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STATUTES ARE TO BE READ AS A COMPOSITE WHOLE

Dictum

There are certain settled principles that guide the Court in the interpretation of statutes. Generally, statutory provisions must be interpreted in the context of the whole statute and not in isolation. They must be interpreted in a manner that is most harmonious with its scheme and general purpose. Furthermore, where the subject matter being construed relates to other sections (or subsections) of the same statute, they must be read, considered and construed together as forming a composite whole. See: General Cotton Mill Ltd. Vs Travellers Palace Hotel (2018) 12 SC (Pt. II) 106 @ 130 lines 14 -35; 168 lines 20 – 31. See also: Obi Vs INEC (2007) 7 SC 268; Akpamgbo-Okadigbo & Ors. Vs Chidi & Ors. (2015) 3 – 4 SC (Pt. III) 25; Nobis-Elendu Vs INEC (2015) 6 – 7 SC (Pt. IV) 1.

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

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LITERAL RULE OF CONSTRUCTION

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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PROVISIONS OF STATUTE MUST BE GIVEN THEIR SIMPLE & PLAIN MEANING

The cardinal principle of law of interpretation is that a court when interpreting a provision of a statute must give the words and the language used their simple and ordinary meaning, and not to venture outside it by introducing extraneous matters that may lead to circumventing or giving the provision an entirely different interpretation to what the law maker intended it to be. – A.M. Mukhtar, JSC. Unipetrol v. Edo State Internal Revenue (2006) – S.C. 286/2001

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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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LEGISLATION WITH RETROSPECTIVE EFFECT

Thus, the effect of making Exhibit 7, a subsidiary legislation with retrospective effect, to take care of the appointment process of the Emirship of Suleja, which as I earlier pointed out, has the force of law and now over-rides customary law. This is the moreso, in the instant case where confusion characterising the kingmaker’s body charged with the selection process and which was not helped by declaring what role the customary law vis-a-vis Exhibit 10 (the chronicle of Abuja) played in that process needed to be formalised and codified.

— Onu JSC. Ibrahim v Barde (1996) – SC.74/1995

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EXCEPT STATED, STATUTE DOES NOT MAKE ANY ALTERATION IN THE LAW BEYOND

Crais on Statute Law 7th edition, the statement of the law reads at pages 121 to 122. “To alter any clearly established principle of law a distinct and positive legislative enactment is necessary. “Statutes” said the Court of Common Pleas in Arthur v. Bokenham are not presumed to make any alteration in the common law further or otherwise than the Act does expressly declare”.

– Cited in Abioye v. Yakubu (1991) – SC.169/1987

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STATUTES ARE TO BE INTERPRETED LITERALLY, WHETHER HARSH OR NOT

In the matter of the interpretation of statutes, Courts have been well guided over the years with the clear boundary beyond which Courts cannot enter. Thus, while Courts have the power to interpret the law, it has no licence to veer into the legislative arena or constitute itself into the legislator, however harsh or distasteful the piece of legislation may be. Once the words are plain and unambiguous, the Court is duty bound to give effect to it. In other words, in the interpretation of statutes, words should always be given their ordinary meaning. Where the words are clear, unambiguous and to the point, any addition or subtraction will be sequel to introducing an illegal backdoor amendment. See Setraco Nig Ltd V Kpaji (2017) LPELR-41560(SC) 25-26, paras D-A, per Peter-Odili, JSC; & Skye Bank Plc V Iwu (2017) LPELR-42595(SC) 118 paras B-C, per Ogunbiyi, JSC.

— J.H. Sankey, JCA. Zangye v Tukura (2018) – CA/MK/175/2017

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