Judiciary-Poetry-Logo
JPoetry

CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF INTERPRETATION: ORDINARY MEANING

Dictum

It is a fundamental and cardinal principle of interpretation of statutes that where in its ordinary meaning a provision is clear and unambiguous, effect should be given to it without resorting to external aid. See A.-G., Federation v. A.-G., Abia State & Ors. (No.2) (2002) 6 NWLR (Pt. 764) 542 at 794 paras. B – C per Uwais CJN; A-G., Bendel State v. A.-G., Federation (1983) 1 SCNLR 239.

— M. Peter-Odili, JCA. CAC v. Ayedun (2005) – CA/A/152/2004

Was this dictum helpful?

SHARE ON

PRINCIPLES GUIDING THE INTERPRETATION OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION

In FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA v MUHAMMADU MAIGARI DINGYADI (2018) LPELR-4606 (CA), in the following way at page 33: “One main guiding post is that the principles upon which the Constitution was established rather than the direct operation or literal meaning of the words used measure the purpose and scope of its provisions: See Global Excellence Communications Ltd v. Donald Duke (2007) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1059) 22 @ 41-41 (SC); Attorney General of Bendel State v. Attorney General of the Federation (1982) 3 NCLR 1; Saraki v. F.R.N. (2016) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1500) 531; Skye Bank Plc v. Iwu (2017) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1590) 124. There is always a need for the fulfilment of the object and true intent of the Constitution. Therefore, the Constitution must always be construed in such a way that it protects what it sets out to protect and guide what it is meant to guide Adeleke v. Oyo State House of Assembly (2006) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1006) 608. In interpreting the Constitution of a nation, it is the duty of the Court to ensure the words of the Constitution preserve the intendment of the Constitution Okogie v. A.G. Lagos State (1989) 2 NCLR 337, Abaribe v. Speaker, Abia State House of Assembly (2002) 14 NWLR (Pt. 788) 466, Marwa v. Nyako (2012) LPELR-7837 (SC). Every Constitution has a life and moving spirit within it and it is this spirit that forms the raison de’ entre of the Constitution without which the Constitution will be a dead piece of document. The life and moving spirit of the Constitution of this country is captured in the Preamble. It has been held that when a Constitutional provision is interpreted, the cardinal rule is to look to the Preamble to the Constitution as guiding star, and the directive principles of State Policy as the book of interpretation’, and that while the Preamble embodies the hopes and aspirations of the people, the Directive Principles set out the proximate grounds in the governance of the country Thakur v. Union of India (2008) 6 SCC 1. In other words, in interpreting the wordings of section 212(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Court should be guided by principles upon which the Constitution was established rather than by the direct operation or literal meaning of the words used in the provision, and where the literal meaning of the words used are not in consonance with the guiding principles, literal interpretation must be jettisoned for another approach that accords with the guiding principles of the Constitution Abaribe v. Speaker, Abia State House of Assembly (supra) (2002) 14 NWLR (Pt. 788) 466; Global Excellence Communications Ltd v. Donald Duke (2007) 6 NWLR (Pt. 1059) 22. The interpretation that would serve the interest of the Constitution and best carries out its objects and purpose must always be preferred – Kalu v. State (1988) 13 NWLR 531.”

Was this dictum helpful?

INTERPRETATION: SPECIFIC THINGS MENTIONED

It is note worthy that where a Statute mentions specific things, those things not mentioned are not intended to be included. – Nwaoma Uwa, JCA. NOGA v. NICON (2007)

Was this dictum helpful?

GUIDING PRINCIPLES TO THE INTERPRETATION OF THE NIGERIAN CONSTITUTION

In FRN V NGANJIWA, which was cited by the Petitioners as SC/794/2019, but which is reported as FRN v NGANJIWA (2022) LPELR-58066(SC), the Supreme Court has succinctly reviewed decided cases on interpretation of the Constitution and outlined these guiding principles: (a) In interpreting the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, mere technical rules of interpretation of statutes should be avoided, so as not to defeat the principles of government enshrined therein. Hence a broader interpretation should be preferred, unless there is something in the text or in the rest of the Constitution to indicate that a narrower interpretation will best carry out the objects and purpose of the Constitution. (b) All Sections of the Constitution are to be construed together and not in isolation. (c) Where the words are clear and unambiguous, a literal interpretation will be applied, thus according the words their plain and grammatical meaning. (d) Where there is ambiguity in any Section, a holistic interpretation would be resorted to in order to arrive at the intention of its framers. (e) Since the draftsperson is not known to be extravagant with words or provisions, every section should be construed in such a manner as not to render other sections redundant or superfluous. (f) If the words are ambiguous, the law maker’s intention must be sought, first, in the Constitution itself, then in other legislation and contemporary circumstances and by resort to the mischief rule. ) The proper approach to the construction of the Constitution should be one of liberalism and it is improper to construe any of the provisions of the Constitution as to defeat the obvious ends which the Constitution was designed to achieve. See also on this: NAFIU RABIU v STATE (1980) 8 11 S.C. 130 at 148; A.G. BENDEL STATE v A.G. FEDERATION & ORS (1981) N.S.C.C. 314 at 372 – 373; BUHARI v OBASANJO (2005) 13 NWLR (Pt. 941) 1 at 281; SAVANNAH BANK LTD v AJILO (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 97) 305 at 326; and A.G., ABIA STATE v A.G. FEDERATION (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 275) 414 at 450, which were also referred to by the Apex.

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Peter Obi & Anor. v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/03/2023

Was this dictum helpful?

EXCEPT DECLARED, STATUTES DOES NOT MAKE ALTERATION IN THE COMMON LAW

Halsbury’s Laws of England, Volume 14 paragraphs 904 and 906, which read: “Except insofar as they are clearly and unambiguously intended to do so, statutes should not be construed so as to make any alteration in the common law or to change any established principle of law, or to alter completely the character of the principle of law contained in statutes which they merely amend. There is no presumption that by legislating Parliament intended to change the law. ” “Unless it is clearly and unambiguously intended to do so, a statute should not be construed so as to interfere with or prejudice established private rights under contracts or the title to property, or so as to deprive a man of his property without his having an opportunity of being heard.”

– Cited in Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

Was this dictum helpful?

EXCEPT STATED, STATUTE DOES NOT MAKE ANY ALTERATION IN THE LAW BEYOND

Crais on Statute Law 7th edition, the statement of the law reads at pages 121 to 122. “To alter any clearly established principle of law a distinct and positive legislative enactment is necessary. “Statutes” said the Court of Common Pleas in Arthur v. Bokenham are not presumed to make any alteration in the common law further or otherwise than the Act does expressly declare”.

– Cited in Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

Was this dictum helpful?

WHERE PROVISION OF STATUTE ARE CLEAR AND UNAMBIGUOUS, LITERAL RULE IS APPLIED

The primary function of the court is to search for the intention of the lawmaker in the interpretation of a statute. Where a statute is clear and unambiguous, as it is in this case, the court in the exercise of its interpretative jurisdiction, must stop where the statute stops. In other words, a court of law has no jurisdiction to rewrite a statute to suit the purpose of one of the parties or both parties. The moment a court of law intends to rewrite a statute or really rewrites a statute, the intention of the lawmaker is thrown overboard and the court changes place with the lawmaker. In view of the fact that that will be against the doctrine of separation of powers entrenched in the Constitution, a court of law will not embark on such an unconstitutional act. Courts of law follow the literal rule of interpretation where the provision of the statute is clear and no more. And that is the position in this appeal.

– Tobi JSC. Araka v. Egbue (2003) – SC.167/1999

Was this dictum helpful?

No more related dictum to show.