Conviction On The Evidence Of A Lone Witness


Abeke Onafowokan V. State


 (2006) 2 LC 25

Abeke Onafowokan


The State Supreme Court Of Nigeria

Kayode Eso (presiding)  JSC

Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu JSC

Boony Amin Oladiran Kazeem JSC

(Delivered Lead Judgment)

Saidu Kawo              JSC

Chukwodifu Akunne Oputa   JSC


Whether it was proper on the facts of this case for the Court of Appeal to rely on the evidence of P.W. 4. In confirming the conviction of the 1st accused/appellant for murder when the Court of Appeal had held that the evidence of P.W. 2 which is inextricably interwoven with that of P.W. 4 was unreliable and on that basis allowed the appeal of the 2nd accused.


In this appeal the appellant was the 1st accused person at the trial. She and her daughter, one Adesunbo Onafowokan, who was then the 2nd accused person, were convicted by Bakare, J. at the High Court of Lagos State for murdering one Ganiyu Shittu, the deceased on 22nd April, 1981 at Lagos. They were both convicted and sentenced to death.

On an appeal to the Court of Appeal in Lagos, against those convictions, the appeal of Adesunbo, the daughter, succeeded on the ground that the case against her was not proved beyond reasonable doubt, and her conviction was quashed. She was thereafter acquitted and discharged. The mother, whose appeal was dismissed (the present Appellant) has further  appealed to the Supreme Court against the decision of the Court of Appeal.

HELD (Unanimously Allowing the Appeal)

It is a cardinal principle of our criminal law that in all cases, the burden of proving that any person has been guilty of a crime or wrongful act, subject to certain exceptions (which are not applicable here), is on the prosecution.

And if the commission of the crime is directly in issue in any civil or criminal proceeding, it must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. See section 137 (1) of the Evidence Act of Lagos State Cap 39 of Laws of Lagos State. Thus in a privy council case of RV. Basil Ranger Lawrence (1932) 11 NLR.6, Lord Atkin at page 7 observed that “it has to be remembered that it is an essential principle of our criminal law that a criminal charge has got to be established by prosecution beyond reasonable doubt.

It should be remembered that the law requires the guilt of an accused person to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and that if there is any lingering  doubt; the accused person must be given the benefit of that doubt – Kazeem JSC.

Proof beyond reasonable doubt will not admit of plausible or fanciful possibilities and use these to defeat the end of justice. It merely admits of a high degree of cogency consistent with an equally high degree of probability.

The courts can act on the evidence of one single witness if that witness can be a majority vote. One solitary credible witness can establish a case beyond reasonable doubt.

But if the evidence of that solitary witness is either incredible (see case of Frank Rice  (1927) 20 CR. App. R. 21), or doubtful given all the surrounding circumstances then the appellate court should hold either that the case was not proved beyond reasonable doubt or that it will  be quite unsafe to convict on that evidence and either way the appeal should be allowed.

It is legally correct that no onus of proof lies on the Appellant. This, however,  should be interpreted to mean that the primary onus of establishing  the case or the guilt of the accused is always on the prosecution except in very special and limited  circumstances like cases of insanity where the law presumes him sane and costs on him the onus of establishing the contrary: Woolmington V. D.P.P. (1935) 25 CR. App. R 72 at p.95. But when the prosecution has made out a prima facie case which if unanswered will lead to his conviction  then the duty of adducing such evidence as would make the jury find any issue in his favour is definitely on the accused – C. A. Oputa, JSC.


Mercy Oke –Chinda