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

Dictum

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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DOCUMENTS SHOULD BE GIVEN THEIR ORDINARY MEANING

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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IT IS BETTER TO ERR IN THE SIDE OF LIBERALISM WHEN INTERPRETING CONSTITUTION

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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DUTY OF JUDGE TO INTERPRETE THE LAW

I agree that a judge should be firm and pungent in the interpretation of the law but such should be short of a judge being a legislator. This is because it is the duty of the legislature to make the law and it is the assigned duty of the judge to interpret the law as it is; not as it ought to be. That will be flouting the rule of division of labour as set out by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The provisions of sections 2(1) and 24 of the Act as reproduced above remain the law and shall continue to be so until when same is repealed or amended. For now, I see nothing amiss about the law.

— J.A. Fabiyi, JSC. FBN v. Maiwada (2012) – SC.269/2005

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CONSTRUCTION OF STATUTE SHOULD NOT DEFEAT ITS’ INTENT

Generally, where the words of a statute are plain, clear and unambiguous, the Court should give them their literal meaning. So the golden or literal rule of interpretation of statutes or even a Constitution, is to give the words used therein, their ordinary and plain meaning without importation. The Court should construe the words of a statute, to save it and so avoid making a mockery of the statute, to defeat its manifest intent.

– Yahaya, JCA. Petroleum Resources v. SPDC (2021)

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INTERPRETATION: WHERE AMBIGUITY EXIST

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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ENTIRE PROVISIONS OF THE STATUTE MUST BE READ TOGETHER TO DETERMINE INTENTION OF THE LEGISLATURE

The law is settled that in order to discover the real intention of the legislature, the entire provisions of statute must be read together as a whole. No section of a statute should be read and construed in isolation. If the entire provisions of the FIA are read together, it becomes clear that before a request for access to information relating to personal information of an individual in the custody of a public official or public institution can be granted, the applicant must show to the institution or the Court where an applicant approaches the Court for a review of decision of a public institution to deny access to personal information in its custody, the existence of any of the conditions or situations stated under Section 14(2) and (3) of the Act.

— M.O. Bolaji-Yusuff, JCA. CCB v Nwankwo (2018) – CA/E/141/2017

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