The Law: Plea of Alibi
In legal parlance, ‘alibi’ means ‘elsewhere’, but in ordinary terms it is understood as a reason offered to exculpate one from culpability. I suspect that some of the Governors who just finished their tenure will offer various alibi for untoward actions taken while in office, especially when confronted with the mismanagement of state resources. Many of them will seek alibi to explain the monumental disaster their tenure was.
In Njovens vs State (1973)5 SC 17 at 68, the Supreme Court stated the position of law on alibi, thus: “There is nothing extra-ordinary or esoteric in a plea of alibi. Such a plea postulates that the accused person could not have been at the scene of the crime and only inferentially that he was not there.” Public officials who abuse their power while in office look back and seek for ways to escape culpability, but the law must rigorously examine their excuses and hold them to account.
In Wisdom vs State ((2019) All FWLR Pt. 973 at page 393-394, Ariwoola JSC stated: “Ordinarily, even though the law does not saddle the accused with burden to prove alibi, but he is not expected to merely state that he was not at the scene of the crime without more. The law requires him, and it is a duty on him to give the lead and particulars of his where about as he claimed which will lead the prosecution in its investigation of the alibi.”
In Chukwunyere vs State (2019) All FWLR Pt. 974, the deceased, one Beatrice Kwemma, was murdered in her farm. While she was getting set to go to the farm, her grandson Chijioke Kwemma noticed the appellant who was wearing dark glasses, and another person gazing at their house as they passed. At that time, the deceased was instructing her grandson to come to the farm later, to carry the harvest. While approaching the farm, the boy saw the appellant hacking down the deceased with an axe, while another person held her legs.
Terrified, he ran and raised alarm that brought the villagers to the scene. Another witness testified the dark glasses were picked at the scene of the murder. While the appellant admitted owning the glasses, he lied that it was seized by the villagers a different day – a cock and bull story, the court rejected. The appellant gave an alibi that on that day he travelled out of town, but never gave verifiable details of where he travelled to or exactly when.
Dismissing the alibi, the court while discharging the 1st accused person, believed the prosecution and convicted the appellant and sentenced him to death by hanging. Even though the appellant raised the alibi at the earliest possible opportunity, as required by law, the court did not believe him. In his lead judgment, Okoro JSC, opined: “It must be emphasized that the plea of alibi, whenever it is raised, the prosecution is under a bounden duty to investigate the alibi. This is so because the plea presupposes that the accused not only claim he never committed the offence but that he was not all at the locus delictis.”
The learned jurist further held: “However, the alibi must be definite as to time, place and the persons who know about accused’s whereabouts. It should not be just to set the police on a wild goose chase.” Going forward, those who have mismanaged state resources in their care will attempt to lie about that, when confronted by their misdeeds. Post power, when they wake up without the retinue of officials waiting to receive commands, or to offer advices that are mostly ignored, even when such advice was in the best interest of the state, they will seek alibi.
When the missed opportunities to do the right things while in power, return to hunt, they will plead alibi. Many of them who thought that eight years was so long it will never end, and were acting very recklessly, will seek alibi to cover their failings. For example, former Governor Rochas Okorocha was severally advised by this column to tread with caution, knowing that today will come. He was encouraged to lead his people diligently with humility and candour, but he ignored such advice, believing that he would install a stooge to cover his tracks.
While he ruled like an emperor, instead of allowing elections at the local council level, Okorocha deceived the aspirants for eight years, conning them to pander to his hirelings, who misrepresented the true intentions of the emperor. What will he tell those he encouraged to sell their houses and businesses to raise money to participate in the local elections that never materialized? What alibi will he plead when those he encouraged to build roads without a formal contract meet him now he has no state bodyguards to shield him at marriages and naming ceremonies?
There are other former public officials that mismanaged the rare opportunity God gave them to preside over states. Interestingly, to convict for murder or any crime, there must be intent on the part of the accused. On the proof of intent, learned Justice Okoro stated: “I accept the views expressed by the House of Lords in the English case of Hyam vs D.P.P (1974) 2 All ER 43 that an intention to cause death or grievous bodily harm is established, if is proved that the accused deliberately and intentionally did an act knowing that it was probable that it will result in the death of or grievous bodily harm to the victim.”
Those who diverted to their personal use, the state resources put in their care, cannot be allowed to say they had no intent to steal, more so when they are definitely in charge at the material time. One serving governor that behaves as if there will be no tomorrow is el-Rufai of Kaduna state. He prattles and acts as if he owns everywhere. He treats part of his state with disdain, and yet he swore an oath to abide by the provisions of the 1999 which forbade discrimination based on tribe or religion. He treats his opponent like enemies of the state, and yet it is just his personal ego that is at stake.
When the time to account comes, those who have abused their powers must not be left off on flimsy excuses. Like the appellant in Chukwunyere vs State (supra), they must be made to answer for their actions, and even inactions. As was held by the Supreme Court in Njovens vs State (supra), “If the prosecution adduced sufficient and accepted evidence to fix the person at the scene of crime at the material time, surely this alibi is thereby logically and physically demolished.”
Those exercising authority granted by law must be ready to answer according to law.
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