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ONLY PERVERSENESS CAN SET ASIDE LOWER COURT’S FINDINGS

Dictum

Learned respondent/cross appellant’s counsel is right in his submission that a finding of a lower court on appeal is only set-aside where same is perverse. In a seemingly endless number of the decisions of this court, it has been held that a decision of a court is perverse when it ignores the facts or evidence before it which lapse when considered as a whole constitutes a miscarriage of justice. In such a case an appellate court is bound to interfere with such a decision and set it aside.

– Dattijo Muhammad JSC. Union Bank v. Chimaeze (2014)

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NATIVE CUSTOM IS A QUESTION OF FACT

Native law and custom being a question of fact in an action in the High Court, it is true that the findings in these cases are not binding as precedents, and it is also true, as has been pointed out by Mr Oseni on behalf of the respondents, that however learned and experienced the Judges whose judgments are relied on may have been, they could only act on the evidence which the parties in the cases concerned chose to call before them.

Odunsi Lasisi Ajibola v. Aminu Akindele Ajani Ojora (1961)

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MEANING OF A PERVERSE FINDING

A perverse finding is a wrong, unreasonable or unacceptable finding, having due regard to the evidence before the court. A perverse finding is one not supported by the evidence before the court. It is a finding raised on a wrong assessment of the evidence before the court. A finding of fact based on exaggerated or bloated evidence on the part of the trial court could be perverse. So too finding of fact borne out from addition or subtraction from the evidence before the court.

— Niki Tobi, JSC. Buhari v. INEC (2008) – SC 51/2008

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TWO TYPES OF FINDING OF FACTS – WHEN APPEAL COURT CAN INTERFERE

In a trial, there are generally two sets of findings of facts: A finding of fact may be based on the credibility of witnesses or may be informed from other facts proved before the trial court. Where a witness gives direct evidence that is the evidence of the facts in issue as seen, heard or perceived by any other sense by him. (Section 77 of the Evidence Act). The finding of the trial court on such evidence depends on whether or not it believes that witness (credibility of the witness). Such a finding on such evidence is a primary finding of fact, i.e. the way the witness testifies, his demeanor in the box tells much of his credibility. The trial court that saw and heard the witness is in the best position to assess his credibility and make findings of primary facts. But, where on the other hand, other facts are put in evidence from which the facts in issue can be inferred, or where a witness gave circumstantial evidence, the finding of the trial court on the facts in issue depends on inference. This is a secondary finding of fact as it is not based on the credibility of the witness but on logical process of inference. In the former’s case, i.e. primary findings of fact, an appeal court should always be loathe in interfering with such a finding as it did not have the privilege of seeing, hearing or observing the demeanour of the witness. There are several decided authorities on this: Ebba v. Ogodo & Anor (1984) 4 SC 75; Akintola v. Olowa (1962) 1 All NLR 224; Fatoyinbo v. Williams (1956) 1 FSC 87; Egri v. Uperi (1974) 1 NMLR 22; just to mention a few. In the latter’s case, i.e. where findings of fact are secondary, i.e. drawn from inferences, an appeal court is in as good position as a court of trial to do this. It can differ from the trial court. See: Akpopuma V. Nzeka (1983) 2 SCNLR 1.

— T. Muhammad, JSC. VAB Petroleum v. Momah (2013) – SC.99/2004

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EACH CASE MUST BE DETERMINED ON ITS MERIT

As the Respondent rightly submitted, each case must be determined upon its own peculiar circumstances as no two cases are identical; they may be similar but not identical – see Admin/Exec., of the Estate of Gen. Abacha V. Eke-Spiff & Ors. (supra).

— A.A. Augie, JCA. Elias v Ecobank (2016) – CA/L/873/2013

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MEANING OF FACTS IN ISSUE

Facts in issue, as defined in Section 258 of the Evidence Act 2011: Includes any fact from which either by itself or in connection with other facts the existence, non-existence, nature or extent of any right, liability or disability asserted or denied in any suit or proceeding necessarily follows. A particular fact can only be said to be in issue when its assertion by a Party is denied by the other and it becomes a fact in dispute. So, an issue is said to be joined on a particular fact making its proof necessary when its assertion is disputed by the opposing party- see Mohammed & Anor V. State (2007) 11 NWLR (pt 1045) 303.

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

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