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PREAMBLE MUST BE HAD IN MIND WHILE APPLYING SECTIONS OF THE LAND USE ACT

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The preambles to the Land Use Act, If looked at carefully and relating it to the case at hand, would reveal that the provision for consent of the Governor must not be applied to transfer of title or alienation of rights between private individuals where there is no overriding public interest or conflict between the parties. The application of the various Sections and provisions of the Land Use Act must be done with a view to the intendment of the drafters of the law, which is expressed often in the preamble.

— C.B. Ogunbiyi, JSC. Ibrahim v. Obaje (2017) – SC.60/2006

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INTERPRETATION SHOULD NOT DEFEAT THE ULTIMATE DESIGN OF THE STATUTE

It is now trite law that in the quest to interpret or construe the provisions of a statute or the Constitution, the Court or Tribunal must construe or interpret the statute or the Constitution in order to bring out plainly the real intention of the Lawmaker or the framers of the Constitution and thus enhance its purpose. The Court or Tribunal has a bounden duty to consider as a whole the entire provisions of the law or the Constitution involved. The Statute or the Constitution in question must not be construed in a manner that will do violence to the provisions being interpreted and must not be interpreted to defeat the ultimate design or purpose of the Constitution or statute that calls for interpretation.

– OLABISI IGE, JCA. Petroleum Resources v. SPDC (2021)

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GENERAL PROVISION MUST GIVE WAY FOR SPECIFIC PROVISION

The law is trite that where there is a specific legislation on a matter, the general principle of law must give way and cannot override the specific provisions of law on the subject. See Orubu v. INEC (1988) 12 SCN) 256 at 349, Unity Bank Plc. v. Kay Plastic Nig. Limited & anor (2011) LPELR 8839 (CA).

– T. Akomolafe-Wilson, JCA. Onnoghen v. FRN (2019) – CA/A/44C/2019

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IF A STATUTE IS PLAIN, THE DUTY OF INTERPRETATION DOES NOT ARISE

In CAMINETTI V. UNITED STATES, 242 U.S. 470 (1917), the Court while applying the Literal rule of interpretation in its reasoning held thus: “It is elementary that the meaning of a statute must, in the first instance, be sought in the language in which the act is framed, and if that is plain… the sole function of the courts is to enforce it according to its terms.” And if a statute’s language is plain and clear, the Court further warned that “the duty of interpretation does not arise, and the rules which are to aid doubtful meanings need no discussion.”

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PURPOSIVE INTERPRETATION WHEN LITERAL INTERPRETATION WILL LEAD TO ABSURDITY

Office of Governor, Adamawa State PDP V. INEC (1999) 11 NWLR (Pt. 626) 200 SC, the natural words of the Constitution at the time only allowed for the assumption of office by a Deputy in the event of the Governor’s death and at page 249 in PDP V. INEC (supra), Wali, JSC, very aptly observed as follows: “Where literal interpretation of a word or words used in an enactment will result in an absurdity or injustice, it will be the duty of the Court to consider the enactment as a whole with a view to ascertain whether the language of the enactment is capable of any other fair interpretation, or whether it may not be desirable to put a secondary meaning on such language, or even to adopt a construction which is not quite strictly grammatical Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Mr. Bonnie Haruna were simultaneously elected as Governor and Deputy Governor of Adamawa State by the electorate of that State. Each must have his own supporters that had voted for him. Each has, therefore, acquired a right by being elected. If the narrow and literal interpretation applied to Section 37(1) of the Decree by the Court of Appeal is adopted, the end result will be that Mr. Bonnie Haruna, through no process of a successful election petition lodged against his election, is being deprived of the mandate given to him by the people of Adamawa State. It is manifest from the fact in this case that principles of justice require that where something is not expressly provided for in an enactment, the Court, in interpreting such enactment, will take into consideration the spirit and meaning of the enactment as a whole and construe it accordingly. To arrive at a just and fair decision, we must bear in mind the provision of Section 45(1) of the Decree, which though not in force at the time this action was instituted, but has adequately provided for a situation as the one at hand, such as resignation, permanent incapacity or removal for any other reason. The act of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar can be likened to permanent incapacity or even death in the given situation. The word “dies” in Section 37(1) of the Decree, in my view, expresses only a more permanent form of incapacity. If comparison of one clause with the rest of the enactment makes certain preposition clear and undoubted, it must be construed accordingly so as to make it a constant and harmonious whole. To adhere to the literal construction put on Section 37(1) of the Decree as done by the Court of Appeal, will lead to manifest injustice being visited on the 2nd Appellant. The word “dies” used in that Section, and having regard to Section 45(1) of the said Decree, needs to be modified to include and cover the situation created by the departure of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, in order to avoid any inconvenience and manifest injustice to the 2nd Appellant. Courts may resort to purposive interpretation if they can find in the Statute read as a whole, or in material to which they are permitted by law to refer as aids to interpretation, an expression of legislature’s purpose and policy.”

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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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CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS ARE TO BE READ AS A WHOLE TO DISCOVER THEIR OBJECTS

The provisions in the 1979 Constitution are thus unique in the sense that they are intended to deal with the peculiar circumstances of Nigeria. A foray into the Constitutions of other nations, useful, though it may be, cannot be of much assistance. It is therefore of paramount importance when construing the Constitution, that one should look closely at the provisions themselves, in order to discover their object. This approach cannot be dogmatic and I seem to be in agreement with the versatile approach advocated by UDOMA, J.S.C. when in RABIU v. THE STATE (1980) 8/11 SC. 130 he had this to say:- “Where the question is whether the Constitution has used an expression in the wider or in the narrower sense the court should always lean where the justice of the case so demands to the broader interpretation unless there is something in the content or in the rest of the Constitution to indicate that the narrower interpretation will best carry out its object and purpose.”

– A.G. Irikefe JSC. AG Kaduna State v. Hassan (1985) – SC.149/1984

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