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WHO IS A VITAL WITNESS

Dictum

A vital witness is a witness whose evidence may determine the case one way or the other and failure to call a vital witness is fatal to the prosecution s case. In other words, a witness who knows something significant about a matter is a vital witness. In Onah v. State (1985) 3 NWLR Pt. 12 Pg.236 a vital witness was described as a witness whose evidence may determine the case one way or the other and it is settled that the failure to call such a witness is fatal to the prosecution’s case.

– H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. State v. Ibrahim (2021) – SC.200/2016

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DEMEANOUR OF WITNESSES IN THE EVALUATION OF EVIDENCE

The trial Judge should take into consideration the demeanour of witnesses in the evaluation of evidence. Demeanour, which is outward or overt behaviour or manner of a witness, is the exclusive domain of the trial Judge. It includes all open habits and mannerisms of the witness. These ooze out from the body of the witness spontaneously and not tutored. Some of such body movements include a spontaneous positive or negative reaction to a question; shouting at a particular moment or the opposite action of a pretentious mum conduct; movement of part of the body, particularly the hands and the sudden change in the face arising either from anger or happiness, the latter resulting in either a smile or laughter. Another is a sudden remorse on the part of the witness, usually exhibited by refusal to look at the Judge or Counsel, or others in the court, but a sudden drop of the face in the witness box. There are quite a number of behaviours in the determination of demeanour which cannot be exhausted. I can stop with the above as the major conducts of witnesses. I should complete the picture by saying that as appellate judges are deprived of watching the demeanour of witnesses, trial Judges owe the administration of justice a big duty to arrive at the correct conclusion. Of course appellate Judges are not completely hopeless or helpless. They can watch the evaluation of demeanour by the Judge in the cold records.

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

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NO OBLIGATION TO CALL A HOST OF WITNESSES BY THE PROSECUTION

Okonofua & Anor v. The State (1981) 6-7 SC 1 at 18 where this court per Bello, J.S.C., as he then was, dealing with the same subject put the matter thus:- “The correct state of the law relating to the duty of the prosecution to call witnesses, whether their names appear on the back of the information or not, has been recently stated by this court in these terms: ‘The law imposes no obligation on the prosecution to call a host of witnesses. All the prosecution need do is to call enough material witnesses in order to prove its case; and in so doing, it has a discretion in the matter.’ ” See also Samuel Adaje v. The State (1979) 6-9 SC 18 at 28.

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HOST OF WITNESSES IS NOT NEEDED FOR SUCCEEDING

In OCHIBA v. THE STATE (2011) LPELR 8245 (SC) where it was held as follows: “I need to say it that it is settled Law that the prosecution was not obliged to call a host of witnesses in order to discharge the burden placed on it to prove the charge against the appellant beyond reasonable doubt as dictated by section 138(1) of the Evidence Act. A sole witness like P.w.1, who has given credible and clear evidence which was believed by the trial Judge, will suffice. See OBUE V THE STATE (1976) 2 SC 141; SADAM v THE STATE [2010] 12 SC (PT.1) 73 at 87-88; AKPAN v THE STATE [1991] 3 NWLR (PT 182) 695”.

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WHERE ACCUSED PERSON IS THE ONLY WITNESS TO AN EVENT

This court has stated in a legion of cases that where the evidence of an accused person is the only witness of an event, any other evidence given by another person not being an eye witness to that particular event will be hearsay or speculative. I commend the decision of this court in Ahmed v. State (1999) 7 NWLR (Pt. 612) 641 at 675 Belgore, JSC while allowing the appeal stated as follows: “In a situation where only the evidence of the accused person as to the actual stabbing is the only eye-witness account, he is either believed or there is no other evidence to believe.” Also in Bassey v. State (2019) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1103) 160 at page 166, para. F, Abba Aji, JSC while allowing the appeal stated as follows: “the testimony of appellant appears to me very striking and believable since there was no eye witness to the crime except the story of the appellant herein. His evidence seems consistent and correlated.”

Enobong v. The State (2022) – SC/CR/249/2020

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WHO IS A TAINTED WITNESS?

A tainted witness has been classified as one who is either an accomplice or by the evidence he gives, whether as a witness for the prosecution or defence, may and could be regarded as having some purpose of his own to serve. See: Ishola v. The State (1978) NSCC 499 at 509.

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

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RELATIONSHIP OF WITNESS TO VICTIM IS IRRELEVANT

Where the evidence of such a witness is otherwise credible and sufficiently of probative value to the charge, the fact of his relationship to the victim or that he has other personal interest of his own to serve is by itself not sufficient to reject his evidence. In law, causes are not lost on the basis that the witness/s is/are members of the same family, association or community. Even where the Court fails or omits to caution or warn itself on evidence that is true in fact and sufficient to ground a charge, the failure or omission would not weaken the validity of such evidence or be fatal to a conviction.

– M.L. Garba JCA. Odogwu v. Vivian (2009) – CA/PH/345/05

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