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The Plea of Alibi: What the law says

Table of Contents


The Plea of Alibi: Introduction

The word “alibi” is coined from two Latin words “alius” and “ibi” or “ubi” which could mean “other, there, or where”. The word alibi when translated to English language means “elsewhere”

Under criminal jurisprudence, a plea of alibi means that an accused person was “elsewhere” different from the scene of the crime at the time the crime was committed. The presumption from this plea is that the accused person being elsewhere, wouldn’t have committed the crime.

On the meaning of Alibi, the Supreme court in Okosi V State(1989) 1 NWLR (PT100)642  stated:

“ Alibi is the commonest of all the defences. It does not require special ingenuity, but ordinary common sense to conceive that a person charged might say – I was not at the scene and at the time the offence was committed. I was somewhere else, therefore I was not the one who committed the offence. This is what alibi means”


The time that is important in plea of alibi

The only material time regarding a plea of alibi and criminal liability is the time the offense was committed. Thus, if Mr A rapes a girl of 17 years old at the hour of 10:00 am and later travels to another city by 1: 00 pm, Mr A cannot rely on the plea of alibi. The material time is 10: 00 am when the offence of rape was committed and not 1: 00 pm when Mr A traveled to another city. The question, Mr A has to answer would be: at the hour of 10: 00am where were you? As long as he was at the scene of the crime at that material time, a plea of alibi would fail. It would be different if Mr A informs the police that at the hour of 10: 00 am, I have already travelled and could not have been at the scene of the crime, not to talk of committing the crime.

How to raise plea of alibi

It is not sufficient to just say “I was somewhere else on that day or on that hour”. A plea of alibi must be properly raised. To properly and successfully raise a plea of alibi, an accused person must provide particulars of his where about as at that material hour, other than at the scene of the crime. The particulars here refer to:

  • The time and address of the place he was
  • The name of the person or persons he was with
  • What he was doing at that point in time

(See the case of State v  Azeez(2008) ALL FWRL(PT.424                                                                                                                    When is an accused person expected to raise the plea of alibi?

The right time to raise plea of alibi is at the moment of arrest by the police or any of the law enforcement agent. Where such an accused person pleading alibi is asked to make statement, it should as well forms part of his or her statement, given the particulars aforementioned.

What will the police or law enforcement agent do when the plea of alibi is raised?

The police (prosecution) or the law enforcement agent concern is expected to investigate the plea of alibi raised. This is the fundamental reason why the plea must be raised at the time of arrest. Where an accused person raises alibi, providing particulars of where he or she was, the police are required to investigate the alibi raised to ascertain the truthfulness of the plea raised.

What happens when the plea of alibi is not investigated?

Where the plea of alibi is not investigated, it means that the plea is not rebutted and it will be impossible for the prosecution to disprove the facts or particulars provided by the accused person (if any).  The only way for the prosecution to disprove the plea of alibi is by investigating the claims of the accused person that he was somewhere else other than at the scene and time of the crime. The prosecution has further burden of fixing the accused person at the scene and time of the crime through cogent and compelling evidence that the accused person was at the scene of the crime. It is only when this burden is discharged that the prosecution would be considered to have disproved the plea of alibi.

See also  Non-Suit: What you need to know.

When it will be unnecessary to investigate the plea of alibi

It is not at all material time that the prosecution must investigate the plea of alibi. Where there are cogent and compelling direct or circumstantial evidence that the accused person was at the scene of the crime, a plea of alibi would fail. Example: Mr A stabbed Mr B and B died instantly and Mr A was immediately apprehended and handed over to the police, if at the police Mr A pleads alibi, the mere fact that Mr A gave a spurious particulars of his whereabouts and it was not investigated, will not exonerate him from criminal liability. It is more reasonable to investigate the plea of alibi where the identity of the person who committed the crime is misty. See the case of Atta v State (2010) All FWLR( Pt.540) 1224 at 1250

Duty on court when a plea of alibi is raised

The trial court is bound to consider the defence of alibi raised by an accused person.  It is immaterial that the police failed to investigate same.  The court can suo moto invite a crucial witness to ascertain the truthfulness of the alibi raised by the accused person which the police failed to investigate. See the case of Abudu v State (1985) 1 NSCC 78

Is alibi a defence?

It is a defence when it is successfully raised. The accused person is therefore entitled to discharge and acquittal. See Eze v State(1976) 1SC 125. See also Augustine Onuchukwu & 2 ors V the State (1998) 4 NWLR(PT. 547) ratio 1 at P. 590 paras D-E. The rationale behind this is very simple. An accused person who successfully establishes that he or she was somewhere else when the crime was committed should not be held liable for crime he knows nothing about.

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