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STATUTE SHOULD BE READ AS A WHOLE

Dictum

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 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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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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THE WORD “MAY” SYNONYMOUS WITH “SHALL”

In Ushie v. Agbalu (2013) JELR 51127 (CA), the court relied on: Iyoho v. Effiong where the Supreme Court per A. M. Mukthar, JSC (as she then was) said: “Although the word ‘may’ is used in the provision, it does not necessarily mean that it means permissible. ‘May’ in ‘Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th Edition, page 1000, has been defined inter alia as ‘loosely, is required to; shall; must…In dozens of cases, courts have held may to be synonymous with shall or must, usually in an effort to effectuate legislative intent.”

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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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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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COURT WILL GIVE PLAIN MEANING TO STATUTORY PROVISION

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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