When Does a Spectator of a Conspiracy Become an Accomplice: Insights from Legal Precedent


In the complex realm of criminal law, the question of accomplice liability in conspiracy cases often raises intriguing debates. The case of Jimoh Ishola, famously known as Ejigbadero, v The State (1978), sheds light on the pivotal juncture where a mere spectator of a conspiracy might transition into an accomplice to the resultant offence.

Understanding the Issues around Conspiracy:

Central to this debate is the blurred line between mere knowledge or presence in a conspiracy and active participation. When does a person contribute to the commission of an offence? A spectator’s liability hinges on the threshold of involvement in the planning or execution of the unlawful act.

Rules of Law:

The ruling in Jimoh Ishola v. The State offers insights into the transition from a passive observer to an active participant. It underscores that knowledge of a conspiracy alone isn’t sufficient to establish culpability. The crucial element lies in whether the spectator willingly and knowingly participated in the conspiracy’s execution or provided substantial assistance that led to the offence.

A person is a criminal offender if they fall within the following category of offenders:

  1. Every person who actually does the act or makes the omission which constitutes the offence;
  2. Every person who does or omits to do any act to enable or aid another person to commit the offence;
  3. Every person who aids another person in committing the offence;
  4. Every person who counsels or procures any other person to commit the offence is guilty of the offence.

Everyone, therefore, who falls within any of the categories (a) – (d) is a participant in the actual offence, that is, an accomplice. The party who falls within (a) is the perpetrator of the offence; the one who falls within (b) prepares the way for, or facilitates the crime; the one who falls within (c) assists in the preparation of the crime and, the one who falls within (d) foments or incites its commission.

Potential Defenses to a Conspiracy charge:

Establishing innocence amidst allegations of conspiracy-turned-accomplice often rests on several key defenses:

  1. Lack of Intent: Demonstrating a lack of intent to participate actively in the conspiracy or the commission of the offence.
  2. Non-Contribution: Proving the absence of any active involvement, contribution, or encouragement towards the unlawful act resulting from the conspiracy.
  3. Withdrawal: Substantiating withdrawal from the conspiracy by actively disassociating oneself from the planning or execution before the offence occurred.


The case of Jimoh Ishola (Ejigbadero) v. The State serves as a cornerstone in understanding the transition from being a mere spectator of a conspiracy to become an accomplice in the resultant offense. It reinforces the necessity to establish active participation or contribution beyond mere awareness to attribute liability.

In the intricate web of criminal law, this precedent underscores the need for a nuanced evaluation of individual involvement in conspiracies. It prompts a careful consideration of intent, actions, and the threshold of participation required to deem a spectator an accomplice to the offence arising from a conspiracy.

Ultimately, this legal precedent highlights the importance of a comprehensive understanding of accomplice liability, emphasizing the critical distinction between passive awareness and active involvement in criminal conspiracies.