Interpretation Act: A Law More Than An Act By: Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.

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The Interpretation Act by its Long Title is ‘An Act to provide for the construction and interpretation of Acts of the National Assembly and certain other instruments; and for purposes connected therewith’. This Act, by its section 1, provides thus ‘This Act shall apply to the provisions of any enactment except in so far as the contrary intention appears in this Act or the enactment in question’.
The writer of this paper has observed that some lawyers while interpreting the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)-herein after refrred to as the Constitution- do not consider the provisions of the Interpretation Act along with the provisions of the constitution for the purpose of interpretation. That is why the writer of this paper has written this paper to call the attention of lawyers to the importance of the Interpretation Act even within the constitutional purview.
The Constitution has provided in section 318 (4) thus ‘The Interpretation Act shall apply for the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999’. From this provision of the Constitution, the writer of this paper submits that the provisions of the Interpretation Act have the force of the Constitution as though they are a part of the Constitution. Also, the word ‘shall’ used by the constitution in this section 318(4) (supra) gives support to this submission. The word ‘shall’ has been defined by courts of law as meaning ‘obligation’. The writer of this paper humbly refers to the case of Tanko v Caleb (1999) 8 NWLR (pt. 616) 606 C.A. at page 611 (paragraph E) thus ‘Generally, the word ‘shall’ is a word of command and denotes obligation and gives no room for discretion. It imposes a duty: See: Katto v CBN (1991) 9 NWLR (pt. 214) 126.’.
Furthermore, the Interpretation Act contains 39 sections and a schedule. This does make it very unique and distinct. It might be surprising to the reader that how could the Constitution adopt the Interpretation Act as short as it is to interpret voluminous provisions of the constitution and other statutes? The real intention of the drafters of the Constitution is unknown to the writer of this paper for such decision. Nevertheless, the provisions of the Constitution remain binding and subsisting until amended where amendable.
Also, it is the writer of this paper’s submission that where there is need to interpret the constitution and there is no reference or consideration of the Interpretation Act, the interpretation of the required law or constitution might be misinterpreted and misinterpreted and such misinterpretation of statutes or provisions of the constitution is not good for a progressive and developing country like Nigeria. Therefore, there should be no interpretation without jointly considering the provisions of the Constitution and the Interpretation Act, else, one could mislead himself.
Furthermore, it is the submission of the writer of this paper that considering the provisions of the Constitution in section 318(4) of the Constitution, the Interpretation Act has got another status which could be termed by the writer of this paper as ;the Constitution’s twin brother’. In other words, the Interpretation Act, having the force of the Constitution by section 318(4) of the Constitution, is more than an Act. Therefore, lawyers, judges, law students and law readers should always endeavour to place side by side the Constitution, the Interpretation Act, whenever they seek to interpret the constitution.
Finally, the writer of this paper intends that this paper would be as short as possible but to convey the message that the Interpretation Act has the force of the Constitution as the Constitution itself or the twin brother of the Constitution so to say and is therefore more than an Act of the National Assembly.
e-mail: hameed_ajibola@yahoo.com
 
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