The Supreme Court of Nigeria has raised an alarm over the frequency of appeals based on improper arraignments.


Hassan v. Federal Republic of Nigeria [2017] 6 NWLR (Pt. 1560) 64 at 84, paras. A-B, per Nweze, JSC:

“The frequency of appeals to this court, in recent times, on the improper arraignment of defendants before trial courts should be of concern to the relevant authorities. This is, somewhat, surprising since the jurisprudence on arraignment is, truly, robust. Against the background of what transpired at the trial court, as regrettably, affirmed by the lower court, I am constrained to reel off some of these decisions for the umpteenth time in the hope that this embarrassing development should abate…”


Blogger’s Note:

What happened in the above case was that sometime in 2010, the Appellant was charged and tried along with 14 others for illegal possession of locally made guns and commission of several acts of terrorism. The record of the trial court showed that the pleas of all the accused persons on the counts in the charge were jointly taken and lumped together. The Appellant was convicted and sentenced on one of the counts by Allagoa, J. His appeal against his conviction and sentence based on ground of improper arraignment was dismissed by the Court of Appeal. On a further appeal to the Supreme Court, the apex Court allowed the appeal and ordered a fresh trial before another Judge. The Court took time in restating the principles of valid arraignment as contained in Section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) and in Section 36(6)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).  Section 215 of the CPA clearly requires that (a) the accused person shall be placed before the court unfettered; (b) the charge shall be read and explained to the accused person in the language he understands to the satisfaction of the court by the registrar or any other officer of the court; (c) the accused person shall be called upon to plead to each charge; and (d) the plea of the accused person shall be instantly recorded. Section 36(6)(a) of the Constitution provides that the accused shall be informed promptly in the language he understands and in details the nature of the offence. There is a host of judicial authorities on the above and the apex Court, per Nweze JSC, supplied a good number of them at page 84 of the report and expressed its displeasure with the conduct of the trial court and the position of the Court of Appeal.

One important point to note is that the Supreme Court, in restating the principles for valid arraignment, further held that “the trial court should record that the charge was read and explained to the accused person to the satisfaction of the court, before recording his plea…” See page 80, paras. E-F, per Rhodes-Vivour, JSC. This appears to run contrary to what the Supreme Court noted in the case of Okoro v. The State [1998] 14 NWLR (Pt. 584) 181 at 214, paras. E-G where Wali, JSC reasoned: “The provision (of Section 215 of the Criminal Procedure Law dealing with procedure for arraignment) is to intimate the accused with the contents of the charge he is to stand trial for… This provision of the Law should not be stretched to a point of absurdity by reading into it that the judge must record that the charge was explained to the accused to his satisfaction before taking his plea. It will be impeaching the integrity of the judge to do that as no judge will take a plea of an accused if he is not satisfied that the charge was read and explained to the accused to his satisfaction…” This was recently cited by the Court of Appeal in Olatayo v. State (2016) LPELR-40159(CA). In Okoro’s case, the Supreme Court found from the trial court’s record that the charge was read, interpreted and explained to the accused person in Yoruba and he also pleaded to the charge. The arraignment was held to be valid.

While we appreciate the good reasoning of Wali, JSC, we submit that it is good practice for the trial Judge to make full and proper record of the arraignment process as stated by the Supreme Court in Hassan’s case. See Umuolo v. State [2003] 3 NWLR (Pt. 808) 493. However, failure to specifically record that the “charge was read and fully explained to the accused to the satisfaction of the court” will not render the trial a nullity. See Olatayo v. State supra.

 The trial courts should take seriously the issue of arraignment to avoid needless issue of fresh trial after a matter must have been determined on the merits. This would save precious judicial time and resources. To ensure perfect compliance means well for the administration of criminal justice.

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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