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LITERAL RULE OF CONSTRUCTION

Dictum

Generally, where the words of a statute are clear and unambiguous, the court should give same its ordinary literal interpretation. This is often referred to as the literal rule. It is the most elementary rule of construction. Literal construction has been defined as the interpretation of a document or statute according to the words alone. A literal construction adheres closely to the words employed without making differences for extrinsic circumstances. See: Blacks Law Dictionary sixth Edition, Page 993.

— J.A. Fabiyi, JSC. FBN v. Maiwada (2012) – SC.269/2005

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STATUTE SHOULD BE READ AS A WHOLE

It is important in the construction of a provision to read the statute as a whole. Such a method of construction enables an interpretation which brings into focus related sections which are complementary.

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

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INTERPRETATION OF SECTION 137(1)(D) OF THE 1999 CONSTITUTION

The Petitioners have centered their contention on the provisions of Section 137(1)(d) of the 1999 Constitution which reads as follows: “137(1) A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if – (d) he is under a sentence of death imposed by any competent court of law or tribunal in Nigeria of a sentence of imprisonment or fine for any offence involving dishonesty or fraud by whatever name called or for any other offence imposed on him by any court tribunal or substituted by a competent authority for any other sentence imposed on him by such a court or tribunal.” A careful examination of the above provision shows that the operative words of that paragraph of the Section are “sentence”, “imprisonment or fine” and “for any offence.” … It is discernible from the above that the “fine” referred to in paragraph (d) of Section 137(1) quoted above is one which emanates from a sentence for a criminal offence involving dishonesty or fraud. The words “for imprisonment or fine” also pre-supposes that the “fine” envisaged under the section is one which is imposed as an alternative to imprisonment. In other words, the provision of Section 137(1)(d) relates to sentence of death, or sentence of imprisonment or fine imposed as a result of a criminal trial and conviction.

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

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GIVE ORDINARY MEANING WHERE STATUTORY PROVISIONS ARE CLEAR

The above constitutional provisions are clear, plain and unambiguous and should be accorded their literal interpretation by attaching the ordinary grammatical meaning to the words used therein. It is trite law that the elementary rule of construction is that words used in a statute should be given their ordinary grammatical meaning. Where the statutory provisions are plain and unambiguous, the Court should not go beyond their clear import. See Nabhan v. Nabhan (1967) 1 All NLR 47; Adejumo v. Gov; Lagos State (1972) 2 SC 45; Ogbuanyinya v. Okudo (1979) 6-9 SC 32; Ogbonna v. A-G; Imo State (1992) 1 NWLR (Pt. 200) 647 and Skye Bank PLC v. Victor Anaemem Iwu (2017) 16 NWLR (Pt. 1590) 24 at 87, per Nweze, JSC.

— M.A.A. Adumein JCA. Anibor V. EFCC (CA/B/305/2012, 11 DEC 2017)

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WHEN INTERPRETING A CONTRACTUAL DOCUMENT THE WHOLE DOCUMENT SHOULD BE TAKEN CONSIDERATION OF

I am in full support of the submission of appellant’s counsel that it was a misdirection for the lower court in consideration of whether the land, the subject matter in controversy, was bare land or included the structures thereon to have relied on only clauses 3 and 6 in the entire lease agreement to arrive at its conclusion. The learned Justices of the lower court were clearly in error because it is a fundamental rule of construction of instruments that its several clauses, must be interpreted harmoniously so that the various parts of the instrument are not brought in conflict to their natural meaning. Emphasising the same point, the learned authors of Halsbury’s Laws of England. Vo1.12, (4th ed.) para. 1469) stated tersely but pointedly: “The best construction of deeds is to make one part of the deed expound the other, and so make all the parts agree. Effect must, so far as possible, be given to every word and every clause.” The same principle was approved by this Court in Lamikoro Ojokolobo & Ors. v. Lapade Alamu & Anor. (1987) 7 SCNJ 98, (1987) 3 NWLR (pt.61) 339. Surely, a fragmentary interpretation of the various clause of the lease agreement without recourse to the entire Lease Agreement would do violence to the content in which the controversial terms “premises” and “land” were employed and therefore the ascertainment of the parties’ intention in relation to these two terms was bound to be distorted and erroneous and consequently unacceptable.

— Achike, JSC. Unilife v. Adeshigbin (2001) 4 NWLR (Pt.704) 609

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STATUTE TO BE INTERPRETED IN ORDINARY AND LITERAL MEANING

In any case, the provisions of section 232 of the 1999 Constitution are quite clear. It is now well settled that the duty of this Court and indeed any other court, is to interpret the words contained in the Constitution, and any statute in their ordinary and literal meaning. Certainly, it is not the duty of the court to go outside words used in a statute and import an interpretation which may be or is convenient to it or to the parties or to one of the parties.

— Mohammed JSC. AG Kano State v AG Federation (2007) – SC 26/2006

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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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