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Punishment For Forgery Under Nigerian Law

In this post, we will look at “The Crime of Forgery: Definition, Menace, Consequences, Punishment”. 

The law, as the supreme instrument of social engineering   in its haste and quest to protect and guarantee the survival of the Nigeria does not stop at protecting the rights and freedoms of person, it also recognizes and protects the rights persons over property.

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In doing this, the law does not hesitate to recognize offences against property and stipulate stiff penalties for them.

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Punishment For Forgery Under Nigerian Law
Forgery Under Nigerian Law – Photo Source: https://thenigerialawyer.com

Some of these offences relating to property and contract under the Criminal Code Act include Stealing(Sections  382- 409), Burglary(Sections 410-417), Obtaining by false pretences (Sections 418- 439),Arson(443-462),Forgery(463-483),Impersonation(484-489).

The Crime of Forgery Distilled and Diluted

The 7th Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner `s Dictionary, International Student`s Edition, at page 584, defines forgery thus:

“The crime of copying money, documents etc in order to cheat people.”

The Deluxe Ninth Edition of the Black`s Law Dictionary, at page 723   defines forgery as “  The act of fraudulently  making a false  document or altering a real  one to be used  as if genuine.”

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On the website criminal.findlaw.com it is written than “Forgery involves a   false document, signature, or other imitation   of an object of value used with the intent to deceive another .Those who commit forgery are often charged with the crime of fraud.”

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On Wikipedia.org, forgery   is “the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive for the sake of altering the public perception, or to earn   profit by selling the forged item.”

From the quartet of definitions above, one thing is clear, at the core of forgery lies an imitation, a copying which has fraud as its very heart .

To be sure, Nigeria`s apex criminal legislation, the Criminal Code Act   stringently punishes forgery and its like offences.

We now turn to the Criminal Code Act which is variable from the Penal Code Act in that it defines crimes and their punishments for southern Nigeria. It is of course localized in many states as their apex criminal legislation.

Section 465 of the Criminal Code Act defines forgery thus:

“A person who makes a false document or writing  knowing it to be false ,and with intent that it may  in any way be used  or acted upon as genuine ,whether  in the State or elsewhere ,to the prejudice of any person ,or with intent that any person may, in the belief that it is genuine,be induced  to do or refrain  from doing  any act, whether  in the State or elsewhere, is said to forge  the document or writing.

A person who makes a counterfeit seal or mark, or makes an impression of a counterfeit  seal knowing the seal to be counterfeit ,or makes a counterfeit representation of the impression of the genuine seal, or makes without lawful authority an impression of  a genuine seal ,with intent in either case that the thing so made  may in any way be used or acted upon as  genuine ,whether in the State or elsewhere ,to the prejudice of any person, or with intent that any person may, in the belief that it is genuine ,be induced  to do or refrain  from doing any act ,whether  in the State or elsewhere, is said to  forge the seal or mark.

The term “make a false document or writing “ includes altering a genuine document or writing  in any material part ,either by erasure, obliteration, removal, or otherwise; and making  any material addition  to the body of a genuine document or writing; and adding  to a genuine document or writing  any false date, attestation, seal or other material matter.

It is immaterial in what language a forged document or writing is expressed.

It is immaterial that the forger of anything forged may  not have intended that any particular person  should use or act upon it, or that any particular person should be prejudiced by it, or be induced  to do or refrain from doing any act.

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It is immaterial that the thing is incomplete or does not purport to be a document  ,writing, or seal, which would be binding in law for any particular purpose ,if it is so  made, and is of such a kind, as to indicate  that it was intended to be used or acted upon.

Section  467 provides the Punishment for forgery  in general thus “ Any person  who forges any document, writing, or seal, is guilty of an offence which, unless otherwise stated ,is a felony, and he is liable ,if no other punishment is provided, to imprisonment for three years.

Under the same Section 467, when the thing forged is a public seal, the offender is liable to imprisonment for life. (Section 467(1) (a) and (b).

If the thing forged includes securities, titles, register,etc. the   offender is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years. If the thing forged   are documents relating to revenue and acts of States, etc., the offender is liable to imprisonment for fourteen years.

If the thing forged includes Courts seals, records, process, evidence ,e.t.c  the offender is liable for imprisonment for seven years.

Thus, under the Criminal Code Act, the punishment for forgery could range between 3 years,14 years or life imprisonment depending on the thing forged.

At this juncture, it is important to also point out the critical provisions of Section 468 of the Criminal Code Act which deals criminalizes and punishes the uttering of false documents and counterfeit seals.

Section 468 provides thus:

“Any person who knowingly and fraudulently utters a false document  or writing, or a counterfeit seal, is guilty of an offence of the same kind and is liable  to the same punishment  as if he had forged the thing in question.

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It is immaterial whether the false document or writing, or counterfeit seal was made in Nigeria or elsewhere.

The term “fraudulently” means an intention that the thing in question shall be used or acted upon as genuine, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere, to the prejudice of some person, whether a particular person or not, or that some person whether a particular person, or not, shall, in the belief that the thing in question is genuine, be induced to do or refrain from doing some act, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere.

 The Case of Wagbatsoma   v F.R.N[2015] All FWLR(PART 812)1430,

In this case, the Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division conducted a judicial examination of the crimes of forgery and uttering.

In this case, Walter Wagbatsoma   was alleged to have been involved in obtaining subsidy funds paid by the Federal Government under false pretences and was therefore arraigned  in the High Court of Lagos State on offences relating to forgery, uttering, conspiracy and obtaining money by false pretences under the Criminal Code and the Advanced Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act,2006.

In achieving part success in the Court of Appeal, the court held that to prove   offences   of forgery and uttering, the prosecution must establish the following:

a. That the accused uttered or forged a document;

b. That he knew the document to be false;

c. That he presented the said document to the other party with the intention that it could be acted upon

d. That the document was acted upon by the other party to his detriment (the 4th ingredient is not always necessary to prove once the other three have been established).

The offence of possession of documents containing false pretences is a question of fact. In other words, once documents containing false pretences as defined above are found in the  possession of a person who may not necessarily be the author, the offence is complete. The offence of uttering is akin to the offence  of forgery.   

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Always Remember:

a. That as a  Nigerian citizen under Sections 25,26 or 27 of the 1999 Constitution, your fundamental rights are guaranteed under Sections 33 to 46 of the same Constitution.

b. That the Constitution guarantees you equal rights, obligations, opportunities   and easy accessibility to court under Section 17.

c. That InfoGuide works with a team of lawyers to inform you of your rights, obligations and opportunities under the law.

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Kenechukwu Obiezu

Kenechukwu Obiezu is a Legal Practitioner and a Content Developer at InfoGuideNIgeria.com. InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Ibanga. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Ibanga. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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