Obafemi Awolowo v. Shehu Shagari (1979)



Obafemi Awolowo v. Shehu Shagari (1979)

by PaulPipar



Obafemi Awolowo



Alhaji Shehu Shagari;
Alhaji Ahmadu Kurfi (The Chief Electoral officer of the Federation);
F.L.O. Menkiti (The Returning officer, Presidential Election)


(1979) LPELR-SC.62/1979;
(1979) All N.L.R 1202;
(1979) 6-9 S.C. 37;




An appeal requesting to nullify the 1979 election conducted by the FEDECO. This matter was first heard at the presidential election tribunal in Lagos. Obafemi Awolowo alleging that as far as the records show, no candidate scored not less than 25% of the votes cast in 13 States. The 3rd respondent declared 1st respondent as having won the Presidential Election. Obafemi Awolowo disagrees with the result declared on the Election. Obafemi Awolowo wants the election declared void and that the FEDECO should hold the election, which should have followed on the failure of all the candidates to win at the first ballot.
Shehu Shagari is a member of National Party of Nigeria. Shehu Shagari scored 5,688,857, he also scored at least 25% of votes cast in each of the twelve States namely, Bauchi, Bendel, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Gongola, Kaduna, Kwara, Niger, Plateau, Rivers and Sokoto and in the thirteenth State – Kano, he scored 19.94 percent. Obafemi Awolowo scored 4,916,651, in total.


1. The correct interpretation of S.34A(1)(c)(ii) of the Electoral (Amendment) Decree No. 32 of 1979;

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The appeal was dismissed and cost was awarded on the ground that Shagari was lawfully declared the winner, and that he satisfied the requirements of S.34A(1)(c)(ii) of the said Decree. Also, that even if he didn’t get upto more than one third in the 13th state, S.111 & S.110 of the Decree would have come to his aid and that judgement would have still be given to him.

Kayode Eso dissented.


S.34A(1)(c)(ii) of the Electoral (Amendment) Decree No. 32 of 1979;
S.111(1) of the Electoral (Amendment) Decree No. 32 of 1979;
S.110(1) of the Electoral (Amendment) Decree No. 32 of 1979;
Maxwell’s Interpretation of Statutes;
Paragraph 39 of Table C of Schedule 1 of the Companies Decree, 1968 (Decree No. 51 of 1968);


It is our view that in most countries with common law jurisdictions such as Nigeria, it is generally accepted that it is the function of the judiciary to interpret the law with the minimum of direction from the legislature as to how they should set about this task. Thus nearly all the principles, precepts and maxims of statutory interpretation are judge-made. Here are some examples. A statute should always be looked at as a whole; words used in a statute are to be read according to their meaning as popularly understood at the time the statute became law; a statute is presumed not to alter existing law beyond that necessarily required by the statute. – per Fatayi-Williams, CJN, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

Available:  Dr. G. O. Sofekun v. Chief N. A Akinyemi & Ors (1980)

It is also relevant, we think, to point out that anybody called upon to interpret any kind of statute should not, for any reason, attach to its statutory provision, a meaning which the words of the statute cannot reasonably bear. If the words used are capable of more than one meaning, then the person interpreting the statute can choose between these meanings, but beyond that he must not go. – per Fatayi-Williams, CJN, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

The Federal Military Government divided the Federation into nineteen States in 1976 by the States (Creation and Transitional Provisions) Decree (Decree No. 12 of 1976). – per Fatayi-Williams, CJN, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

Moreover, until election returns can be computerised in this country, the “mathematical canon of interpretation” put forward by Professor Awojobi (1st petitioner’s witness) in his testimony before the Tribunal will remain impractical and legally unacceptable. – per Fatayi-Williams, CJN, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

I think it necessary to emphasise that a decision on the interpretation of one statute generally cannot constitute a binding precedent with regard to the Interpretation of another. – per Obaseki, JSC, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

The 3rd rule, the golden rule, allows for a departure from the literal rule when the application of the statutory words in the ordinary sense would be repugnant to or inconsistent with some other provisions in the statute or even when it would lead to what the court considers to be an absurdity. The usual consequence of applying the golden rule is that words, which are in the statute, are ignored or words, which are, not there are read in. – per Obaseki, JSC, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

Available:  The Governor of Kaduna State v. Lawal Kagoma (1982)

The words used in the statute must not be given a meaning they cannot by any stretch of imagination bear. – per Obaseki, JSC, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

The ordinary meaning of words is a question of fact. It is however very far from being an ordinary fact for legal purposes as it is the subject of judicial notice and the decisions on them become binding precedents so far as the construction of the statute in question is concerned. – per Obaseki, JSC, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

When it is agreed or contended that statutory words have a technical meaning which is not the case in this appeal, evidence with regard to that meaning is unquestionably admissible and it is generally preferred to information gleaned from other sources such as dictionaries. – per Obaseki, JSC, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)

Where there are two possible meanings conveyed by the words of a statute, it is the most reasonable one that should be adopted. Where the other meaning leads to absurdity or evinces internal contradiction, that meaning should be dropped for the first as the legislature never intends to be absurd or contradictory. – per Obaseki, JSC, Awolowo v. Shagari (1979)





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