Corroboration: To establish a case in court, whether criminal or civil, the court can rely on the evidence of a single witness so long as the evidence is relevant, admissible and credible; See the case of Akpabio V. The State (1994)7-8SCNJ 429 AT 458.
This Is Because, as a general rule, no particular number of witnesses is required for the proof of a fact. “A case may be proved by one credible witness; it does not require a sea of heads”.
In the words of Oputa J.S.C. in Ademola V. The State (1988)1 NSCC 465 at 472, the truth is not discovered by majority votes, nor by counting of heads…” Rather, as stated by Muhammed J.S.C, “it is the quality of evidence rather than the number of witnesses… that counts.” It is the qualitative and not the quantitative character of the evidence which the law stresses.
However, to the general rule that no particular number of witnesses is required to prove a case, there are a number of exceptions.
In such exceptional cases, corroboration is required; and the corroborative evidence may be provided by any of the means of proof; that is oral testimony, documentary, real, or circumstantial evidence.
The question then is: what is corroboration?
Corroboration has been defined by the Supreme Court in Nwambe V. The State (1995)3 SCNJ 77 at 94 as:
“A confirmation of a witness’s evidence by an independent testimony. It is evidence which shows or tends to show not merely that the crime has been committed but that it was committed by the accused”
In Haruna Isah V. The State, the Court of Appeal defines corroborative evidence to mean “evidence that differs from but strengthens or confirms other evidence. The court amplified thus:
“Corroborative evidence must be independent and capable of implicating the accused in relation to the offence charged, and it must also be credible and must go to confirm and support that evidence which is sufficient, satisfactory and credible.”
Nature of Corroboration
Firstly, it must be noted that in all cases where corroboration is required whether as a matter of law or practice, in the absence of such corroboration, any verdict arrived at will be quashed on Appeal; See the case of Iko V. The State (supra)at 1178.
Also, if evidence which does not provide corroboration is treated as such, any verdict reached in the circumstance will be quashed on appeal unless to substantial miscarriage of justice is occasioned thereby.
Secondly, where corroboration is required, the corroborative evidence should consist of any independent testimony or evidence extraneous to the evidence sought to be corroborated. This is because corroboration is not a repetition or verbatim reproduction of the earlier statement or evidence sought to be corroborated.
In criminal cases as noted in the case of Nwambe V. The State, the corroborative evidence must show or tend to show two ingredients namely: not merely that a crime has been committed, but also that the crime was committed by the accused person. The Supreme Court in the case of Iko V. The State clearly restated the position of the law and for its aptness, we take the liberty to echo the court as follows:
“Corroborative evidence is an independent testimony which affects the accused by connecting him with the crime, or implicating the accused in relation to the offence charged. It must be credible evidence which confirms in some material particular not only the evidence that the crime has been committed but also that the accused committed it”.
The test applicable to determine the nature and extent of the corroboration is thus the same whether the case falls within the rules of practice at common law or required by statute.
Finally, in concluding these preliminary remarks, the utilitarian value of corroboration must be noted, though inferable from the above discussion. The Court of Appeal stated the essence of corroborated evidence very clearly in the case of Omoteloye V. The State (1989)1 CLRN 142 as follows:
“The essence of corroborative evidence is that one credit-worthy witness confirms that another credit-worthy witness has said, as the risk of conviction of an innocent person is lessened if the conviction is based on the testimony of more than one acceptable witness and the corroborative evidence furnishes a safe ground which makes a conviction more sure than it would be without such evidence.
Cases in Which the Principle is Required
There are exceptional cases in which corroboration is required either as a matter of law or as a matter of practice and to these exceptional cases we now turn.
- Cases Where Corroboration is Required as a Matter of Law
The Evidence Act provides a number of instances where corroboration is required as a matter of law. These instances are specifically provided for in sections, 197, 201 to 204. Although evidence of an accomplice and co-accused is not required to be corroborated, from judicial pronouncements, their evidence can only ground conviction, if corroborated.
a. Evidence of an Accomplice: By section 198(1) of the Act, a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice but where the only proof against an accused is the uncorroborated evidence of the accomplice, then the judge must warn himself that it is unsafe to convict on such evidence. By this provision, therefore, a judge is entitled to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of an accomplice subject only to the requirement of warning since it is generally unsafe to convict on such uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice. See the case of Sokoto V. The State (1968)1 All NWLR 117.
b. Evidence of Co-accused: Section 199 provides in clear term that a co-accused is not an accomplice whose evidence requires extra-cautious treatment. For purpose of completeness, we take the liberty to reproduce the provision as follows.
“Where defendants are tried jointly and any of them gives evidence on his own behalf which incriminates a co-defendant the defendant who gives such evidence shall not be considered to be an accomplice. In Younge V. C.O.P. (1992)9 SCNJ 115, the Supreme Court on this point held that, “Although a co-accused is not to be treated as an accomplice, the practice is always to treat such evidence with caution”. This point has been re-iterated in a number of cases. In Enewoh v. The State, the supreme Court held that the evidence of a co-accused should always be treated with caution.
c. Treason and Treasonable Offences: Where a person is charged with treason, concealment of treason, treasonable felonies and promoting native war, he cannot be convicted without corroborative evidence except on his own plea of guilt or on the evidence in open court of two witnesses testifying at the least to one overt act of the kind of treason or felony alleged, or the evidence of one witness to one overt act and one other witness to another overt act of the same kind of treason or felony – Section 201(1). In other words, if a person is standing trial for any of the offences mentioned above, corroboration is required unless he pleads guilty to the offence alleged.
d. Charge of Perjury: By Section 202 of the Act
“A person cannot be convicted of committing perjury or of counseling or procuring the commission of perjury, upon the uncorroborated testimony of one witness, contradicting the oath on which perjury is assigned, unless circumstances are proved which corroborate such witness.
e. Charge of Exceeding Speed Limit: Where a person is charged with the offence of exceeding the statutory maximum speed limit, such a person cannot be convicted solely on the evidence of one witness that, in his opinion, the accused was driving at such speed – Section 203 (1).