18 Jan



:: Documentary Evidence is evidence tendered through the means[1] of documents. Section 258 defines “documents” to include[2]; books, maps… matter described upon any substance… disc, tape… film… any device by means of which information is recorded, stored or retrievable including computer output. In essence, a document is anything capable of passing information-Arthur John. Something that teaches you and from which you can learn something-Senior V Holdsworth[3].

:: Documents are classified into public[4] or private[5]. Public or private documents are further subdivided into primary and secondary documents.

:: Since English is Nigeria’s Lingua Franca, documents are to be tendered in (or translated by a competent person[6] or the court’s interpreter[7] to) English[8].

:: The courts have held that documents are not admissible to prove customary transactions in Nigeria-Kankai V Maigemu, Olubodun V Lawal.

:: Documents should be properly tendered through competent and duly sworn witness(es)-Amobi V Amobi.

:: Section 85. The contents of documents may be proved either by primary or by secondary evidenceEsso Petroleum V Oladitan

:: Section 86. (1) Primary evidence means the document itself produced for the inspection of the court. (2)Where a document has been executed in several parts, each part shall be primary evidence of the document-Torti V Ukpabi[9]. Omoboriowo V Ajasin[10]  Esso Petroleum V Oladitan[11].

 (3)Where a document has been executed in counterpart, each counterpart being executed by one or some of the parties only, each counterpart shall be primary evidence as against the parties executing it[12]-Edokpolor V Sem Edo Wire. Jacob V A.G Akwa Ibom State[13].

(4) Where a number of documents have all been made by one uniform process, as in the case of printing, lithography, photography, computer or other electronic or mechanical process, each shall be primary evidence of the contents of the rest[14]; but where they are all copies of a common original, they shall not be primary evidence of the contents of the original.

Section 87. Secondary evidence includes:  (a) certified copies given under the provisions hereafter contained in this Act;  (b) copies made from the original by mechanical or electronic processes which in themselves ensure the accuracy of the copy, and copies compared with such copies; (c) copies made from or compared with the original; (d) counterparts of documents as against the parties who did not execute them; and  (e) oral accounts of the contents of a document given by some person who has himself seen it.

Section 88. Documents shall be proved by primary evidence[15] except in the cases mentioned in this Act.




[1] Although it is not the only means-(Kurobo V Zach-Motison) as oral evidence can be entertained to fill in the gaps-(Owena Bank Plc V Olatunji).

[2] This means that the categories are not closed-Ibrahim V State,  R V Daye 1908 2 KB 333 at 334. Not only paper and notwithstanding what material it is provided. Computer printouts as well.

[3] 1975 1 All ER 1009l Also Grant and Another V Southern and County Properties Ltd 1974 2 All ER 465.

[4] Stroud’s Judicial Dictionary 4th Edition p.2182 defines public document as document made by a public officer for the purpose of the public making use of it and one which the public have access. A Similar definition was given in Nwadialo, Ukana V COP, Sturla V Freccia, Adekoya V Ailara, State V Mbagwu. R V Lawani. Examples of public document include letter from a state Ministry of Justice-(*Kwara State Water Corporation V AIC Nig Ltd), Mining lease-(Bischi Tin Co V C.O.P), INEC Election Result Sheets-(Okoh V Igwesi), Certificate of Incorporation-(Dana Impex Ltd V Awukam, R V John), Registered Power of Attorney-(Okamgba V Eke), Newspapers, registered deeds-(Adelaja V Alade) and so on. Just look at the nature of Public Documents as defined above.

[5] Section 103 “All documents other than public documents are private documents”.

[6] Asiniola V Fatodu.

[7] Damina V The State.

[8] Abolarin V Ogundele, also the case of Giwa V Yarbun.

[9] 1984 1 SC NLR 214. In this case the Supreme Court held that the several election sheets were each primary evidence of others as they were executed in several parts.

[10] 1984 1 SC NLR 108 In this case, the court held that the since certificates of return were executed in several parts, each part is admissible as primary evidence.

[11] 1968 NMLR 453.

[12] Meaning that the counterpart shall be primary evidence for those who signed it. This is good because a person who signs a document is bound by its terms-Okoli V Morecab Finance Limited, Moss V Kenrow.

[13] Where the court regarded each copy of a typed letter (which was printed in counterparts) as primary evidence. See also Anyaegbu V Ozor and the case of Obun V Ebu, where (in both cases) carbon copies of the Election Results were admitted as primary evidence and they need not be certified to be tendered in evidence. See also Coker V Ayoade.

[14] This provision was upheld in Esso Petroleum Co V Oladitan to hold that tellers typed by the same uniform process are all originals and primary documents.

[15] This accords with the rule that primary evidence is the best evidence.


Quite eccentric really

Comment (1)

It is a good material.


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