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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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 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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