338 views | Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq. | April 27, 2021
In the course of my legal research recently, I came across a provision under section 70 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of Federal Capital Territory-Abuja, on fractions of terms of punishment. It is also observed by me that many of the times, when accused persons/defendants are represented by counsel of their choice and sentence/punishment has been given by the court, the post-judgment issues lie on the said convict and or his family as the lawyer is seen to have concluded his own professional part especially where there is no appeal on the said criminal case. I have reasoned on the said provision of section 70 of the Penal Code Act and comparing my reasoning with other criminal laws applicable to the FCT-Abuja (including Federal Acts). I have therefore decided to share my legal reasoning and or submissions on this subject matter for critical analysis by the readers of this paper, hence, the topic under discourse.
Section 70 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of FCT-Abuja, provides thus ‘In calculating fractions of terms of punishment, imprisonment for life shall be reckoned as equivalent to imprisonment for twenty years’.I have therefore reasoned in my humble view, that where the crime with which a suspect has been charged borders on the provisions under the Penal Code Act of FCT-Abuja, (for instance the provisions under section 224 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of FCT-Abuja, which provides that ‘Whoever commits culpable not punishable with death, shall be punished with imprisonment for life or for any less term or with fine or with both’ underlining is mine for emphasis)it means that by rules/principles of interpretation of provisions of statutes, the said sentence shall be reckoned as equivalent to imprisonment for twenty (20) years, which means that the said convict shall be released from the prison custody at his serving the sentence of twenty (20) years. Furthermore, the said twenty years shall be regarded to have commenced from the date of his arrest. See: section 416 (2) (e) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. Also, the prison custody’s equivalence is about eight (8) months for a year (to the best of my knowledge). This means that relatives of convicts and convicts themselves have to be aware of this computation of time of sentence/punishment as well as the prison service so that a convict under the Penal Code Act of FCT-Abuja, does not have to spend more than the Act stipulates for the punishment (i.e. by being wrongly kept in prison custody for life).
Furthermore, I have reasoned in making my submissions considering the decisions and or principles of interpretation laid down by the Supreme Court of Nigeria as follows ‘
1. OKOTIE-EBOH V.MANAGER & ORS. (2004) LPELR-2502(SC).
“According to the canons of interpretation of statutes, it is a cardinal principle that where the ordinary plain meaning of the words used in a statute are very clear and unambiguous, effect must be given to those words without resorting to any intrinsic or external aid: See Awolowo v. Shagari (1979) 6-9 SC 73, Adejumo v. Military Govemor, Lagos State (1972) 3 SC 45, A.-G., Bendel State v. A.-G., Federation (1982) 3 N.C.L.R. 1. It is also a recognised principle of interpretation of statutes that statutes which encroach on the rights of the subject whether as regard person or property are construed as penal laws fortissime contra proferentes, that is, strictly in favour of the subject: Bello v. Diocesan Synod of Lagos (1973) 3 SC 103, A.-G .. Bendel State v. Aideyan (1989) 4 NWLR (Pt. U8) 646; Abioye v. Yakubu (1991 5 NWLR (Pt. 190) 130; Din v. A.-G .. of the Federation (1988) 4 N.W.L.R. (Pt. 87) 147, Peenok Investments Ltd. v. Hotel Presidential Ltd. (1983) 4 NCLR 122. Another recognised canon of interpretation is the ejusdem generis rule which provides that where particular words are followed by general words, the general words are limited to the same kind as the particular words, unless, of course, there be something to show that a wider sense was intended: Allen v. Emmerson (1944) 1 K.B. 362, Buhari v. Yusuf (2003) 14 NWLR (Pt. 841) 446 at 536, Shell v. F.B.I.R. (1996) 8 NWLR (Pt.466) 256; (1996) 970 SCNJ 231 at 262.” Per Edozie, JSC.(Pp. 30-31, paras. E-E)
2. AGWUNA V. AG, FEDERATION (1995) LPELR-258(SC).
“A court of law is concerned with law, as it is, and not with law, as it ought to be. Accordingly, it is not the business of a court of law, indeed, a court of law is not permitted to ascribe meanings to the clear, plain and unambiguous provisions of a statute in order to make such provisions conform with the court’s own views of their meaning or of what they ought to mean in accordance with the tenets of sound social policy. See Attorney-General of the Federation v. Sode (1990) 1 NWLR (Pt. 128) 500 at 541 and 545. I do not conceive that it is the duty of the courts by means of ingenious arguments or propositions to becloud, change, qualify or modify the clear meaning of the provisions of a statute or Decree once such provisions are plain, unequivocal and unambiguous.” PerIguh, J.S.C. (P.32, Paras.B-E)
3. NIGERIAN NAVY V. LAMBERT (2007) LPELR-2026(SC).
“Similarly in the interpretation of statutes which restrict the citizen’s rights, any doubt, gap duplicity or ambiguity as to the meaning of words used in the enactment should be resolved in favour of the person who would be liable to the penalty or a deprivation of his right. See Nwosu v. Imo State Environmental Sanitation Authority &Ors. (1990) 2 NWLR (Pt. 135) 688 at 723; London and Country Commercial Investment Property Ltd. v.Attorney-General (1953) 1 All ER 436 at 441-442; Peenok Investment Ltd. v. Hotel Presidential Ltd. (1982) 12 SC 1 at 25.” Per Tabai, J.S.C. (P. 19, paras. C-E).
Nevertheless, I must state that the above legal submissions would not have the same effect in relation to other criminal laws prescribing the sentence of life imprisonment (except) where the statute qualifies such fractions as has been done in the case of section 70 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of FCT-Abuja.
Finally, I would be glad to receive any contrary legal submission to my legal submissions from the reader of this paper!