Legal Nuggets (76): Principles Guiding the Court in Interpreting the Provisions of Constitution.- By Adedotun Habeeb Adetunji, LL.M (M.IoD), FCAI


INTERPRETATION OF CONSTITUTION: Principles guiding the court in interpreting the provisions of Constitution.

"In the case of AG. of Bendel of State v. A.-G. of the Federation & ors (1982) 3 NCLR 1, (1981) 9 S.C. (Reprint) 1 at 78-79, Obaseki, J.S.C. stated the principles guiding the court in interpreting or constructing the provisions of our constitution to include the following:- "(1) Effect should be given to every word. (2) A construction nullifying a specific clause will not be given to the Constitution unless absolutely required by the context. (3) A Constitutional power cannot be used by way of condition to attain unconditional result. (4) The language of the Constitution where clear and unambiguous must be given its plain evident meaning. (5) The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is an organic scheme of government to be dealt with as an entirety; a particular provision cannot be dissevered from the rest of the Constitution. (6) While the language of the Constitution does not change, the changing circumstances of a progressive society for which it was designed, yield new and fuller import to the meaning, (7) A Constitutional provision should not be construed so as to defeat its evident purpose. (8) Under a Constitution conferring specific powers, a particular power must be granted or it cannot be exercised. (9) Delegation by the National Assembly of its essential legislative function is precluded by the Constitution (Section 58(4) and section 4(1) ) ( 10) Words are the common signs that mankind make use of to declare their intention one to another and when the words of a man express his meaning plainly and distinctly and perfectly, there is 110 occasion to have recourse to any other means interpretation. (11) 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. (12) Words of the Constitution are therefore not to be read with stultifying witness." It is with the above principles in mind that the provisions of section 308 of the 1999 Constitution will be interpreted." Per Onnoghen, JSC. (Pp. 18-19, paras. A-D)

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