Having come across diverse shades of commentaries on issues surrounding the death of Bilyamin Bello, it is of utmost importance that I carry out my social responsibility as a legal practitioner to put things in proper perspective; especially with regards to legal provisions, as opposed to perceived moral standards, with which members of the public have convicted Maryam Sanda, based on hearsay evidence.
On the face of the processes filed against her before an Abuja High Court sitting in Jabi, Maryam was charged with the offence of culpable homicide: punishable with death. Contrary to the jungle conviction already dealt on her by the public – especially on news and social media, Section 36 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended) expressly provides that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Such proof of guilt can only validly emanate from trial procedures before a court of competent jurisdiction.
Basically, the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to establish the guilt of accused persons beyond reasonable doubt. Until such a rigorous process is carefully observed and concluded, an accused person is presumed innocent. It is on the basis of the foregoing that Maryam Sanda remains innocent, until the conclusion of her trial, when the court may sustain her innocence, or find her guilty, after considering the evidence of the prosecution and her defence.
There are guidelines which the court must follow in the course of trying homicide cases. Section 221 of the Penal Code provides three mandatory requirements which the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt, in order to secure conviction against an accused person. They include: (1) That the deceased actually died (2) that the death was caused by the accused (3) that the accused intended to either kill the victim or cause grievous bodily harm.
Considering the fact that Bilyamin Bello actually died, the first requirement is satisfied. The second and third requirements can only be determined after an elaborate trial in court. At the instance of the prosecution, the court is bound to consider evidence of surrounding circumstances which are capable of leading to the conclusion that the accused person committed the crime. However, a conviction can only be based on circumstantial evidence where it points to one conclusion: that the offence had been committed by the accused person, leaving no reasonable doubts that the accused is responsible for the commission of the offence. In other words, to secure conviction against Maryam Sanda along the lines of the circumstantial evidence surrounding Bilyamin Bello’s death, the prosecution must be able to situate her in the circumstances leading to his death, by proving beyond reasonable doubt that she was the actual person who killed him. Furthermore, it must be established that such killing was done intentionally.
Where the prosecution is unable to adduce sufficient evidence to prove her guilt, the court is bound to give judgment in her favour. If this is the case, she may either be discharged and acquitted, or convicted for a lesser offence, depending on the findings and conclusions of the court after trial. This is irrespective of whatever sentiment-laced opinions held by members of the public.
If veracity is attributable to certain media reports on this matter, the “Last Seen Doctrine” may come into play. This doctrine, as applied in homicide cases, is to the effect that where a person with whom the deceased was last seen cannot give a reasonable explanation as to the death of the deceased, the court is justified to draw the necessary inference that such a person is responsible for the death of the deceased. On the other hand, it therefore follows that where such an explanation is given to the satisfaction of the court, the person last seen with the deceased may not be held responsible for the death of the deceased. Thus, it has to first be proven that it was Maryam who was last seen with Bilyamin. Thereafter, the court must still probe into surrounding circumstances, taking the evidence of both the prosecution and the defence into consideration.
If there is a last seeing, there ought to be a last seer who did the seeing. The provisions of the law are not explicit on the manner in which such seeing must have taken place. This is likely to raise controversies, especially as the seer (who is most likely to be presented in court as a witness) is usually not an eyewitness to the alleged offence (where this doctrine is applied). There may have been an interval between when the accused was last seen with the deceased, and when the alleged offence took place. If the deceased was alive when the accused was last seen with him, reasonable doubts may arise as to the exact situation of things within that interval. Certain things may have happened within the space of the said interval, which may fall within the exclusive knowledge of the accused. This may form reasonable grounds upon which the testimony of the accused ought to be believed, since there were no other eyewitnesses. It is trite law that reasonable doubts are resolved in favour of accused persons.
These and many more questions will be answered in the course of trial. Evidence from an autopsy, may be adduced. The testimonies of witnesses from both sides will also be considered. At this point, it is difficult to predict Maryam’s eventual fate. However, the fact still remains that right now, she is presumed innocent by the law, until proven guilty.
While it may be understandable that members of the society judge suspects based on subjective moral standards, the law must be allowed to take its full objective course. The public ought to exercise patience by giving Maryam Sanda the benefit of a doubt, especially as a result of the fact that all reports making rounds so far have not been subjected to trial. It is only through the eyes of the law that guilt can be validly imputed. Pending when her trial is completed, Maryam Sanda is presumed innocent, and her fundamental right to fair hearing, as guaranteed under Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended), must be protected.
Culled from Ogbole Agala Esq’s facebook page