREDIBILITY OF A WITNESS AS TO CONTRADICTION

Section 232 of Evidence Act, 2011 is intended to check the double-speak of a witness, who is prevaricating on an issue that he had made previous statement in writing on. There are essential requirements of the Section that the party cross-examining a witness, who intends to impeach the credit of the witness by showing that what the witness is presently saying contradicts his previous statement in writing, must comply with. That is, (a) the attention of the witness must be specifically drawn to those parts or portions of his previous statement in writing which are to be used for the purpose of contradicting him; (b) the witness must be reminded of what he had stated in the previous statement, and (c) he must be given an opportunity of making explanation on the apparent contradictions. From the authoritative stance of this Court those are the templates the cross-examiner shall comply with before he tenders any previous statement in writing by a witness for the purpose of contradicting the witness and impeaching his credibility. See MADUMERE v. OKAFOR (1996) 4 NWLR (pt.445) 637; AMODU V. THE STATE (2010) 2 NWLR (pt.1177) 47.

— E. Eko, JSC. Kekong v State (2017) – SC.884/2014

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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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MINOR VARIATIONS IN TESTIMONY IS A BADGE OF TRUTH

Oputa, JSC in Ikemson V State (1989) LPELR-1473(SC) at 44 where he magisterially intoned as follows – “Two witnesses who saw the same incident are not bound to describe it in the same way. There is bound to be slight differences in their accounts of what happened. When their stories appear to be very similar, the chances are that those were tutored or tailored witnesses. Minor variations in testimony seem to be a badge of truth. But when the evidence of witnesses violently contradict each other, then that is a danger signal. A trial Court should not believe contradictory evidence. Contradictory means what it says – contra-dictum – to say the opposite.”

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WITNESS CONTRADICTION – UNRELIABLE

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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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 MATERIAL CONTRADICTIONS ARE IMPORTANT TO SET ASIDE DECISION

The contradiction complained about by the learned counsel for the Appellant is very insignificant. It is not any and every minor discrepancy or inaccuracy in the evidence of prosecution witnesses that amount to contradiction, especially where the witnesses are in substance saying the same thing. It is only material contradiction that is important. See The State vs Azeez & Ors 4 SC 188: Dibie & 2 Ors vs The State (2007) 3 SC (Pt. 1) 176.

— P.A. Galumje, JSC. Galadima v. State (2017) – SC.70/2013

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