Can A Court Convict For Murder In The Absence Of The Corpus Delicti?


By Timothy Olamide


The standard of proof required in every criminal offence by the prosecution is proof beyond reasonable doubt. The prosecution is required by the law to prove all the elements of the offence with which the accused {defendant} is being charged. The prosecution must establish the guilt of the defendant beyond reasonable doubt.  This is the provision of the law and decided cases are abounds in this elementary law failure of which may lead to the acquittal and discharge of an accused. See section 135(1) of the Evidence Act 2011 and the following decided cases: FRIDAY SMART V. THE STATE {2016} LPELR-40827(SC), ADEBESIN V. STATE {2014} LPELR-22694(SC), ADESINA V. FRN {2017}-LPELR (CA}.

Before delving into the heart of this discussion, it becomes imperative to examine the provisions of the law on murder upon which this article is predicated.

What is Murder?

Murder without much ado simply means the killing of human being unlawfully by another. Both Criminal code and Penal code make provisions and criminalize murder in Nigeria. The two codes also provide circumstances under which one may be accused of committing the offence of murder. It is on this note, that the provisions of the Law on murder under the two Codes would be briefly examined separately with decided cases.

The provision of the Criminal Code on Murder

 The criminal code which is applicable in the Southern Nigeria defines Murder in section 315 and provides circumstances under which one may be held liable punishable under section 319. Thus section 315 provides; Any person who unlawfully kills another is guilty of an offence called murder or manslaughter according to the circumstances of the case.

It can be swiftly concluded that unlawful killing may be murder or manslaughter depending on the circumstances of each cases.

Circumstances under which Murder can be committed

Section 316 of the Criminal code provides for circumstances under which murder can be said is committed. It provides thus; Except as hereinafter set forth, a person who unlawfully kills another any of the following circumstances, that is to say-

  1. If the offender intends to cause the death of the person killed or that of other person;
  2. If the offender intends to do to the person killed or to some other person a grievous harm;
  3. If death is caused by means of an act done in the prosecution of an unlawful purpose, which act is of such a nature as to be likely endanger human life.
  4. If the offender intends to do grievous bodily harm to some persons for the purpose of facilitating the commission of an offence which is such that the offender may be arrested without warrant , or for the purpose of facilitating the flight of the offender who has committed or attempted to commit any such offence ;
  5. If death is caused by administering any stupefying or overpowering things for either of the purposes last aforesaid;
  6. If death is caused by willfully stopping the breath of any person for either of such purposes; is guilty of murder.

In the second case it is immaterial that the offender did not intend to hurt any person.

In the three cases it is immaterial that the offender did not intend to cause death or did not know that death is likely to result.

The above six circumstances are under which an accused person may be successfully charged for murder by the prosecution.

The punishment for murder is death.  See section 319 (1) of the Criminal Code.

Having discussed the provisions of the criminal code on murder and punishment thereon, it becomes necessary to look briefly into decided cases on murder under the Criminal code.

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Thus in the case of HARRISON V. COMMISSIONER OF POLICE {2015}15 NWLR PART 1483 PG 557, the appellant was successfully  charged for murder  and sentenced accordingly  under sections 316 and 319(1) of the Criminal code, Cap. 48 Vol 11, Law of the defunct Bendel state of Nigeria, 1976, respectively. All his defenses of self defense and provocation were rejected by the courts.

Also in the case of SATURDAY NDIKE V. THE STATE (1994) LPELR-1971(SC) where the appellant was charged, tried, convicted and sentenced to death for murdered one Aminikpo Dodoo , under section 316 of the Criminal code and found guilty under subsections 1 and 2.

There are legion of decided cases of murder under the Criminal code. See the following cases ABOGEDE V. STATE {1996} LPELR-45(SC), ADEGBOYEGA IBIKUNLE V. STATE {2007} LPELR-8068(SC), SUNDAY UDOSEN  V.THE STATE {2007} LPELR -3311(SC).

Murder under Penal code

Having provided the general definition of murder under Criminal code, it becomes imperative to go straight into the provisions the penal code on murder.

Under the Penal code murder is known as culpable homicide.  It means the act of killing of a person or persons by another person or persons. It is the act of purposely, knowingly or recklessly or negligently causing the death of human being. See the case of PAUL V. STATE {2019} LPELR-47386(SC). See also the following case UMARU ADAMU V. THE STATE {2014} 10 NWLR (Pt.1415) 441. Statutorily Culpable homicide is defined in section 220 thus ; whoever causes death:-

  1. By doing an act with the intention of causing death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or
  2. By doing an act with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death; or
  3. By doing a rash or negligent act, commits the offence of culpable homicide.

Equally Death sentence is the punishment for culpable homicide punishable with death.  See section 221(a) of the Penal code.

Having brought out the provisions of the law on culpable homicide, it becomes imperative to cite cases decided on the said provisions of the Penal code. See PAUL V. STATE Supra, MAIGARI V. THE STATE (2010) LPELR-44579(CA), GARBA & ORS V. THE STATE (2000) LPELR-1306(SC) HARUNA V. THE AG OF FEDERATION (2012) LPELR-7821(SC).


It is horn book law in criminal charges that the prosecution is required to prove all the ingredients of the offence before it can successfully secure the conviction of an accused person. Murder is no exception.  There are litany of Nigerian decide cases on this. However two cases would be examined. Thus in the case of ANTHONY THOMPSON EBONG & ANOR V. THE STATE {2011} LPELR-3789(CA), the court of Appeal held as follows; …(1) that the deceased had died  (2) that death of the deceased was caused by the accused and (3) that the act or omission of the accused which caused the death of the deceased was intentional with knowledge that death or grievous bodily harm was its probable consequence.

The supreme court in the case of OCHEMAJE V.THE STATE {2008) LPELR- 2198(SC) held that the ingredients of culpable homicide are as follows; (i) that the death of the deceased has actually taken place.(ii) that such death has been caused by the accused (iii) that the act was done with the intention of causing death or that it was done with the intention of causing bodily injury as the accused knew or had reason to know that death would be the probable and not only the likely consequence of his act; or (iv) that the accused knew or had reason to know that death would be the probable and not only the likely consequences of any bodily injury, which the act was intended to cause.

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Having examined the cases which spelled out the ingredients of murder and culpable homicide under both codes, it becomes pertinent to answer the above in the affirmative and the case of STATE V. AHMED (2020) LPELR-49497(SC) where the Supreme court held per  Kekere Ekun “ it is well settled that if there are facts from which it can be inferred that the deceased has been killed, a conviction for murder can still stand even though the corpus delicti is not produced.   

 The Supreme Court decision in STATE V. AHMED

In State v. Ahmed, the Supreme Court was face with whether the court can convict for murder in the absence of a corpus delicti (dead body).


Ishiaku Abdulrazaq (PW 1), a barber was in his barbing shop sometime in December 2009 when Ali Ahmed (respondent) came to his shop to barb his hair. The respondent then informed PW 1 of an event that was disturbing his conscience. He then told him that he had fought with someone by the riverside of old water dam and that he had stabbed the boy with his knife. The respondent admitted that he knew the boy and PW 1 agreed to follow him to the family of the boy he stabbed, to take him to the hospital for treatment, but the respondent refused and left the shop that day.

However, sometime in January 2010, PW 1 was arrested by the members of vigilante group in connection with an alleged stolen electricity generating set, which was given to him to keep. In the course of his interrogation, he was asked if he knew the respondent, who had told them that he had being one of those who killed the deceased. He later led the vigilante men to arrest respondent, who later told them that he alone stabbed the deceased. The respondent was arrested and handed over to the police who obtained his statement. PW2 was one Sergeant Usman Abubakar with Force No.20055, then serving at the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID), Minna. He was detailed to obtain Ali Ahmed respondent’s statement which was tendered and admitted without objection and was marked exhibit 1. PW3 was one Suleiman Badaru, the Secretary of Suleja Emirate Civil Security Corps. He was in their office when a case was reported of someone who was killed by the riverside. He had gone with the office Camera and took pictures of the corpse when he and some policemen visited the scene. The pictures he had taken were admitted without objection and were marked as exhibits 2B and 2C respectively.

The respondent was arraigned in the High Court of Niger State, sitting at Suleja and he was charged with the offence of culpable homicide, contrary to Section 221 of the Penal Code. Upon the reading of the charge, Ali Ahmed (respondent) pleaded not guilty and the case proceeded to trial. The prosecution called three witnesses – PW1, PW2 and PW3 to prove its case, while the respondent testified in defence but called no other witness. The case of the respondent before the trial Court was a total denial of the knowledge of the deceased. He denied knowing the deceased or ever making any statement to the police on the death of the deceased. He however admitted the signature on the statement to be his own. In a reserved judgment, the trial Court found the respondent guilty as charged. He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.

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Being dissatisfied with the judgment of the trial court, the respondent appealed to the Court of Appeal, Abuja division upon three grounds of appeal. In its unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal by the respondent and the judgment of the trial court, which convicted and sentenced Ali Ahmed respondent, was set aside. He was accordingly acquitted and discharged. The State (appellant) felt dissatisfied and appealed to the Supreme Court.

One of the contentions of the Respondent is that that the issue is whether the prosecution proved all the ingredients of the alleged crime of culpable homicide. He gave the ingredients and contended that it is clear that the deceased, that is the victim of the homicide, must be identified or ascertained with clarity. He relied on Princewill Vs. The State (1994) 6 NWLR (Pt.353) 703 at 715; (1994) LPELR-2926 (SC). Learned counsel contended further that the prosecution did not prove the identity of the deceased. Learned counsel contended that from exhibit 1, which was admitted as a confessional statement of the respondent, no name was given of the deceased, who was said to have been fought with by the respondent. Learned counsel further contended that in the testimony of PW1, the name of the deceased victim with whom the respondent was said to have confessed that he fought was not given in court, but that the only person who gave the name of the deceased was PW3 who is not a relation of the deceased victim. He stated that there was no evidence whatsoever of any relation of the deceased victim that testified in court that it was Mohammed Bello that was in exhibits 2(a)-(g). Learned counsel contended further that as no one with certainty positively identified the deceased to PW3 when he took the pictures of the corpse as that of Mohammed Bello, he submitted that the identity of the deceased was not proved by the prosecution.

The appellant is of the opposite view by relying on the cases ONWUMERE V. THE STATE (1991) 22 NSCC(Pt.1) 606 at 621; LPELR-2723(SC), Enewoh v. State {1989} 5 NWLR (Pt. 119) 98 at 108  to submit that even though the corpse of the deceased was not physically produced and there was no medical report, was no fatal to the case of the prosecution  The court held that from the available evidence proffered by the prosecution, the court held that there is no doubt that the identity of the deceased – Mohammed Bello who was fought with by the respondent was proved by the prosecution.

In the final analysis, the court held that the appeal succeeds and it was allowed. The judgment of the trial court which convicted the respondent and sentenced him to death was restored and the judgment of the Court of Appeal was set aside. The respondent’s acquittal and discharge order was reversed.


In sum, it is now the horn book law in our criminal jurisprudence that Court can convict for Murder in the absence of a dead body.

Timothy Olamide is a law student from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and can be reached via


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