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COURT SHOULD AVOID CONSTRUCTION THAT WILL CAUSE CHAOS

Dictum

In Okotie Eboh v. Manager (supra) Pats-Acholonu, JSC (of blessed memory) pronounced as follows: ‘An interpretation that seeks to emasculate should be avoided as it would do disservice to the citizenry and confine everyone into a legal container or labyrinth from which this court may not easily extricate itself ——– I believe that though justice is blind, it is nevertheless rooted in the nature of society and therefore the court should avoid constructions that could cause chaos and disenchantment. Justice must be applied in a way that it embraces and optimizes social engineering that is for the welfare of society. Enlightened society should expect a highly refined and civilized justice that reflects the tune of the time.’

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EXCEPT STATED, STATUTE DOES NOT MAKE ANY ALTERATION IN THE LAW BEYOND

Crais on Statute Law 7th edition, the statement of the law reads at pages 121 to 122. “To alter any clearly established principle of law a distinct and positive legislative enactment is necessary. “Statutes” said the Court of Common Pleas in Arthur v. Bokenham are not presumed to make any alteration in the common law further or otherwise than the Act does expressly declare”.

– Cited in Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES THAT GOVERN THE INTERPRETATION OF OUR CONSTITUTION

I think I ought to state at this stage that, generally, the fundamental principles that govern the interpretation of our Constitution are:

(i) That such interpretation as would serve the interest of the Constitution, best carry out its object and purpose and give effect to the intention of the framers thereof should be preferred;

(ii) In the above regard, all the relevant provisions of the Constitution must be read together and not disjointly. See Ojokolobo v. Alantu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377;

(iii) Where the words of any section are clear and unambiguous, they must be given their ordinary meaning unless this would lead to absurdity or be in conflict with some other provisions of the Constitution and effect must be given to those provisions without any recourse to any other consideration;

(iv) So, too, where the provisions of the Constitution are capable of two meanings, the court must choose the meaning that would give force and effect to the Constitution read together as a whole and promote its object and purpose. See Nafiu Rabiu v. The State (1981) 2 NCLR 293; (1980) 8 – l I S.C. 130; Attorney-General of Ogun State v. Attorney-General of the Federation (1982) 1-2 S.C. 13; Chief Dominic Ifezue v. Livinus Mbadugha and another (1984) 1 SCNLR 427; (1984) 5 S.C. 79 at 100-101; (v) Although our courts may in appropriate cases give due regard to international jurisprudence and seek guidance, as persuasive authorities only, from the decisions of the courts of other common law jurisdictions on the interpretation and construction of similar provisions of their Constitutions which are in pari materia with the relevant provisions of our Constitution, the court will nevertheless accord due weight to our peculiar circumstances, the generally held norms of society and our values, aspirations and local conditions. See too Nafiu Rabin v. The State (supra); Senator Adesanya v. President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1981) 5 S.C. 112; Attorney-General of Bendel State v. Attorney-General of the Federation (1981) 10 S.C. 1; Ade Ogugu and others v. The Stare (1994) 9 NWLR (Pt.366) 1 at 22 – 28 etc.

— Iguh JSC. Onuoha v State (1998) – SC. 24/1996

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“MAY” MEANS MANDATORY WHERE A DUTY IS IMPOSED

UDE V. NWARA & ANOR. (1993) JELR 43303 (SC): “I agree with Chief Umeadi that although section 28(1) of the Law states that the lessor “may enter a suit”, “may” should be construed as mandatory i.e. as meaning “shall” or “must”. I believe that it is now the invariable practice of the courts to interpret “may” as mandatory whenever it is used to impose a duty upon a public functionary the benefit of which enures to a private citizen.”

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STATUTES SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED TO TAKE AWAY RIGHTS PRIOR EXTANT

In Re Cuno (1889) 43 Ch D 12, 17, Bowen, LJ. said: “In the construction of statutes, you must not construe the words so as to take away rights which already existed before the statute was passed unless you have plain words which indicate that such was the intention of the legislature in order to take away away, it is not sufficient to show that the thing sanctioned
by the Act, if done, will of sheer physical necessity put an end to the right; it must also be shown that the legislature have authorized the thing to be done at all events, and irrespective of its possible interference with existing rights.”

– Cited in Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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READ A STATUTE AS A WHOLE

To ascertain the correct interpretation of the provision of section 34(2) vis that of section 22 of the Act, the Land Use Act is to be read as a whole. Every clause of a statute is to be construed with reference to the context of other clauses of the Act so as far as possible to make a consistent enactment of the whole statute.

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

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EXPRESSIO UNIUS EST EXCLUSION ALTERIUS

A-G. of Bendel State v. Aideyan (1989) 4 NWLR 646. This is that the express mention of one thing in a statutory provision automatically excludes any other which otherwise would have applied by implication, with regard to the same issue.

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