On the other hand where the literal interpretation of the provision of a Statute will result in some ambiguity or injustice, the Court may seek internal aid within the body of the statute itself or external aid from statutes which are in pari materia in order to resolve the ambiguity or to avoid doing injustice in the matter.

– Nwaoma Uwa, JCA. NOGA v. NICON (2007)

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It appears rather from the resolution, exhibit A, and the proceedings of the house, exhibit C, that the purposes is the decision of the house to show resentment for the respondent’s affront in daring to publish something about highly placed legislators rather than a plan for the investigation of the members for abuse. This should not be. The essence of section 82(2) of the Constitution is invalid (sic). No power exists under the section for general investigation nor for the aggrandizement of the house. So, the [respondents] were not entitled to have invited the [appellant] in the first instance.

– Oguntade, JCA. El-Rufai v. House of Representatives (2003)

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See SOLICITOR-GENERAL, WESTERN NIGERIA v. ADEBONOJO (1971) 1 All NLR 1978 – what happened in the case was that the 1st respondent was granted a scholarship by the Government of Western State of Nigeria. As a result he and his guarantors executed a bond in which he undertook that upon passing the relevant examinations he would serve the Government for a period of five years in any capacity considered appropriate by the Government. The respondent passed the relevant examination and returned to Nigeria but he was not given the necessary certificate because he had not spent the stipulated period on the course. The Government gave him an appointment which, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, was considered appropriate. He was not satisfied. He resigned the appointment before the expiration of five years. The Government consequently sued him and his guarantors for the refund of the amount spent on him pursuant to the grant of the scholarship.

The learned trial Judge found that the 1st respondent committed a breach of the bond by resigning his appointment before the expiration of the period stipulated in the agreement and entered judgment for the Government. On appeal to the then Western State Court of Appeal by the respondents, the court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the learned trial Judge. The Western State Court of Appeal held, inter alia, that to be appropriate, any capacity in which the 1st respondent was called upon to serve by virtue of the relevant clause of the agreement must be reasonable. Dissatisfied with the judgment, the Government appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court allowed the appeal, set aside the judgment of the Western State Court of Appeal, and restored the judgment of the learned trial Judge. In allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court stated, inter alia, as follows: “Now we have already set out the provisions of clause 4(a) of exhibit C and in the events which had happened it is easy to see why a consideration of that clause has become a matter of paramount relevance. To us, this clause clearly stipulates that after qualification the first defendant could be offered employment by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education, Western State in a capacity considered suitable by the regional government. In his consideration of that clause and his application of it to the facts of this case, Delumo, J. had held that according to the provision of the clause it is the regional government that would decide the capacity which is appropriate. On the other hand, the Western State Court of Appeal took the view that the word ”reasonable” and (the ”concept of reasonableness”) should be imported into the contracts of the parties for the purpose of construction. Neither of the parties to Exhibit C (and Exhibit H) contemplated that the word should be included in their agreement and throughout Exhibit C (and Exhibit H) that word was not even breathed. It is obvious from the confusion that arose in the Western State Court of Appeal itself that the court was in difficulty to ascertain the real position into which the word ‘reasonable’ could or should be fixed. It is the alphabet of his study to any lawyer that in the construction of documents the words must first be given their simple and ordinary meaning and that under no circumstances may new or additional words be imported into the text unless the documents would be by the absence of that which is imported impossible to understand.”

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I return to section 146(1) of the Electoral Act. The third word in the section is “shall”. It is an obligatory and mandatory word conveying a command and compulsion. It is peremptory in nature and content. It is a word of authority imposing a duty mostly on an unnamed person. Courts of law mostly interpret the word in the above context of authority and command; bereft of discretion. (See Achineku v Ishagba (1988) 4 NWLR (Part 89) 411; UNTHBM v Nnoli (1994) 8 NWLR (Part 363) 376; Lt.-Gen Bamaiyi (Rtd) v Attorney-General of the Federation (2001) 12 NWLR (Part 727) 468; Ogidi v The State (2005) 5 NWLR (Part 918) 286). Although the word could, at times, convey a permissive meaning, like “may” it is my view that it conveys its usual and ordinary meaning of obligation and command in section 146(1).

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

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It would be safer for the courts in this country to err on the side of liberalism whenever it comes to the interpretation of the fundamental provisions in the Constitution than to import some restrictive interpretation.

– Kayode Eso, JSC. Garba & Ors. v. The University Of Maiduguri (1986) 1 NWLR (Pt.18) 550

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I think it is trite that in construing a constitutional document there is the need to look at its provisions as a whole and where possible, give such provisions their ordinary and natural meaning. See BANK OF ENGLAND v. VAGLIANO BROS. (1891) AC. 107 at 144 where Lord Herschell put the position thus:- “I think the proper course is in the first instance to examine the language of the statute and to ask what is its natural meaning, uninfluenced by any considerations derived from the previous state of the law, and not to start with inquiring how the law previously stood, and then, assuming that it was probably intended to leave it unaltered, to see if the words of the enactment will bear an interpretation in conformity with this view.”

– A.G. Irikefe JSC. AG Kaduna State v. Hassan (1985) – SC.149/1984

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It is settled that the person or officer who interpreted a statement must tender it in Court so that if necessary, the interpreter can be cross examined on whether the interpreted statement is the correct interpretation of the original words as spoken by the Defendant.

– H.M. Ogunwumiju, JSC. State v. Ibrahim (2021) – SC.200/2016

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