The role of evidence in trials can
never be over emphasized. In both criminal and civil suits, evidence stands as
the backbone of the trial; the foundation, upon which a party’s case is firmly
built or otherwise. To have a solid case therefore connotes having the
requisite pieces of evidence to nail it. His lordship, Ndukwe Anyanwu J.C.A
while delivering the lead judgment in Kolo
v. Lawan
(2011) All FWLR (pt. 597) 725 at 744 defined

evidence in the
following words:
any species of proof, or probative matter
legally presented at the trial of an issue, by the act of the parties and
through the medium of witnesses records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects
e.t.c for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the count or jury as
to their contention”.
From the above words therefore, the
deciding factor in a trial clings more towards the nature of evidence presented
to the court. If badly done, a case would be lost even right from the onset, as
it would fail its primary purpose, which is, inducing the mind of the court.
Right from the preparatory stages to the level of presentation of a case,
evidence must be solid.
I recently witnessed a case
before the Federal High Court where certain issues in evidence which are worthy
of note and consideration came to fore. I was particularly interested in the
issues concerning frontloading of documents and the connection between
pleadings and evidence. This paper seeks to expatiate on these issues, bringing
out the contentions, submissions and opinions as well as the holdings of the
court on them.
Frontloading of evidence simply means
filing along with, or attaching to, or listing in, the originating or defence
processes, of the oral, documentary or other evidence intended to be called by
a party in civil proceedings. The courts have settled that from the various
wordings of the rules of procedure, the frontloaded documents should accompany
the originating processes, be adopted during examination in chief (See Agagu V.
Mimiko (2009) & NWLR (pt. 1140) 342 at 424-425 and INEC vs. Action Congress
(2009) 2 NWLR (pt. 1126) 524) and must as a matter of importance, be adopted in
an open court, for, there can only be a cross-examination in an open court.
The aspect of frontloading this paper
seeks to explore however deals with the non-frontloading of documents which
form part of pleadings and are duly listed as part of the list of documents to
be used in trial. It is important to note here too, that non listing of
documents as well as non-attachment of same at the same time, even where the
pleadings show traces of its, amounts to substantial non compliance, which can
cause the action to be incompetent or render the documents inadmissible (See Okereke
V. Yaradua (2008) ALL FWLR (pt. 430) 626). Going back to the main poser, it is
humbly submitted that non- frontloading of documents, where reference to it is clear
on the face of the pleadings as well as being set out on the list of the
documents cannot render the documents inadmissible upon production of same
during trial. It should be noted that during the trial in question, Counsel to
the Plaintiff had sought to tender a thesis written by the plaintiff in the
case and same was met with an objection by counsel to the defendant at the
point of tendering it in evidence. The objection raised was akin to that made
in Accord Party V. Saraki(2010) ALL
FWLR (pt. 544) 65 at 96
. The court of Appeal, in that case
resolved that where items may not be easily attached to an originating process,
the items will still be admissible.
Interestingly, just like the reason
proffered in Accord Party’s case, not only was it difficult to attach the
thesis to the originating processes as argued by the Plaintiff’s counsel, but
also, and more importantly, the reliance on the decided case of Ogboru V. Uduaghan (2011) All FWLR (pt.
577) 650 paved way for the admissibility of the thesis, albeit not being
frontloaded. The court in Ogboru’s
case in reaching its decision had gone through an extra mile in driving home
the point. N.I. Ichekor, counsel to the 1st and 2nd
Appellants in Ogboru’s case had argued that the admission of certain documents
at the trial tribunal was in error as same were not frontloaded.
The court in Ogboru’s case, in
resolving the issue first considered a rather stern view of the Court of Appeal
in Ukpo v. Naji (2008) 3 LRECN 505
at 525 – 526 where the court held the non compliance to the frontloading procedure
as a violation of law. The court in Ogboru’s case later held, and pitched its
tent with a more liberal view expressed in Chime
V. Egwuonwu
(2008) 2 LRECN 575, 616 as wells as the decision in Chime v. Ezea(2008) 2 LRECN 675,
744-745 where the courts held that a rejection of documents because same were
not frontloaded would be tantamount to a miscarriage of justice. The Federal
High Court in the instant case therefore was not in error when it held that the
thesis, though not frontloaded alongside the originating processes, was still
admissible. It should also be noted that apart from  listing the document, the plaintiff’s counsel
also argued that if it was not purely on the basis of technicality, the defendant
ought to have requested for it, as it had been part and parcel of the plaintiff’s
case since the commencement of the action.
It is a settled principle of law that
where facts exist in pleadings but there are no evidence to support same, such
facts are not worthy of consideration by the courts (See Bongo v. Gov. Adamawa
State (2012) All FWLR (Pt. 633) 1908 at 1939). The same applies to pieces of
evidence which do not have facts pleaded to buttress them (See Amadi v. Nwosu
(1989- 1992)3 SCJE 912 at 917). Thus, not only must facts exist in pleadings,
but there must also be admissible pieces of evidence tied to those facts. But
here is the snag; must the evidence be specifically pleaded and set out in bold
letters before same would be given consideration by the court?  Or on the other hand, will a mere mention or
inference to the existence of a document in the pleadings suffice? In the instant
case, certain letters were written by the Plaintiff to the Defendant and upon
tendering same in evidence, counsel to the Defendant raised an objection to the
effect that the documents were not specifically pleaded, hence should be
inadmissible in evidence. 
The above poser has a history in our
law, particularly, case law. Oba R.A.A. Oyederan
of Igbonla v. His Highness Oba Alebiousu II & 3 Ors
(1992 -1996) 4 SCJE
152 quickly comes to mind. The court in Oyediran’s case had pointed out that
pieces of evidence must be tied to pleadings for same to be admissible. This is
still part of our law, and has not changed. The erroneous belief that is
popularly held by lawyers is that the piece of evidence relied upon must be
explicitly linked to facts in the pleadings. With due respect to that school of
thought, the Supreme Court had since expressed a liberal view to the above
proposition in Ipinlaye v. Olukotun (1992
-1996) 4 SCJE 882, that documentary evidence needs not be specifically pleaded
to be admissible in evidence so long as facts and not the evidence by which
such a document is covered are expressly pleaded. This was the reply to the
objection raised, and a solid reliance on the decision in Ipinlaye’s case
buried the objection.
The foregoing has been an attempt to
bring to fore, some of the contending issues and rather trendy objections that
are usually raised on admissibility of documents in trials. The attitude of the
courts towards admissibility of documents has been shown to be on liberal terms
in accepting documents in evidence, eliminating the use of technicalities while
documents are sought to be tendered. It should be stressed however that it is
necessary to frontload documents in accordance with the rules of the court and
to also properly plead those pieces of evidence or make significant inferences
to them in pleadings.


  1. Olatunji Muritala says:

    This is an impressive write up. It's a must-read for all practising lawyers.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Nice one……

  3. ETERHERE says:

    Nice one, this in no little way have helped an application I intended preparing which bothers on the subject. Thanks a million.

  4. Thank you too for the feedback. Glad I could help. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts on law and legal issues too. I could share your blog on mine. Thanks.

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