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COURT WILL GIVE PLAIN MEANING TO STATUTORY PROVISION

Dictum

It is a Statutory provision which is clear and unambiguous. In such a situation, the duty of the court, is to give effect to the ordinary plain meaning of the words without resorting to any external aid. See the case of Chief Joseph A. Okotie-Eboh v. Chief James Ehiowo Manager & ors. (2004) 12 SCNJ 139. So, the question of Common Law, or Evidence Act, with respect, is therefore, of no moment.

— Ogbuagu, JSC. Grosvenor v Halaloui (2009) – SC.373/2002

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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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MARGINAL NOTE IS HELPFUL IN CONSTRUCTION OF A SECTION

Although the marginal note in a section is not part of the section, it is helpful even if occasionally misleading to construction, as a sign post to what the section sets out to provide.

– Karibi-whyte JSC. Idehen v. Idehen (1991) – SC. 271/1989

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COURT IS TO INTERPRETE STATUTE AS DICTATED BY THE STATUTE

The duty of the court is to interpret the words contained in the statute and not go outside the words in search of an interpretation which is convenient to the court or to the parties or one of the parties. Even where the provisions of a statute are hard in the sense that they will do some inconvenience to the parties, the court is bound to interpret the provisions once they are clear and unambiguous. It is not the duty of the court to remove the chaff from the grain in the process of interpretation of a statute to arrive at favourable terms for the parties outside the contemplation of the lawmaker. That will be tantamount to traveling outside the statute on a voyage of discovery. This court cannot embark upon such a journey. – Tobi JSC. Araka v. Egbue (2003) – SC.167/1999

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INTERPRETATION OF SECTION 82 CFRN 1999

It appears rather from the resolution, exhibit A, and the proceedings of the house, exhibit C, that the purposes is the decision of the house to show resentment for the respondent’s affront in daring to publish something about highly placed legislators rather than a plan for the investigation of the members for abuse. This should not be. The essence of section 82(2) of the Constitution is invalid (sic). No power exists under the section for general investigation nor for the aggrandizement of the house. So, the [respondents] were not entitled to have invited the [appellant] in the first instance.

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

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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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DEFINITION OF “JUDICIAL” AND “JUDICIOUS”

The terms “Judicial” and “Judicious” were defined by the Supreme Court in the case of ERONINI v IHEUKO (1989) 2 NWLR (101) 46 at 60 and 61as follows: “Acting judicially imports the consideration of the interest of both sides weighing them in order to arrive at a just or fair decision. Judicious means:(a) proceeding from or showing sound judgment; (b) having or exercising sound judgment; (c) marked by discretion, wisdom and good sense.”

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