Tobi Ojo v. The State [2021] 3 NWLR (Pt. 1764) 435 at 460, per Patricia Ajuma Mahmoud, JCA:

I cannot end this judgment without thinking aloud of the nature of greed that will make one human being kill another for ‘ritual money’. That for doing no work, one is prepared to sacrifice the life of another often in the most brutal and inhumane way as it involves the removal of vital body organs/parts to satisfy this greed. A lot of the times, the victim is either a close friend or family member of the perpetrator. It is my view that the legal jurisprudence as it relates to killing for “money ritual” be overhauled. Advisedly, the burden of proof should shift to the accused to prove that he did not kill the victim and for ‘money ritual’. Whatever direction this pendulum swings, the situation requires drastic measure to check this urgly monster before it consumes our society and country. May God have mercy on our country, Nigeria.

Her Ladyship is commended for speaking out against the evil of ritual killings in our country. Many people involve in ritual killings for different purposes, mostly connected with the craving for wealth and protection. Some highly placed individuals desire to be impregnable, and to achieve this, they often resort to all sorts of evil practices which involve human sacrifice.

Recommendation is emotionally motivated

With respect, the recommendation that persons accused of ritual killings should be made to prove their innocence appears to be more emotionally motivated than by reason. By suggesting that the law should be overhauled to accommodate this reasoning, Hon. Justice Mahmoud appreciated the current position of the law which holds that an accused person shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the law requires the guilt of the accused person to be proved, rather than the other way round. This is what is known as the presumption of innocence.

Section 36(5) of the 1999 Constitution guarantees this presumption of innocence as a fundamental right. It provides:

Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty: Provided that nothing in this section shall invalidate any law by reason only that the law imposes upon any such person the burden of proving particular facts.

The above provisions of the Constitution is clear and solves any problem that troubles the mind of the learned Jurist. Once the prosecution establishes the basis for believing that the person accused of ritual killing committed the crime, the accused person has the right to open his or her defence. Any fact stated in defence must equally be proven tbrough evidence by the accused person. The Evidence Act contains relevant provisions in this regard. This is the whole idea behind the proviso to Section 36(5) of the Constitution.

Therefore, there is no need for any overhauling of the law. It is extremely important that our law enforcement agents carry out thorough investigation that will aid the prosecution of the case. The prosecution team must be persons highly trained in criminal prosecution and have vast knowledge of criminal law.

In the instant case, the Appellant (Tobi Ojo) and other accused persons were found guilty of killing their friend, one Jacob Ajayi for money ritual. The Deceased was beheaded, his genitals removed and his body dumped in a soak away pit. The Appellant’s appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed for lacking in merit. The prosecution did their job. Although there were no eye witnesses, the prosecution called three witnesses and tendered thirteen exhibits linking the accused persons with the commission of the offence. The Court relied on circumstantial evidence which was properly evaluated as confirmed by the Court of Appeal.

If we go by the recommendation of the Court of Appeal, and if care is not taken, a person accused of ritual killing may eventually be denied virtually all the rights guaranteed under the Constitution. It might become a precedent even for other heinous crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping, etc.

We must be reminded that the aim of criminal law is to ensure that no innocent person is punished unjustly, even if it warrants that 1000 guilty men go scot free.



Featured Image Credit: BarristerNG

Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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