The Director of Public Prosecutions v. Chike Obi [1961]



The Director of Public Prosecutions v. Chike Obi (FSC 56/1961) [1961]

by PaulPipar



The Director of Public Prosecutions


Chike Obi



Federal Supreme Court


Ademola, C.J.F.



– Chief Rotimi Williams;




The defendant Chike Obi was prosecuted on the charge that he “during the month of August 1960 at Lagos, distributed a pamphlet called “The People: Facts that you must know” containing a seditious publication to wit: “Down with the enemies of the people, the exploiters of the weak and oppressors of the poor! … The days of those who have enriched themselves at the expense of the poor are numbered. The common man in Nigeria can to-day no longer be fooled by sweet talk at election time only to be exploited and treated like dirt after the booty of office has been shared among the politicians” which appear on pages 3 and 5 of the copy of the pamphlet…” The charge was found proved but no conviction has been recorded.

The question referred to this Court by the learned Chief Justice of the High Court of Lagos are therefore:


(1) Whether the provisions of the Criminal Code relating to sedition as contained in sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code have been invalidated by the provision of section 1 and 24 of the Constitution of Nigeria as set out in the Second Schedule of the Nigeria (Constitution) Order in Council, 1960; and

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(2) If the answer to (1) is in the negative, whether those provisions of the Criminal Code have been modifed by section 24 of the Constitution of Nigeria, and, if so, to what extent?



ISSUE 1 was not answered by the Federal Supreme Court.

ISSUE 2 was judged in favour of the Prosecution.


i. I am satisfied that in Nigeria the exceptions to section 50(2) of the Criminal Code (which I have already referred to in this Judgment) form enough protection to a charge of sedition and they offer enough freedom of expression to anybody in our democratic society. The section does not in my view prevent fair criticism of the Government and only prohibits publications made with the intention of exciting hatred and contempt, or disaffection against, inter alia, the Government. It is the duty of the court to decide the real intention of persons charged on the facts of each particular case. It is however for a person charged to show that his defence comes within the exception. I would sum up by saying that the position to-day in Nigeria, in my view, is that the provision of the Constitution relating to Fundamental Human Rights has not in any way invalidated the Law of Sedition as contained in sections 50 and 51 of the Criminal Code insofar as these sections relate to the matters under consideration in this reference.


Section 51 Criminal Code;
Section 50(2) Criminal Code;


Provisions of the Nigerian Constitution 1960:
Section 1. – This Constitution shall have the force of law throughout Nigeria and, subject to the provisions of section 4 of this Constitution, if any other law (including the Constitution of a Region) is inconsistent with this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
Section 24. – (1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference; (2) Nothing in this section shall invalidate any law that is reasonably justifable in a democratic society: (a) in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights, reputations and freedom of other persons, preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, maintaining the authority and independence of the courts or regulating telephony, wireless broadcasting, television or the exhibition of cinematograph flms; or (c) imposing restrictions upon persons holding offices under the Crown, members of the armed forces of the Crown or members of a police force.

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In this connection, the true meaning of section 50(3) of the Criminal Code requires consideration. The section reads: (3) In determining whether the intention with which any act was done, any words were spoken, or any document was published, was or was not seditious, every person shall be deemed to intend the consequences which would naturally follow from his conduct at the time and under the circumstances in which he so conducted himself.


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In considering the correct judicial approach, the Supreme Court of India said, in State of Madras v. Row (1952) section C.R. 597: “In evaluating such elusive factors and forming their own conception of what is reasonable in all the circumstances of a given case, it is inevitable that the social philosophy and the scale of values of the judges participating in the decision should play an important part, and the limit to their interference with legislative Judgment can only be dictated by their sense of responsibility and self-restraint and the sobering reflection that the Constitution is meant not only for people of their own way of thinking but for all, and that the majority of the elected representatives of the people have, in authorising the imposition of the restrictions, considered them to be reasonable”





In my view the purpose of this subsection (50(3) CC) is to enable the prosecution to rely on the act or the words or the document itself without calling any extrinsic evidence to prove the intent, but the subsection cannot be construed so as to deprive a person of his right to show that his only intention is one of those set out in the exceptions to section 50(2) and for this purpose truth may be a relevant consideration. – Ademola, CJN. DPP v. Chike Obi (1961)

It is the duty of the court to decide the real intention of persons charged on the facts of each particular case. – Ademola, CJN. DPP v. Chike Obi (1961)




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