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INTERPRETATION OF THE WORD “MAY”

Dictum

In ADESOLA V. ABIDOYE (1999) 14 NWLR (Pt. 637) 28 @ p. 56, where the Supreme Court per Karibi-Whyte J.S.C., “The construction of the word “may” in provisions of statutes has always raised difficulties. This is not because of the impression of the word … because the word “may” assumes a technical meaning depending upon the intendment of the statutory provision in which it is used. Although the etymological meaning of “may” is permissive and facultative and seldom can mean “must” and imperative it assumes this last-mentioned character; when there is anything in the provision that makes it the duty on the person on whom the power is conferred to exercise that power. When the exercise of the power is coupled with a duty on the person to whom it is given to exercise it, then it is imperative. In the instant case, there is a duty on the aggrieved who desires to set aside the decision of the prescribed authority to make his representation to the Commissioner for Chieftaincy Affairs within twenty-one days of the decision. The use of the expression ‘may’ in this situation is not merely facultative, but mandatory. There is no alternative.The aggrieved has no choice of action in the remedy provided for him….Accordingly, the word ‘may’ in Section 22(5) of the Chiefs Law of Oyo State, 1978 should be construed as imperative; the exercise of the right not being optional.”

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DEFINITION OF “SECONDMENT”

The term secondment is mostly used in the public service which is not the case in the instant suit. That notwithstanding, the Black’s Law Dictionary at page 1555 defines ‘secondment’ as “a period of time that a worker spends away from his or her usual job”. The court in the case of ALHAJI HAMZA DALHATU v. ATTORNEY GENERAL, KATSINA STATE & ORS (2007) LPELR-8460(CA) also reckoned the meaning of secondment as used in the Public service rules when it stated that: “SECTION 6 – TRANSFERS AND SECONDMENT 02601 – TRANSFER is the permanent release of an officer from one service to another or from one class to another within the same service. SECONDEMENT means the temporary release of an officer to the service of another Government or Body for a specified period.” Per ARIWOOLA, J.C.A. (P.34, paras. A-B).

— Z.M. Bashir, J. Gbaraka v Zenith Securities & Anor. (2020) – NICN/PHC/45/2018

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THREE RULES OF STATUTORY INTERPRETATION

Specifically, there are three main rules of statutory interpretation: (a) the Literal Rule: where the words are plain and unambiguous, they must be given their natural and ordinary meaning, unless to do so would lead to absurdity. The plain words used by the legislature provide the best guide to their intention. See:Adewumi & Anor. Vs A.G. Ekiti State (2002) 2 NWLR (Pt.751) 474; A.G. Lagos State Vs Eko Hotels & Anor. (2006) 18 NWLR (Pt.1011) 378; Ojokolobo Vs Alamu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.61) 377; Sani Vs The President FRN & Anor (2020) LPELR – 50990 (SC) @ 22 – 23 D -A. (b) The Golden Rule: Where the use of the Literal Rule would lead to absurdity, repugnance or inconsistency with the rest of the statute, the ordinary sense of the words may be modified so as to avoid the absurdity or inconsistency, but no further. See: General Cotton Mill Ltd. Vs Travellers Palace Hotel (supra); Grey Vs Pearson (1857) 6 HLC 61 @ 106; PDP & Anor Vs INEC (1999) 7 SC (Pt. II) 30; Saraki Vs FRN (2016) 1 – 2 SC (Pt. V) 59. (c) The Mischief Rule: Formulated and laid down in Heydon’s Case 3 Co. Rep. 7a @ 7b as follows: (i) “What was the common law before the making of the Act? (ji) What was the mischief and defect for which the common law did not provide? (iii) What remedy the Parliament hath resolved and appointed to cure the disease of the commonwealth? and (iv) The true reason of the remedy; and then the office of all the judges is always to make such construction as shall suppress the mischief and advance the remedy …”

— K.M.O. Kekere-Ekun JSC. Umeano v. Anaekwe (SC.323/2008, Friday January 28 2022)

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MARGINAL NOTES IN STATUTES

Marginal notes, otherwise known as side notes or section heads are short notations appearing above or beside each section of a statute or regulation. While marginal notes are not part of a statute, they provide an interpretative aid to Courts and are useful in considering the purpose of a section and the mischief at which it is aimed. See per Eso, JSC in OLOYO V. ALEGBE (1983) 2 S.C.N.L.R. 35 AT 57; Per Idigbe, JSC in UWAIFO V. AG BENDEL STATE (1982) 7 SC 124 AT 187 188, OSIEC & ANOR V. AC & ORS (2010) LPELR-2818 (SC), INAKOJU & ORS V. ADELEKE & ORS (2007) LPELR 1510 (SC), YABUGBE V. C.O.P (1992) LPELR 3505 (SC).

— A. JAURO, JSC. UBA v Triedent Consulting Ltd. (SC.CV/405/2013, July 07, 2023)

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INTERPRETATION: SPECIFIC THINGS MENTIONED

It is note worthy that where a Statute mentions specific things, those things not mentioned are not intended to be included. – Nwaoma Uwa, JCA. NOGA v. NICON (2007)

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PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH THE CONSTITUTION WAS MADE ARE TO GUIDE ITS INTERPRETATION

Thus, in the interpretation of the Constitution, 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 at 41 – 41 (SC); (2007) LPELR-1323 (SC) at pages 18 19; A.G. OF BENDEL STATE v A.G. FEDERATION (1982) 3 NCLR 1;SARAKI v FRN (2016) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1500) 531; SKYE BANK PLC v IWU (2017) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1590) 124; SHELIM v GOBANG (2009) All FWLR (Pt. 496) 1866 at 1878 (SC).

— H.S. Tsammani, JCA. Peter Obi & Anor. v INEC & Ors. (2023) – CA/PEPC/03/2023

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LEAN TO BROADER INTERPRETATION IN STATUTES; INTERPRETATION SHOULD NOT DEFEAT PURPOSE OF STATUTE

In Rabiu v. State (1980) 8-11 SC. 130 at 148-149; Udoma JSC opined: In my view, this Court should whenever possible, and in response to the demands of justice, lean to the broader interpretation; unless there is something in the text or in the rest of the Constitution to indicate that the narrower interpretation will best carry out the objects and purposes of the Constitution…I do not conceive it to be the duty of this Court to construe any of the provisions of the Constitution as to defeat the obvious ends the Constitution was designed to serve where another construction equally in accord and consistent with the words and sense of such provisions will serve to enforce and protect such ends.”

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