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PURPOSIVE INTERPRETATION WHEN LITERAL INTERPRETATION WILL LEAD TO ABSURDITY

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Office of Governor, Adamawa State PDP V. INEC (1999) 11 NWLR (Pt. 626) 200 SC, the natural words of the Constitution at the time only allowed for the assumption of office by a Deputy in the event of the Governor’s death and at page 249 in PDP V. INEC (supra), Wali, JSC, very aptly observed as follows: “Where literal interpretation of a word or words used in an enactment will result in an absurdity or injustice, it will be the duty of the Court to consider the enactment as a whole with a view to ascertain whether the language of the enactment is capable of any other fair interpretation, or whether it may not be desirable to put a secondary meaning on such language, or even to adopt a construction which is not quite strictly grammatical Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Bonnie Haruna were simultaneously elected as Governor and Deputy Governor of Adamawa State by the electorate of that State. Each must have his own supporters that had voted for him. Each has, therefore, acquired a right by being elected. If the narrow and literal interpretation applied to Section 37(1) of the Decree by the Court of Appeal is adopted, the end result will be that Mr. Bonnie Haruna, through no process of a successful election petition lodged against his election, is being deprived of the mandate given to him by the people of Adamawa State. It is manifest from the fact in this case that principles of justice require that where something is not expressly provided for in an enactment, the Court, in interpreting such enactment, will take into consideration the spirit and meaning of the enactment as a whole and construe it accordingly. To arrive at a just and fair decision, we must bear in mind the provision of Section 45(1) of the Decree, which though not in force at the time this action was instituted, but has adequately provided for a situation as the one at hand, such as resignation, permanent incapacity or removal for any other reason. The act of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar can be likened to permanent incapacity or even death in the given situation. The word “dies” in Section 37(1) of the Decree, in my view, expresses only a more permanent form of incapacity. If comparison of one clause with the rest of the enactment makes certain preposition clear and undoubted, it must be construed accordingly so as to make it a constant and harmonious whole. To adhere to the literal construction put on Section 37(1) of the Decree as done by the Court of Appeal, will lead to manifest injustice being visited on the 2nd Appellant. The word “dies” used in that Section, and having regard to Section 45(1) of the said Decree, needs to be modified to include and cover the situation created by the departure of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in order to avoid any inconvenience and manifest injustice to the 2nd Appellant. Courts may resort to purposive interpretation if they can find in the Statute read as a whole, or in material to which they are permitted by law to refer as aids to interpretation, an expression of legislature’s purpose and policy.”

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