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Appeal court quashes conviction of Umar for armed robbery

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The Court of Appeal sitting in Gombe has quashed and set aside the death sentence handed to one Sale Umar by Justice Beatrice Iliya of Gombe High Court for conspiracy and armed robbery.

In the unanimous decision delivered by Justice Bowie Tobi, the appellant court held that the statement of an accused cannot be used as a ground to convict the co-accused when there is no proper corroboration of that statement against him or when the statement is not made available to the co-accused.

Umar and four others were convicted on three-count charge bordering on conspiracy and armed robbery by the Gombe State in Suit No: GM/61C/2015.

They were found guilty for conspiracy and armed robbery punishable under Sections 5(b) & 1(2)(b) respectively of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provision) Act 1990 as amended.

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The court subsequently sentenced them to death by hanging following their conviction.

In the judgment, the lower court held that ‘from the available evidence before it, there is a stronger and credible evidence that all the five accused persons participated in the commission of the crime, so the defence of alibi does not avail them.’

The judge also expressed satisfaction that the prosecution has discharged the burden of proof placed on it in this case as required by law.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, the appellant (5th accused in the lower court, filed a notice of Appeal dated 30/4/19 on the grounds that the learned trial court erred in law.

He contended that the lower court failed to resolve the issue on the identity of the persons who took part in the robbery despite holding inter alia: “The question here is whether the identity of the 1st and 2nd accused person and indeed the 3rd and 5th accused person were shrouded in mystery”.

He also argued that the trial court erred in law when it held inter alia: “The evidence of PW 1 – 7 and the confessional statement of the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th accused persons was never challenged, discredited nor controverted by the defence during cross examination.

It was also the contention of the convict that the learned trial judge erred in law when she held that “…there is a lot outside the confessional statement of the accused person to arrest and its veracity as borne out of the evidence of other witnesses.”

He further submitted that identification parade is not a sine qua non to convict an accused person.

But in its judgment, the appellant held that it is trite that for the prosecution to establish the offences charged, it must prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a robbery, with offensive weapons and that the accused was involved in the operation.

According to the court, the prosecution does not have to call host of witnesses as even by a single witness, the prosecution can establish the guilt of an accused provided the evidence is cogent, credible, and compelling.

“For the conviction of the appellant to be upheld in this court, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant was one of the persons who robbed the PW1 & PW2.

“If such evidence is lacking or shaking, a court should not convict the Appellant more so on an offence that carries the capital punishment. The identity of the Appellant as one of those who committed the offence is very crucial,” the court held.

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Subsequently, the court held that “the judgment of Hon. Justice B.L. Iliya (Mrs.) in Suit No: GM/61C/2015. The State vs. Sale Umar & Ors , which convicted the Appellant and sentenced him to death is hereby set aside.”

In the judgment concurrently supported by Justices Hannatu Sankey and Tunde Awotoye, the appellant court also held that the respondent has not proved the above ingredients of the offences of conspiracy and armed robbery beyond reasonable doubt, particularly with respect to the fact that the appellant was the one who committed the offences and consequent upon that, the appellant should have been discharged and acquitted on both counts.

The court further held that the respondent had failed in the lower court to prove beyond reasonable doubt the offences of conspiracy and armed robbery against the appellant.

“On the whole, I have no difficulty in holding that this appeal has merit and therefore it is allowed.

“The appropriate order to make therefore is to quash the conviction of the appellant and consequently discharge and acquit him for the offences of conspiracy and armed robbery for which he was charged and convicted.

“I therefore set aside the conviction and sentence of the Appellant. As a consequent order, I hereby discharge and acquit the Appellant for the offences of conspiracy and armed robbery,” the court held.

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