Dondos v. State [2021] 9 NWLR (Pt. 1780) 24 SC

Sirajo Muhammed Dondos was charged with the offence of armed robbery. The only evidence available was his confessional statement which he argued was involuntary. Nevertheless, the High Court convicted and sentenced him. The Court of Appeal affirmed. On 29 January 2021, the Supreme Court overruled the two lower courts and set Dondos free.

The apex Court held that once the making of a confessional statement was caused by inducement, threat, promise or torture, it will be held irrelevant and the court cannot rely on it.

Therefore, the reason furnished by the Supreme Court for setting Dondos free was that indeed his confessional statement was involuntary as it was obtained through bloodshed. There was unchallenged evidence from Dondos and another cell inmate attesting to the oppressive manner the alleged confession was extracted from him. Dondos was shot on the hand and leg by the Investigative Police Officer (IPO) which made him unconscious. Thereafter, he was surrounded by six (6) policemen (including the IPO) who severally shot and killed one other suspect in the cell – one Mannir, to demonstrate to Dondos that they meant business. Traumatized, Dondos signed the confessional statement presented to him.

The Supreme Court had no difficulty setting Dondos free because the alleged confessional statement was found to be involuntary having been obtained in the most brutally dehumanizing and oppressive way; and in a manner consistent with improper and detestable wickedness.

Eko, JSC made a brave pronouncement (at page 57 of the report):

In the perverse Judgment of the trial Court, affirmed by the Court of Appeal (the lower Court), the trial Judge did not, albeit properly, evaluate the material evidence of the Appellant (the DW3) corroborated by the DW5 [a cell inmate]. On these material pieces of evidence that the prosecution failed to cross-examine the DW3 and DW5 and/or discredit them, there were ample evidence that Exhibit B [the confessional statement] was obtained in a manner consistent with very “improper and detestable wickedness.” Like Pontius Pilate, the two courts below decided to look the other way and unfortunately endorsed the most detestable and reprehensible police brutality…

Eko, JSC called for the immediate investigation and possible prosecution of all the police officers responsible for the brutality of Dondos and the extra-judicial killing of Mannir. According to the Learned Jurist (at page 59 of the report):

The decision is not complete unless an order is made directing the relevant prosecutorial authorities to immediately investigate, and prosecute if necessary, the circumstances of the brutality to the Appellant by the PW1 [IPO]. All the police officers responsible for the alleged shooting and killing of one Mannir in the police cell shall also be brought to book. The Counsel for the Respondent, Emeka Obegolu, Esq., is hereby directed to convey the duly certified copies of this Judgment to the Inspector General of Police and the relevant State authorities including the Attorney-General and Commissioner of Police of the State. The Appellant’s Counsel, Dr. Adekunle Oladapo Otitoju shall collaborate with the Respondent’s Counsel to ensure that the Order is effectively carried out.

The Nigerian Bar Association may also need to follow up with the Supreme Court’s Order. So too, other well-meaning organizations fighting for the preservation and advancement of human rights. Enough is enough!

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 advised a number of both established and startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.
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