Self Defense Under Nigerian Law

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By Sani Bello Hamza

An individual is entitle to defend himself when assaulted by another. However, the defense should be reasonable and should not exceed the quantum of the assault unleashed upon him. i.e If an individual is attacked or assaulted with a knife he is only allowed by law to defend himself with a similar weapon with equal gravity to the one intended upon him. And if eventually he killed the assaulter he will not be guilty of murder or culpable homicide punishable with death.

For instance; In Apugo v The State (2016), the Appellant had a misunderstanding with the deceased whereupon the deceased slapped the Appellant and the Appellant responded with a fist blow in self defense. Subsequently, the deceased died as a result of the fist blow of the Appellant. The trial court as the court of first instance sentenced the Appellant to death by hanging. However, upon appeal to the court of appeal, the court substituted the offense of murder with Manslaughter and sentence the Appellant to 20 years imprisonment with hard labour. The Appellant further Appealed to the Supreme court contending that the Court of Appeal ought to have discharged and acquitted him having found that he acted on self defense defense. The Supreme court upheld the argument of the Appellant thereby discharged and acquitted him.

Apart from the judicial authority cited above, there are several judicial and statutory authorities in relation to this issue, let’s take a look at some of them;

In ITA & ANOR v. STATE (2013) LPELR-21392(CA), the Court of appeal held that:

“A man is justified in using against an assailant a proportionate amount of force in defence of himself or other persons who he is under a duty to defend, where he considers his life or such persons lives to be in danger”

Also, Section 286 of the Criminal code provides that; “When a person is unlawfully assaulted, and has not provoked the assault, it is lawful for him to use such force to the assailant as is reasonably necessary to make effectual defense against the assault ”

From the above, we can deduce that a successful plea of self defense negates any form of punishment under the Nigerian law. That is, an individual who successfully pleaded self defense before a court will not be convicted for murder under the criminal code or culpable homicide punishable with death under the penal code applicable in northern Nigeria.

Sani Bello Hamza is a Law student at Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, he writes from Zaria and can be reached through his email; or 09013506168


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