The Supreme Court on Friday revered the death sentence passed on Alhaji Musa Sani who was convicted for armed robbery by a Katsina High Court.
Sani and his co-convict, Ifanye Amah, were accused of robbing their alleged victim of N940,000 and other items, including one computer set, two cameras and three mobile phones, in Katsina on May 28, 2008.
The Justice Muhammad Muntaka-Coomassie-led Supreme Court bench, in its judgment on Friday, discharged and acquitted Sani, whose conviction and sentence by the Katsina High Court had been affirmed by the Court of Appeal.
The five Justices on the apex court panel unanimously agreed that the police failed woefully in their investigation of the case giving rise to doubt on whether the armed robbery operation actually took place.
The apex court added that the trial judge ought to have discharged and acquitted Sani and his co-accused, having in his findings admitted that the police failed to investigate the Sani’s alibi.
Sani had insisted that he knew nothing about the alleged armed robbery as he was at Lunar Hotel, Katsina, at about 2.30am to 3am on the day the offence was said to have been committed.
The two men pleaded not guilty to the charge when they were arraigned before the Katsina High Court on June 8, 2009.
They were charged under section 1(2) of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act Cap R11, Laws of the Federation 2004, which provides death sentence for a proven case of armed robbery.
The trial judge, Justice Sada Abdu-Mumini, had convicted and sentenced the two of them to death after finding them guilty of the offence at the end their trial.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, on among other grounds that the trial judge failed to consider his defence of alibi, Sani appealed to the Court of Appeal.
But the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment relying on an earlier decision of the Supreme Court which it quoted as stating that “where there is more credible evidence fixing the accused person with the commission of the crime, the defence of alibi will not avail him.”
The Court of Appeal also quoted the earlier apex court’s decision as stating that the defence of alibi could not stand when the alleged suspect was identified by the prosecution witness without any equivocation.”
The Court of Appeal added that in the event of an eyewitness account identifying the accused person, “straight issue will arise, that is to say, where an alibi has been raised and there is visual positive identification of the accused, which is believed by the trial court, the appellate court should not disturb such a finding.”
But Sani further appealed to the Supreme Court, which on Friday set aside the concurrent judgments on the grounds that the police failed to prove the case against the accused persons.
Justice Muntaka-Coomasie who read the lead judgment held, “I have closely and carefully looked at the issues for determination as distilled by the parties in this appeal. I have also thought over the position of the prosecution.
“It is a fact that can never be altered that the prosecution failed woefully to establish any ingredient of the offence of armed robbery.
“It is clear that there is no credible evidence coming from the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses to show that an armed robbery has taken place on the charge put to both accused persons – Alhaji Musa Sani and Ifenya Amah.
“The appellant herein (Sani) put up a defence of alibi and provided addresses, date and time. However, the police failed woefully to investigate the truth of the appellant’s plea.
“Police merely did not believe the appellant and they relied on the so-called eyewitnesses to dismiss the plea of alibi while in actual fact there is no iota of doubt that the police refused to conduct any investigation at Lunar Hotel, Katsina.”
The apex court then set Sani free holding that,”The conviction and sentence dished out on the appellant are hereby set aside and in their place the appellant is acquitted and discharged forthwith.”
Other members of the panel who unanimously agreed with the judgment are Justices Bode Rhodes-Vivour, Nwali Ngwuta, Clara Ogunbiyi and Kumai Akaahs.