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GENERAL PROVISION VS SPECIFIC PROVISION: SPECIFIC TAKES PRECEDENCE

Dictum

There is also the related issue and it is that where a Court of law is exposed to two provisions; one general and the other specific, the Court will fall upon the specific provision, in the event of an apparent conflict.

– T.N. Orji-Abadua, JCA. Kabau v. Rilwanu (2013) – CA/K/179/2001

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WHEN INTERPRETING A CONTRACTUAL DOCUMENT THE WHOLE DOCUMENT SHOULD BE TAKEN CONSIDERATION OF

I am in full support of the submission of appellant’s counsel that it was a misdirection for the lower court in consideration of whether the land, the subject matter in controversy, was bare land or included the structures thereon to have relied on only clauses 3 and 6 in the entire lease agreement to arrive at its conclusion. The learned Justices of the lower court were clearly in error because it is a fundamental rule of construction of instruments that its several clauses, must be interpreted harmoniously so that the various parts of the instrument are not brought in conflict to their natural meaning. Emphasising the same point, the learned authors of Halsbury’s Laws of England. Vo1.12, (4th ed.) para. 1469) stated tersely but pointedly: “The best construction of deeds is to make one part of the deed expound the other, and so make all the parts agree. Effect must, so far as possible, be given to every word and every clause.” The same principle was approved by this Court in Lamikoro Ojokolobo & Ors. v. Lapade Alamu & Anor. (1987) 7 SCNJ 98, (1987) 3 NWLR (pt.61) 339. Surely, a fragmentary interpretation of the various clause of the lease agreement without recourse to the entire Lease Agreement would do violence to the content in which the controversial terms “premises” and “land” were employed and therefore the ascertainment of the parties’ intention in relation to these two terms was bound to be distorted and erroneous and consequently unacceptable.

— Achike, JSC. Unilife v. Adeshigbin (2001) 4 NWLR (Pt.704) 609

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PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH THE CONSTITUTION WAS MADE ARE TO GUIDE ITS INTERPRETATION

Thus, in the interpretation of the Constitution, 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 at 41 – 41 (SC); (2007) LPELR-1323 (SC) at pages 18 19; A.G. OF BENDEL STATE v A.G. FEDERATION (1982) 3 NCLR 1;SARAKI v FRN (2016) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1500) 531; SKYE BANK PLC v IWU (2017) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1590) 124; SHELIM v GOBANG (2009) All FWLR (Pt. 496) 1866 at 1878 (SC).

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

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COURT IS TO INTERPRETE STATUTE AS DICTATED BY THE STATUTE

The duty of the court is to interpret the words contained in the statute and not go outside the words in search of an interpretation which is convenient to the court or to the parties or one of the parties. Even where the provisions of a statute are hard in the sense that they will do some inconvenience to the parties, the court is bound to interpret the provisions once they are clear and unambiguous. It is not the duty of the court to remove the chaff from the grain in the process of interpretation of a statute to arrive at favourable terms for the parties outside the contemplation of the lawmaker. That will be tantamount to traveling outside the statute on a voyage of discovery. This court cannot embark upon such a journey. – Tobi JSC. Araka v. Egbue (2003) – SC.167/1999

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INTERPRETATION OF THE WORD “SHALL”

When the word “shall” is used in a statute it connotes the intendment of the legislator that what is contained therein must be done or complied with. It does not give room for manoeuvre of some sort, or evasiveness. Whatever the provision requires to be done must be done, and it is not at all negotiable. In interpreting the word ‘shall’ as used in enactments, Uwais, CJN in the case of Captain E.C.C. Amadi v Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (2000) 10 NWLR (Part 674) 76 reiterated the interpretation in earlier authorities thus:– “It is settled that the word ‘shall’ when used in an enactment is capable of bearing many meanings. It may be implying a mandate or direction or giving permission. (See Ifezue v Mbadugha (1984) 1 SCNLR 427 at 456–7). In this present case we are concerned with whether it has been used in a mandatory sense or directory sense. If used in a mandatory sense then the action to be taken must obey or fulfill the mandate exactly; but if used in a directory sense then the action to be taken is to obey or fulfill the directive substantially. See Woodward v Sersons (1875) L.R. 10 CP 733 at page 746; Pope v Clarke (1953), Julius v Lord Bishop of Oxford (1880) 5 A.C. (H.L.) 215 at page 222 and 235 and State v Ilori (1983) 1 SCNL 94 at 110 …”

— Mukhtar, JSC. Buhari v. INEC (2008) – SC 51/2008

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FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES THAT GOVERN THE INTERPRETATION OF OUR CONSTITUTION

I think I ought to state at this stage that, generally, the fundamental principles that govern the interpretation of our Constitution are:

(i) That such interpretation as would serve the interest of the Constitution, best carry out its object and purpose and give effect to the intention of the framers thereof should be preferred;

(ii) In the above regard, all the relevant provisions of the Constitution must be read together and not disjointly. See Ojokolobo v. Alantu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377;

(iii) Where the words of any section are clear and unambiguous, they must be given their ordinary meaning unless this would lead to absurdity or be in conflict with some other provisions of the Constitution and effect must be given to those provisions without any recourse to any other consideration;

(iv) So, too, where the provisions of the Constitution are capable of two meanings, the court must choose the meaning that would give force and effect to the Constitution read together as a whole and promote its object and purpose. See Nafiu Rabiu v. The State (1981) 2 NCLR 293; (1980) 8 – l I S.C. 130; Attorney-General of Ogun State v. Attorney-General of the Federation (1982) 1-2 S.C. 13; Chief Dominic Ifezue v. Livinus Mbadugha and another (1984) 1 SCNLR 427; (1984) 5 S.C. 79 at 100-101; (v) Although our courts may in appropriate cases give due regard to international jurisprudence and seek guidance, as persuasive authorities only, from the decisions of the courts of other common law jurisdictions on the interpretation and construction of similar provisions of their Constitutions which are in pari materia with the relevant provisions of our Constitution, the court will nevertheless accord due weight to our peculiar circumstances, the generally held norms of society and our values, aspirations and local conditions. See too Nafiu Rabin v. The State (supra); Senator Adesanya v. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981) 5 S.C. 112; Attorney-General of Bendel State v. Attorney-General of the Federation (1981) 10 S.C. 1; Ade Ogugu and others v. The Stare (1994) 9 NWLR (Pt.366) 1 at 22 – 28 etc.

— Iguh JSC. Onuoha v State (1998) – SC. 24/1996

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