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THE TWO DISTINCT MEANINGS OF BURDEN OF PROOF

Dictum

This position reminds one of the decision of this Court in Elemo v Omolade (1968) NMLR 359, where it was held that burden of proof has two distinct and frequently confusing meanings. It means: (a) the burden of proof as a matter of law and pleadings; the burden as it has been called of establishing a case whether by preponderance of evidence or beyond reasonable doubt; and (b) the burden of proof in the sense of introducing evidence. As regards the first meaning attached to the term, “burden of proof”, this rests upon the party whether plaintiff or defendant who substantially asserts the affirmative of the issue. It is fixed at the beginning of the trial by the state of the pleadings and it is settled as a question of law, remaining unchanged throughout the trial exactly where the pleadings place it and never shifting in any circumstances whatever. In deciding what party asserts the affirmative, regard must be had to the substance of the issue, and not merely to its grammatical form which later the pleader can frequently vary at will. A negative allegation must not be confounded with the mere traverse of an affirmative one. The true meaning of the rule is that where a given allegation whether affirmative or negative forms an essential part of a party’s case, the proof of such allegation rests on him. While the burden in the first sense is always stable, the burden of proof in the second sense may shift consistently more as one scale of evidence or the other preponderates. In this sense, the onus probandi rests upon the parties who would fail if no evidence at all or no more evidence is gone into upon the party asserting the affirmative or the party against whom the tribunal at the time the question arises would give judgment if no further evidence were adduced. The test as to who is to begin is determined by asking how judgment would be entered on the pleadings if no evidence at all were given on either side. The party against whom judgment would in that event be given is entitled to begin.

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

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THE APPELLANTS COULD NOT SUBSTANTIATE THE NARCOTICS FINE AGAINST THE 2ND RESPONDENT

What matters always in this kind of situation is that there must be proof of such a sentence. A criminal conviction and sentence must be proved by the CTC of the judgment of court delivered or any admissible way of proving same and the said judgment must reflect all the ingredients of a valid judgment to bind the parties concerned. This is unfortunately where the Appellants could not proceed further or substantiate the sentence of fine against the 2nd Respondent. At page 3228 (vol.5) of the record, PW1 and PW12, who gave evidence on the US proceedings did not dispute the fact that the 2nd Respondent was not at any time, charged before any court, caused to make a plea, convicted or sentenced for any offence. Similarly, at page 3464 ( vol.5) of the record, RW2, a US attorney and an associate of the 2nd Respondent, testified that the 2nd Respondent was never convicted or fined for any criminal offence in the United States. In fact, PW1 confirmed that the proceedings in Exhibit PA5 series are civil proceedings, while equally admitting that he never mentioned anything about charge in the proceedings and that he never had one. By virtue of section 135 of the Evidence Act, it is beyond peradventure that the proof of this allegation ought to be beyond reasonable doubt. Section 249 of the Evidence Act clearly prescribes the manner of discharging this proof, by the provision of “certificate purporting to be given under the hand of a police officer” from the US, “containing a copy of the sentence or order and the finger prints of the 2nd Respondent or photographs of the finger prints of the said 2nd Respondent, together with evidence that the finger prints of the person so convicted are those of the 2nd Respondent. See PML (NIG.) LTD. V. F.R.N. (2018) 7 NWLR (PT. 1619) 448 AT 493.

— Uwani Abba Aji JSC. Peter Obi & Anor. v. INEC & Ors. (SC/CV/937/2023, Thursday the 26th day of October 2023)

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BURDEN OF PROOF LIES ON THE PROSECUTION AND IT NEVER SHIFTS

In Alonge v. I.G.P. (1959) 4 FSC 203 at 204; (1959) SCNLR 516, Ademola, CJF stressing the burden of proof on the prosecution in a criminal case observed: “Now, the commission of a crime by a party must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The burden of proving that any person is guilty of a crime rests on the person who asserts it and this is the law as laid down in section 137 of the Evidence Ordinance. Cap. 62. The burden of proof lies on the prosecution and it never shifts; and if on the whole evidence the court is left in a state of doubt, the prosecution would have failed to discharge the onus of proof which the law lays upon it and the prisoner is entitled to an acquittal”

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BURDEN OF PROOF WHERE PARTY ALLEGES THE NEGATIVE

DASHE & ORS V DURVEN & ORS (2019) LPELR-48887 where my learned brother Ugo, JCA held: “While it is true that the burden of proof is generally on the person who substantially asserts the positive of an issue, and not on the person who makes a negative assertion, there is a caveat to that principle to the effect that where a negative assertion forms an essential part of a plaintiff’s case (as it evidently is in the case of the appellants) the burden of proof of such allegation rests on him. The law on this point was lucidly stated by Bowen L.J. in Abrath v. N.E. Railway. Co 11 QBD 440 at 457 when he said that: “Now in an action for malicious prosecution, the plaintiff has the burden throughout of establishing that the circumstances of the prosecution were such that the Judge can see no reasonable and probable cause for instituting it. In one sense that is the assertion of a negative, and we have been pressed with the proposition that, when a negative is made out, the onus of proof shifts. That is not so. If the assertion of a negative is an essential part of a plaintiff’s case, the proof of the assertion still rests upon the plaintiff. The terms’ negative and affirmative’ are after all, relative, and not absolute.” ?See also Phipson on Evidence, 15th Edition, Paragraph 4.03 at page 56; The Article Burden and Standard of Proof, by Justice Niki Tobi in Chief Afe Babalola’s Law & Practice of Evidence in Nigeria, and Muraina & Ors v. Omolade & Ors (1968) 359 @ 362. See also Sections 131, ?132 and 133 of the Evidence Act 2010 stating that whoever desires any Court to give judgment as to any legal right or liability dependent on the existence of facts which he asserts shall prove that those facts exist; that the burden of proof in a suit or proceeding lies on that person who would fail if no evidence at all were given, and that in civil cases, the burden of first proving existence or non-existence offact lies is on the party against whom judgment would be given if no evidence were produced on either side.”

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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BURDEN OF PROOF IS ON PROSECUTION TO ESTABLISH MURDER

It is however settled law that it is the duty of the prosecution to establish or prove the charge/case against an accused person. In other words, it is the prosecution that bears the burden of proving the guilt of the accused person. For the court to come to the conclusion that the prosecution has discharged the burden placed on it by law, it must be satisfied that the conclusion is beyond reasonable doubt as it is settled law that any doubt existing in such a case must be resolved in favour of the accused person. In other words, the standard of proof in criminal trials is that of prove beyond reasonable doubt.

— Onnoghen, JSC. Njoku v. The State (2012)

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HOW COURT ARRIVES IN DETERMINING PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE

In determining either the preponderance of evidence or the balance of probabilities in the evidence, the court is involved in some weighing by resorting to the imaginary scale of justice in its evaluation exercise. Accordingly, proof by preponderance of evidence simply means that the evidence adduced by the plaintiff,(in our context the petitioner or appellant) should be put on one side of the imaginary scale mentioned in Mogaji v Odofin (1978) 3 SC 91 and the evidence adduced by the defendant (in our context, all the respondents) put on the other side of that scale and weighed together to see which side preponderates. In arriving at the preponderance of evidence, the Court of Appeal in its capacity as a court (tribunal) of first instance need not search for an exact mathematics figure in the imaginary “weighing machine” because there is in fact and in law no such machine and therefore no figures, talk less of mathematical exactness. On the contrary, the Court of Appeal, in its capacity as a court (tribunal) of first instance, should rely on its judicial and judicious mind to arrive at when the imaginary scale preponderates; and that is the standard, though oscillatory and at times nervous. I will be guided by the above principles on burden and standard of proof when considering Issues 2 and 4 of the appellant’s Brief which I will take anon.

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

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BURDEN TO PROVIDE RECORDS OF PENSION IS ON GOVERNMENT

In the case of Registered Trustees of Association of Former Telecom Employees of Nigeria &17,102 Ors. V. Federal Republic of Nigeria & Ors; ECW/CCJ/JUD/20/19, when this court held that: “It follows therefore that once the claimant makes out a prima facie case of entitlement to pension, by proof of employment but lacks access to the key information needed to substantiate his claim same being in the control of Respondent, such claim cannot fail due to being unsubstantiated. It is a recognized fact that salary records and computations matrix are in the normal cause of events in the custody and preserve of the employer in this case the Respondent. The burden to provide records of the pension entitlement of the Applicant having shifted to the Respondent, the Applicants are exonerated from proving their entitlement.”

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