By Emmanuel Aziken
When the Evidence Act was first enacted 64 years ago it neither envisaged the use of computer technology nor the use of mobile telephone text messages in fraud. It is thus not surprising that clear evidence of the use of computers and mobile phones remain inadmissible in Nigerian courts today. Rather, the courts remain fixated with bank books and other archaic materials that were engraved in the Evidence Act.
Now, a bill to amend the Evidence Act to allow the use of electronic and other computer generated evidence in the prosecution of fraud cases has been introduced into the Senate. The bill sponsored by Senator Sola Akinyede (PDP, Ekiti ) principally aims to remove the present loophole that does not allow electronic and other computer generated evidences to be admissible in court.
The bill according to an accompanying memorandum obtained by Vanguard hopes to put Nigerian evidence law which it claims to be presently anachronistic to be in line with global reality.
The amended evidence Act according to the memorandum would also become handy with the Federal Governmentâ€™s adoption of e-payment as its basic form of banking payments for contracts.
Senator Akinyede in the memorandum argues that under the present dispensation that the authorities would find it difficult to successfully prosecute fraud perpetuated under the e-payment scheme as many of the materials that could ordinarily be tendered in court are presently not admissible under the extant Evidence Act.
The memorandum argues thus,â€œthe advancement in computer technology and the phenomenal and wide ranging application of its use ranges from banking where money is now wired electronically, cash is withdrawn by credit or debit cards and from Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) and even cheques can now be paid into our accounts using ATMs; to education where we can now check our childrenâ€™s results from their school websites; to medicine where Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has become the standard and safest means of probing the inner recesses of the human body and observing three dimensional images thus doing away with what was known as exploratory surgery 30 â€“ 40 years ago.â€
Noting the extent to which many other countries have gone to amend their Evidence Acts to bring them in line with global technological developments, he regretted that Nigeria was yet to do likewise and painted the following scenario to show the dilemma of the Nigerian legal system.
â€œMr. A sends an e-mail to Mr. B, asking him to kill Mrs. C, promising that he (Mr. A) will pay a sum of $500,000 to Mr. B and that as an indication of his seriousness, he will pay a first installment of $250,000 into Mr. Bâ€™s account by electronic transfer.â€ â€œMr. B sends his account number by e-mail or by text and the sum of $250,000 is wired electronically to Mr. Bâ€™s account.
Fortunately for Mrs. C, someone tips her off and on the appointed day, Mr. B is caught by the police in Mrs. Câ€™s compound with a knife, a rope with which he intended to strangle her. â€œAs our Evidence law stands today, in spite of the overwhelming evidence, the worst that can happen to Mr. B is to be convicted for trespass or at best burglary because the e-mail asking him to kill Mrs. C is not admissible in a court of law in Nigeria by virtue of the provisions of Sections 93, 94, 95 and 96 of the Evidence Act, which state that documents must be proved by primary evidence (and) primary evidence is defined by Section 94 (1) as the document itself produced for the inspection of the court.â€ â€œWhat is the document in a computer system?Â Is it the word on the monitor?Â Many people will argue that it is not because what appears on the monitor comes from the hard drive.
â€œUnfortunately, the information on the hard drive cannot be read by sight and even if it can, are persons expected to carry their computers with hard drives to the court every time they want to prove their cases? â€œThe text message providing the account number is not admissible.
The computer printout evidencing the payment of $250,000 is not admissible because it is not an original and does not qualify as secondary evidence under Section 97 of the Evidence Act, â€œof course, the initiator of the assassination attempt, Mr. A, will go scot-free because his e-mail and printout of the statement of account are inadmissible.â€
Also painting an illustration of how the failure to amend the Evidence Act has negated the war against corruption, he said, â€œif a public officer working in the Central Bank illegally transfers one billion dollars of the countryâ€™s money into his personal numbered account in Switzerland by electronic transfer, the computer printout evidencing that transfer while admissible in Switzerland, the USA or the European Union, is not admissible in Nigeria.â€