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WORDS AND PHRASES ARE TO BE GIVEN THEIR ORDINARY MEANING

Dictum

Under the literal rule of interpretation of statute, words and phrases in enactments are to be given their ordinary, original or grammatical meanings even if it will create hardship, inconvenience or injustice to the parties in so far as it will not result to absurdity. See, B.A.J (NIG) LTD. v. OGUNSEYE (2010) 4 NWLR (1184) 343, AMAECHI v. INEC (2007) 9 NWLR (PT. 1080) 504, UWAGBA v. FRN (2009) 15 NWLR (P. 1163) 91, OWENA BANK v. STOCK EXCHANGE (1997) 7 SCNJ 160.

— A.O. Obaseki-Adejumo, JCA. FRSC v Ehikaam (2023) – CA/AS/276/2019

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“MAY” MEAN “SHALL” WHERE THERE IS AN OBLIGATION IMPOSED

OMOMZUAWO & ANOR v. UGBODAGA & ORS (2021) JELR 107021 (CA): “it is now trite in law that where the word ‘may’ is used but a right or obligation is thereby conferred, then the word ‘may’ is to be interpreted as ‘shall’ and is taken as mandatory. In the instant appeal looking holistically at the provisions of Section 19 of the said law conferring an obligation or duty as well as rights on the Appellants, I hold that the use of ‘may’ in that sub – Section (2) of Section 19 of the said law amounts to ‘shall’ and is therefore, mandatory.”

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STATUTE SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED TO TAKE AWAY PROPERTY RIGHT WITHOUT COMPENSATION

Therefore, the cardinal rule of construction and interpretation of statutes is that unless there is express provision in clear and unambiguous words within a statute expropriating the property of a person, the statute should be construed in favour of the person in whom the property has been vested and it should not be construed so as to deprive the person of his property without compensation. This rule of interpretation is in accord with the provisions of
Sections 31 and 40 of our 1963 and 1979 Constitutions respectively which enjoined compulsory acquisition of property without compensation.

– M. Bello, CJN. Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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PREAMBLE MUST BE HAD IN MIND WHILE APPLYING SECTIONS OF THE LAND USE ACT

The preambles to the Land Use Act, If looked at carefully and relating it to the case at hand, would reveal that the provision for consent of the Governor must not be applied to transfer of title or alienation of rights between private individuals where there is no overriding public interest or conflict between the parties. The application of the various Sections and provisions of the Land Use Act must be done with a view to the intendment of the drafters of the law, which is expressed often in the preamble.

— C.B. Ogunbiyi, JSC. Ibrahim v. Obaje (2017) – SC.60/2006

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SECTIONS OF STATUTE BE READ TOGETHER

One of the important principles in the interpretation of statutes is that the clauses or sections of the Act or statute should be construed together.

– Nnamani, JSC. Savannah v. Ajilo (1989)

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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.”

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DATE OF COMMENCEMENT: IF STATUTE IS TO HAVE AN EARLIER APPLICATION, IT IS TO BE STATED EXPLICITLY

The date of commencement of the Decree, as stated in the marginal note in it, was 20th June, 1991. The date of commencement of a statute is the date that it comes into operation. In the circumstance, the date on which the Decree itself, which included section 11 thereof, came into operation was the 20th June, 1991. There was nothing in the Decree to the effect that the Decree or any part or section thereof shall be deemed to have come into operation on a date earlier than the date of commencement stated in the Decree. Also, there was no provision in the Decree that actions or proceedings on matters to which the provision of section 11 of the Decree applied, which were pending in courts on the date of commencement of the decree, should abate or be discontinued. If it is intended by the lawmaker that any part or section of a statute should come into operation on a date earlier than the date of commencement of the statute itself provision to that effect will be made in clear term.

— Y.O. Adio. Kotoye v. Saraki (1994) – S.C. 147/1993

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