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THE WORD “MAY” SYNONYMOUS WITH “SHALL”

Dictum

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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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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WHERE INTERPRETATION IS CAPABLE OF TWO MEANINGS, ADOPT A NON-DEFEATIST APPROACH

It is settled that where in the interpretation of a word appearing in a particular piece of legislation, such word is capable of two meanings, the court has a duty to adopt an interpretation which would not defeat the intention of the law makers. See Mandara v. Attorney-General, Federation (1984) NSCC 221; Yabugbe v. C.O.P. (1992) 4 SCNJ 116; Lawal v. G. B. Ollivant (1972) 3 SC 124.

— Galadima, JSC. Wike Nyesom v. Peterside, APC, INEC, PDP (SC. 718/2015, 27 Oct 2015)

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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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MARGINAL NOTE IS HELPFUL IN CONSTRUCTION OF A SECTION

Although the marginal note in a section is not part of the section, it is helpful even if occasionally misleading to construction, as a sign post to what the section sets out to provide.

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

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WHEN STATUTE MAY BE CONSTRUED RETROSPECTIVELY

The retrospective nature of a statute may concern the whole provisions of the Statute, as where the commencement date so indicates; or may concern only a section of the statute – see Lauri v. Renad. (1892) 3 Ch. 402 at p. 421; Pardo v. Bingham, (1868 -69) 4 L.R.Ch. App. 735 at p. 739 and West v. Gwynne (1911) 2 Ch. 1. Where a statute is passed for the purpose of supplying an obvious omission in a former statute, the subsequent statute has relation back to the time when the prior Act was passed – see p. 395 of Craies on Statute Law. 7th Edition. Where a statute is in its nature declaratory, the presumption against construing it retrospectively is inapplicable – See A – G v. Theobald. (1890) 24 Q.B.D. 557. If by necessary implication from the language employed that the legislature intended a particular section to have a retrospective operation, the courts will give it such an operation- Lane v. Lane (1896) P. 133.

Ibrahim v Barde (1996) – SC.74/1995

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CONSTRUCTION OF STATUTE SHOULD NOT DEFEAT ITS’ INTENT

Generally, where the words of a statute are plain, clear and unambiguous, the Court should give them their literal meaning. So the golden or literal rule of interpretation of statutes or even a Constitution, is to give the words used therein, their ordinary and plain meaning without importation. The Court should construe the words of a statute, to save it and so avoid making a mockery of the statute, to defeat its manifest intent.

– Yahaya, JCA. Petroleum Resources v. SPDC (2021)

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