An Abuja-based lawyer, Ataguba Aboje, has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to quash the resolution by the National Assembly making Goodluck Jonathan Acting President in the absence of President Yar’Adua.
This makes two, the cases so far instituted in respect of the appointment of Jonathan as Acting President. A former Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Mr. Farouk Aliyu Adamu, had also sued the National Assembly over the issue.
In his suit, Aboje is urging the court to determine whether in his capacity as the Vice-President of the country Jonathan can validly be the Acting President under Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution and temporarily discharge the functions of the President, without the President first transmitting to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representative a letter to the effect that he was proceeding on a vacation or that he is unable to discharge the function of his office.
Joined in the suit as defendants are the National Assembly and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
He is also asking the court to determine whether the Senate or House of Representatives can by a resolution empower Jonathan to act as Acting President, to temporarily take over and discharge the functions of the President without the occurrence of the event under Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution?
In the court document, the plaintiff disclosed that the assumption of the Vice-President as Acting President is without basis and lacks legal justification as this position is predicated on the fulfilment of Section 145 by the President and not the passing of a resolution by the National Assembly, who by Section 4 of the Constitution are charged only with the duty of making laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation.
The sole issue the plaintiff is formulating for determination is whether the literal rule of interpretation is the appropriate cannon of interpretation for the words of Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.
Stating that the courts had always held that the cannon of interpretation of the constitution was the literal rule of interpretation where the words of a statute are clear and explicit, the plaintiff submitted that in the case of Ugwu Vs Araraume (2007)12 NWLR (PT1048) AT P.405 PP.437-438 PARA G-A, the court held that: “It is when the literal meaning of the statute result in ambiguity or injustice that the judge may seek internal aids within the body of the statute itself or external aids from the statute in pari materi in order to resolve the ambiguity or avoid doing injustice. This is an exception to the rule rather than the rule. Thus in the construction of statute the primary concern of the judge is the attainment of the intention of the legislature. If the language used by the legislature is clear and explicit, the judge must give effect to it because in such a situation, the words of the statute speak the intention of the legislature.”
He also stated that the court on Page, 437 Paragraph C-D further stated, “…the meaning of the underlying principle in the interpretation of statute is that the meaning of the statute or legislation must be collected from the plain and unambiguous expression or words used therein rather than from any notion that may be entertained as to what is just and expedient. The literal rule of interpretation must be followed unless it would lead to absurdity and inconsistency with the provision of the statute as a whole, this is because it is the duty of the judge to construe the words of a statute and give those words their appropriate meaning and effect. It is not the duty of the judge to interpret a statute to avoid its consequence.”
Submitting that the procedure adopted in taking over and discharging the function of the President by the Vice-President as Acting President was unconstitutional and a violation of Section 1(1) of the 1999 Constitution, the plaintiff argued that Section 145 of the constitution which sought the court’s interpretation was unambiguous and explicit and should be giving its literal and ordinary meaning.
The plaintiff is seeking the following reliefs:
*a declaration that the Vice-President can temporarily take over and discharge the function of the President as Acting-president only in accordance with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution,
*a declaration that the taking over and the discharging of the function of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by the Vice-President as Acting-President on the strength of the resolution of the National Assembly is an infringement of Section 1(1) of the 1999 Constitution,
*a declaration that the resolution of the National Assembly recognizing the Vice-President as the Acting-President is a violation of Sections 4 and 145 of the 1999 Constitution and to that extent and for all intents and purposes is unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect whatsoever,
*an order of injunction restraining the Vice-President from temporarily taking over and discharging the function of the President as Acting-President except in accordance with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution, and
*an order of injunction restraining the National Assembly from recognizing the Vice-President as Acting-President of the country except in compliance with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.