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Duty of court to give a holistic interpretation to a statute as required by law

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CHIEF G.A.N OFODILE & ANOR v. C. A. ALIOZO ESQ. & ORS
CITATION: (2021) LPELR-54159 (CA)

In the Court of Appeal
In the Enugu Judicial Division
Holden at Enugu

ON MONDAY, 10TH MAY, 2021
Suit No: CA/E/142/2015

Before Their Lordships:

MOHAMMED AMBI-USI DANJUMA. JUSTICE, COURT OF APPEAL
JAMES SHEHU ABIRIYI JUSTICE, COURT OF APPEAL
MUHAMMED LAWAL SHUAIBU JUSTICE, COURT OF APPEAL
Between
CHIEF G.A.N OFODILE
CHRISTIAN UMEH
President General, Aguobu Iwollo, Town
Union, Enugu L.G. – Appellant(s)

AND
C. A. ALIOZO ESQ.
R. N. OKPOKO
(For himself and as representing Ndigunagu village, Aguobu Iwollo)
OZO-EZEAKOR ANIAKOR
(For himself and as representing Amagu village, Aguobu Iwollo, Ezeagu L.G.A.)
ROBERT OKONKWO
(For himself and as representing Obinagu village, Aguobu Iwollo, Ezeagu L.G.A.)
PAUL OKAFOR
(For himself and as representing Owoloti village, Aguobu Iwollo, Ezeagu L.G.A.)
SOLOMON OGUEJIOFOR
(President-General) – Respondent(s)

LEADING JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY JAMES SHEHU ABIRIYI, J.C.A.
FACTS
The Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community drafted a Constitution before the death of the previous Igwe, which provided that the Igweship would be rotated amongst the five villages that make up the community.

According to the respondents, the Constitution provided that Igweship would rotate according to the seniority of the villages. Any village that had produced an Igwe before would have to give way to others. The village from which the 1st appellant comes (i.e., Ezeonyia village) being the most senior village had produced the previous Igwe and a warrant chief equivalent to an Igwe in a previous era. Therefore, it was the turn of the next most senior village, that is, the village of the 1st respondent (Ndibunagu village) to produce the Igwe. The 1st appellant, in spite of opposition from the respondents as well as the other villages, presented himself for selection as Igwe and was eventually made Igwe and recognised by government. The respondents thus sued the appellants at the trial Court.

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The appellants’ defence at the trial Court was that since this was the first time the stool became vacant after the coming into effect of the Constitution and the community becoming autonomous, the rotation ought to start with the most senior village to continue from there down the line. Therefore, the 1st appellant was qualified to contest for the Igweship.

The trial Court entered judgment in favour of the respondents holding that the 1st appellant was not qualified to contest for the stool and that it was the turn of the respondents’ village to present a candidate for the stool of the community. Dissatisfied, the appellants proceeded to this Court on Appeal.

Issues for Determination
The issue before the Court was whether from the combined reading of Sections 37 2(b) 1(i) and 38 the Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community Constitution 2005, it was the turn of the Ndibunagu village to produce the next traditional ruler of Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community.

Appellants’ Submissions
Appellants’ counsel submitted that it was on the strength of the newly established Aguobu Autonomous Community that the Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community Constitution 2005 was made. Thus, Ezeonyia village, by the above constitutional provision was entitled to the right of selecting, producing and presenting the 1st Igwe and Traditional Ruler of the new Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community. It was submitted that the operative words in Section 37(b) of the Constitution “… Igweship shall be rotated among the five villages.”  are mandatory and cannot be fettered by the discretionary provisions of Section 38 of the Constitution.

Appellants’ counsel further submitted that it is not disputed that Ezeonyia village is the eldest family/village in the community. Ezeonyia village therefore did not violate the provisions of Section 38 of the Constitution of the Community because it was not mandatory on her to concede her constitutional and customary right duly recognised and preserved by the mandatory provisions of Section 37(2) (b) of the Constitution of the Community.

Respondents’ Submissions
Respondents’ counsel also referred the Sections 37(2) (b), (1)(i) and 38 of the Community’s Constitution and submitted that the members of the community having subscribed to the Constitution, the appellants cannot call in aid their native law and custom; Edewor v. Uwegba (1987) NWLR (pt.50) 313.

Respondent’s counsel submitted that the Constitution is binding on the entire community and that in drawing the Constitution to govern their affairs, the community did not exclude the period of the reign of H.R.H. Igwe C. E. Achu in the computation of when the Chieftaincy stool of the Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community would begin to operate. Rather, the said Constitution made it abundantly clear that though the stool shall rotate amongst the villages, those villages, which had held such positions in the past by whatever name called should allow other villages to take their turn in the interest of justice and fair play.

Respondent’s counsel further submitted that whereas Section 37(2) (b) (1)(i) of the Constitution of the community is a general provision (stating that the stool shall rotate amongst the five villages of Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community), Section 38 is a special provision specifying the manner the rotation should be done. It was submitted that Section 38 is an exception to Section 37 (2)(b) (1)(i). The Court was referred to Aqua Limited v. Ondo State Sports Council (1988) 10-11 SC 31.

Resolution of Issues
The Court in resolving the sole issue for determination reproduced the provisions of Sections 37 2(b) 1(i) and 38 of the Aguobu Iwollo Autonomous Community Constitution 2005, which provide as follows; “S.37(2)(b)(1)(i) (b) Method of Nomination: For Igweship position or other appointments- (1) In Aguobu Iwollo Town Community, Igweship shall be rotated among the five villages. (a) Ezeonyia (b) Ndibunagu (c) Amagu (d) Obunagu, and (e) Owolloti.”

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“S.38. In the past, different regimes in Nigeria had given different names to some of the posts mentioned in this Constitution e.g. councilor, Igwe, etc. Since new regimes will continue to come and go, this Constitution recognises it as a mark of honesty and integrity for villages, which had acted in these positions in the past to allow others to take their turn as and when due in the interest of peace, justice and fair play. Posts like the ones mentioned in Section 8 and 15(3b), which are to be filled in by election from every village are not included.”

The Court held that the plain and literal interpretation of a statute would apply where the words of a statute are plain, clear and unambiguous. See Abegunde v. Ondo State House of Assembly & Ors (2015) LPELR – 24588 SC. The Court further held that a Court should give a holistic interpretation to a statute. See National Union of Road Transport Workers & Anor. v. Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria & Ors. (2012) LPELR – 7840 SC.

The Court held that from the above provisions of the Abuogu Iwollo Autonomous Community Constitution 2005, the makers intended that the Traditional Rulership of the community should rotate among the five villages. The Court further held that Section 38 of the Community’s was intended to prevent previous villages that had produced an Igwe or his equivalent from producing an Igwe until those villages, which had never produced one have their turn.
Held
The Court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the judgment of the trial Court.
APPEARANCES:
Chief Okenna Agubuzu – For Appellant(s)
Chief M. O. Uzor – For Respondent(s)

Compiled by LawPavilion

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