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COURT CANNOT READ INTO THE CONSTITUTION WHAT IS NOT THERE

Dictum

Courts of law, in interpreting the Constitution or a statute have no jurisdiction to read into the Constitution or statute what the legislators did not provide for, and a fortiori read out of the Constitution or statute what is provided for by the legislators. In either way, the courts are abandoning their constitutional functions and straying into those of the Legislature by interfering or interloping with them. As that will make nonsense of the separation of powers provided for in sections 4 and 6 of the Constitution, courts of law will not do such a thing, whatever is the pressure by Counsel.

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

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INTERPRETATION OF CONSTITUTION IS DIFFERENT FROM INTERPRETATION OF STATUTES

It is pertinent to state that unlike interpretation of statutes, the interpretation of Constitution has its own guiding principles. In FRN V NGANJIWA, which was cited by the Petitioners as SC/794/2019, but which is reported as FRN v NGANJIWA (2022) LPELR-58066(SC), the Supreme Court has succinctly reviewed decided cases on interpretation of the Constitution and outlined these guiding principles: ) In interpreting the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, mere technical rules of interpretation of statutes should be avoided, so as not to defeat the principles of government enshrined therein. Hence a broader interpretation should be preferred, unless there is something in the text or in the rest of the Constitution to indicate that a narrower interpretation will best carry out the objects and purpose of the Constitution. (b) All Sections of the Constitution are to be construed together and not in isolation. (c) Where the words are clear and unambiguous, a literal interpretation will be applied, thus according the words their plain and grammatical meaning. (d) Where there is ambiguity in any Section, a holistic interpretation would be resorted to in order to arrive at the intention of its framers. (e) Since the draftsperson is not known to be extravagant with words or provisions, every section should be construed in such a manner as not to render other sections redundant or superfluous. (f) If the words are ambiguous, the law maker’s intention must be sought, first, in the Constitution itself, then in other legislation and contemporary circumstances and by resort to the mischief rule. (g) The proper approach to the construction of the Constitution should be one of liberalism and it is improper to construe any of the provisions of the Constitution as to defeat the obvious ends which the Constitution was designed to achieve. See also on this: NAFIU RABIU V STATE (1980) 8-11 S.C. 130 at 148; A.G. BENDEL STATE V A.G. FEDERATION & ORS (1981) N.S.C.C. 314 at 372 – 373; BUHARI v OBASANJO (2005) 13 NWLR (Pt. 941) 1 at 281; SAVANNAH BANK LTD v AJILO (1989) 1 NWLR (Pt. 97) 305 at 326; and A.G., ABIA STATE V A.G. FEDERATION (2005) All FWLR (Pt. 275) 414 at 450, which were also referred to by the Apex Court.

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Atiku v PDP (CA/PEPC/05/2023, 6th of September, 2023)

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INTERPRETATION OF SECTION 82 CFRN 1999

In my view their power under the section is further circumscribed and limited by sub-section (2) of section 82. They can only invite members of the public when they want to gather facts for the purpose of enabling them make law or amend existing laws in respect of any matter within their legislative competence or as witnesses in a properly constituted inquiry under section 82(1)(b). Their power to expose corruption, inefficiency, or waste is also limited to government departments, authorities, and functionaries.

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

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CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF INTERPRETATION: ORDINARY MEANING

It is a fundamental and cardinal principle of interpretation of statutes that where in its ordinary meaning a provision is clear and unambiguous, effect should be given to it without resorting to external aid. See A.-G., Federation v. A.-G., Abia State & Ors. (No.2) (2002) 6 NWLR (Pt. 764) 542 at 794 paras. B – C per Uwais CJN; A-G., Bendel State v. A.-G., Federation (1983) 1 SCNLR 239.

— M. Peter-Odili, JCA. CAC v. Ayedun (2005) – CA/A/152/2004

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WHERE INTERPRETATION IS NEEDED ORIGINATING SUMMONS IS APPROPRIATE

KEYAMO VS. HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY, LAGOS STATE (2000) 11 W.R.N. 29 at 40, (2000) 12 NWLR (Pt. 680) 796 at 213 stated as follows: “I must state that the correct position of the law is that originating summons is used to commence an action where the issue involved is one of the construction of a written law or of any instrument made under a written law, or of any deed, contract or other document or some other question of law or where there is unlikely to be any substantial dispute of fact. This is the provision of Order 3 Rule 2 (2) of the Lagos State Civil Procedure (supra)”

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WORDS AND PHRASES ARE TO BE GIVEN THEIR ORDINARY MEANING

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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A RETROSPECTIVE OPERATION IS NOT TO BE GIVEN TO A STATUTE UNLESS EXPRESSLY INTENDED

✓ In Re Athlumney (1898) 2 Q.B. 547, Wright J opined thus:-“Perhaps no rule of construction is more firmly established than this, that a retrospective operation is not to be given to a statute so as to impair an existing right or obligation, otherwise than as regards a matter of procedure, unless that effect cannot be avoided without doing violence to the language of the enactment; If the enactment is expressed in a language that is fairly capable of either interpretation, it ought to be construed as prospective only.”

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