Admissibility of Confessional Statements.

The topic “Confessions” is a very important one in the Law of Evidence, as it reveals the complexity and conflicting interests involved in controlling crime while also respecting individual human rights. It plays a very crucial role in the conviction or the acquittal of an accused person. As a result of the modification made in the Evidence Act, 2011, it will be interesting to find out whether there is a substantial change in the extant law with regard to confessions. In this paper, we shall look at the definition and nature of confession, types of Confessions,  Rational for admitting confessional statements in evidence, When confession is said to be relevant, the Judges’ Rules, the issue of unreliability of a confession and admissibility of a confessional statement,  Confessions implicating a co-accused, the Import of denying or retracting a confessional statement. We shall also make a critique and analysis of the extant law on confessions, then conclude and advance a recommendation.
On the nature and importance of confessional statement in criminal trials, Niki Tobi JSC in a recent case stated that “the best evidence for purposes of conviction is confession to the commission of the crime by the accused person”. In other words, a free and voluntary confession provides the most satisfactory evidence of guilt, for it is generally accepted as a presumption that no rational human being will make admissions prejudicial to his interest and safety if the facts confessed are not true. In the case Samuel Ayo Omoju v The Federal Republic of Nigeria, where the accused, a Pastor was arraigned and charged with exporting 1.1 kg of cocaine worth ten thousand US Dollars, the Supreme Court acknowledged the following statement of the accused person as a true confessional statement:

            “I was in the Hotel until Sunday when Areh came with 118 wraps on something inside shinning leather which I swallowed all with water. Around 9.00 pm he came to the Hotel and brought me to the Airport and I checked in one luggage and I climbed upstairs for the final screening and went down… After the screening I was taken downstairs to their office. In the office, I was told that that I am being suspected and I will be under observation until I go to toilet to determine if I am carrying drugs. In their office, I went to toilet about 4.05 am and excreted forty-three (43) pieces of hard drug substance… All in all the total of 118 pieces of hard drug cocaine were excreted by me. The drugs were given to me by Mr. Areh at Dreamland Hotel”.

A confession is generally made in writing to the police officer or other law enforcement agent during investigation. However, it can be made orally and any oral confession does not carry less weight than that made in writing once the witness of the one to whom it was made is accepted by the court. Hence, in the case of Moses Jua v The State, the Supreme Court held that a conviction on the oral confession is proper in law.

For a full admission of guilt to qualify as a confession, it must be direct and positive as far as the charges are concerned. Hence it was held in the case of  Gbadamosi v The State, that for a statement of the accused to constitute a confession, the statement must admit or acknowledge that the maker of the statement committed the offences for which he is charged and in so doing be clear, precise and unequivocal. In other words, a statement made under caution by the accused person becomes confessional once it admits the charge or creates the impression that the accused committed the offence charged. Hence, in the case of Mustapha Mohammed & Ors v The State, the Supreme Court held that once there exists a confessional statement which is direct, cogent and unequivocal to the fact that the accused committed the offence, the prosecution need not prove the offence any longer for the confession is enough proof of the offence beyond reasonable doubt
Confessions, ordinarily, are not admissible because they constitute hearsay evidence. Common law however, permitted the admissibility of confessions as an exception to the hearsay rule because of the crucial role confessions play in the determination of criminal trials. The reason for this exception is that the danger of unreliability traditionally associated with hearsay evidence is outweighed by the fact that the statement so clearly adverse to the interest of the maker is unlikely to be made unless the contents are true. This proposition, definitely, is destroyed where there is any real risk that the statement was made, not because of a desire to tell the truth but because of threats, fear, unjustified hopes, weakness or any other circumstances which make it likely that, not only was the confession actually made, but any confession which might have been made may be unreliable
Section 29 of the Nigerian Evidence Act 2011, in 5 sub-sections tried to determine when a confession will be considered relevant. Section 29 (1) states as follows: “In any proceedings a confession made by a defendant may be given in evidence against him in so far as it is relevant to the matter in issue in the proceedings and is not excluded by the court in the pursuit of this section”. Section 29 (2) gave the directive on when a confession made by a defendant shall not be allowed by the court to be given in evidence against him. This will be that case when it is represented to the court that the confession was or may have been obtained (a) by oppression of the person who made it; or (b) in consequence of anything said or done which was likely, in the circumstances existing at that time, to render unreliable any confession which might be made by him in such consequence. This second aspect of the directive dealing with the unreliability of the confession is not absolute but allows for an exception. Where the prosecution proves to the court beyond reasonable doubt that the confession (notwithstanding that it may be true) was not obtained in a manner contrary to the provisions of the Section 29 of the Evidence Act, 2011, then the court shall allow the confession to be given in evidence. In section 29 (5) the word “oppression” was defined not restrictively but widely to include torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the use of threat of violence whether or not amounting to torture.

Section 31 of the Evidence Act 2011 went further to state when a confession that was considered relevant cannot be vitiated by the way it was obtained. It hence clarifies that a confession that is relevant will not become irrelevant by the fact that it was made under a promise of secrecy, or in consequence of a deception practiced on the defendant for the purpose of obtaining it, or when he was drunk, or because it was made in answer to questions which he need not have answered, or because he was not warned that he was not bound to make such statement and that evidence of it might be given.

Thus, Obaseki, JSC in Igbinovia v The State explained that though deception is a mode of behavior disapproved of by society, it remains a widely accepted method used to fight and flush out criminals who wear the gab of innocence. In the Instant case, the appellant was charged with and convicted with murder. In order to elicit information from him, the police planted a police officer who disguised as a criminal suspect in the midst of suspects locked up in one of the police cells. The police officer lured the appellant by telling him his own exploits. The appellant in turn confessed that he took part in the killing of the deceased mentioning the date, and the venue of the crime. It was contended on his behalf that the confessional statement was inadmissible. In rejecting the contention, the Supreme Court held that if a policeman does not present himself s a police man but as a wild and vicious criminal, and other suspected criminals take him as such and in order to boost their ego and establish better understanding with him open their mouths and pour out stories of what to them are brave deeds of courage but which to civilized human societies are atrocious acts of violence against society and humanity, that information cannot become inadmissible only by reason of the concealment of the status of the disguised policeman who was fed with such valuable information.

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