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THE WORDS OF THE STATUTES BEST DECLARES THE INTENTION OF THE LEGISLATORS

Dictum

It is a cardinal rule of the construction of statutes that statutes should be construed according to the intention expressed in the statutes themselves. If the words of the statutes are themselves precise and unambiguous, then, no more is necessary than to expound the words in their natural and ordinary sense. The words of the statutes do alone, in such a case, best declare the intention of the lawmaker – See Ahmad v. Kassim (1958) SCNLR 58; (1958) 1 NSCC II; Capper v. Baldwin (1965) 2Q.B. 53 at p. 61; Cargo ex Argos, (1873) L.R. 5 P.C.134 at p. 153. In the case of Barnes v. Jarvis. (1953) 1 W.L.R. 649.

— Uwais, CJN. Ibrahim v Barde (1996) – SC.74/1995

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MEANING OF “SUBJECT TO”

Megarry J in Clerk Ltd. v. Inland Revenue Commissioners (1973) 2 All E.R.513 at 520: “The phrase ‘subject to’ is a simple provision which merely subjects the provisions of the subject subsection to the provisions of the master subsections. Where there is no clash, the phrase does nothing; if there is collision the phrase shows what is to prevail.”

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INTERPRETATION OF S.22 LAND USE ACT

Firstly, the position of section 22 of the Act, is undoubtedly, that a holder of a right of occupancy, may enter into an agreement or contract, with a view to alienating his said right of occupancy. In entering into such an agreement or contract, he does not need the consent of the Governor. He merely operates within the first leg/stage of a “transfer on sale of an estate in land” which leg/stage ends with the formation of a binding contract for a sale constituting an estate contract at best. However, when he comes to embark on the next leg/stage of alienating or transferring his right of occupancy which is done or effected, by a conveyance or deed, which culminates in the vesting of the said right in the particular “purchaser”, he must obtain the consent of the Governor in order to make the transaction valid. If he fails to do so, then the transaction, is null and void under Section 22 of the Act.

– Ogbuagu, JSC. Brossette v. Ilemobola (2007)

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“MAY” MEANS MANDATORY WHERE A DUTY IS IMPOSED

UDE V. NWARA & ANOR. (1993) JELR 43303 (SC): “I agree with Chief Umeadi that although section 28(1) of the Law states that the lessor “may enter a suit”, “may” should be construed as mandatory i.e. as meaning “shall” or “must”. I believe that it is now the invariable practice of the courts to interpret “may” as mandatory whenever it is used to impose a duty upon a public functionary the benefit of which enures to a private citizen.”

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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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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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CARDINAL PRINCIPLE OF INTERPRETATION: ORDINARY MEANING

It is a fundamental and cardinal principle of interpretation of statutes that where in its ordinary meaning a provision is clear and unambiguous, effect should be given to it without resorting to external aid. See A.-G., Federation v. A.-G., Abia State & Ors. (No.2) (2002) 6 NWLR (Pt. 764) 542 at 794 paras. B – C per Uwais CJN; A-G., Bendel State v. A.-G., Federation (1983) 1 SCNLR 239.

— M. Peter-Odili, JCA. CAC v. Ayedun (2005) – CA/A/152/2004

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