Ejusdem Generis Rule closely linked with the contextual approach to the interpretation of words. where particular words are followed by general words, the general words are interpreted restrictively to have a meaning that is of the same kind or genus as the preceding ones already particularized. see the case of Nasr V. Bowan.
In this rule, where particular words which refer to members of a class are followed by general words, it is assumed that the general words are limited to members of that same class as specified by the particular words. In other words, where particular words are followed by general words, the general words are interpreted restrictively to have a meaning that is of the same kind or genus as the preceding ones already particularized. See the case of Ogele V. Omoleye (2006) All FWLR (pt.296) 809 H.C.
The words Ejusdem Generis means “of the same genus or kind”. Provisions of statutes that refer to a class of things to which their provisions apply and after the class there follow some general words. When the question before the court is the interpretation of the general word, the said interpretation will be limited to the particular words of the same class used in the provision sought to be interpreted. See the case of Nigeria Navy V. Garrick (2006) All FWLR (pt.315) 45. C.A.
The principle of this rule therefore is that general terms following particular ones apply only to such persons or things as are Ejusdem generis with those comprehended in the language of the legislature.
In Nasr V. Bouari (1969) 1 All NLR 37, the provisions of Section 1 (I) of the Rent Control Act of 1965 came up for interpretation.
The provision define “premises” as “a building of any description occupied or used by persons for living or sleeping or other lawful purposes…” in the case in discuss, premises was used partly as a living and partly as a night club. Thus, the question was whether the premises fell within the definition of premises used for other lawful purposes.
The court limited its interpretation to the particularized kind of premises. It concluded that it meant premises used for purposes similar to living or sleeping thereby excluding nightclubs.
In Palm V. Snow (1900) 1 QB. 725, see also Abubakar V. Attorney-General, Federation (2008) All FWLR (pt.441) 870 C.A; In Palm V. Snow (supra) the provisions of the Sunday Observance Act 1677, prohibited “tradesmen, artificers, workmen, labourers or other persons whatsoever” should be limited to persons of the same genus as those expressly mentioned and could not include farmers and barbers.
In Russel & Jezza Ltd V. Russel (1987) 2 NWLR 437, kolawole JCA (as he then was) explained the application of the ejusdem generics rule in the following words:
“…the matter in controversy between the parties in this appeal bears no relationship to the liability of a contributory as envisaged in the applicable constitutional provision. Having regards to the meanings of the words creditor or the liability of a contributory it is my view that the words “or other officer under any enactment relating to companies in respect of misfeasance or otherwise must be construed ejusdem generis.
In other words, where general words follow an enumeration of persons or things by words of a particular and specific meaning such general words are not to be construed in their widest extent, but are to be held as applying only to persons or things of the same general kind or class as those specifically mentioned…”
In Jammal Steel structures Ltd V. ACB Ltd (1973) 1 All NLR (pt. 208) See also Inakogu V. Adeleka (2007) All FWLR (pt. 353) 3 S.C. In Jammel Steel Structures the issue before the court was the interpretation of Section 7(i) (b)(iii) of the Federal High court Act 1973, which conferred jurisdiction on the Federal High Court in civil causes and matters connected with or pertaining to “banking, foreign exchange, currency or other fiscal measures”. The Supreme Court held that the ejusdem generis rule applied. The court held that the word “measures” must be taken to qualify each of the preceding specifically enumerated subjects, including banking. The court also held that the word “or” should not be interpreted disjunctively but should be read as “and”. Consequently, the section should be read as “banking measures, foreign exchange measures, currency measures, and other fiscal measures’.
In the case latter case of Bronik Motors Ltd V. Wema Bank Ltd (1985) 6 NCLR 1, the issue before the court was the interpretation of Section 7 (i) (b) (iii) of the federal High court Act of 1973, it was argued that the Supreme Court erred in law by holding that the ejusdem generis rule applied since the court applied the rule in a reverse form. It was also argued that it was the general words which should take their meaning or be limited by the enumerated words or class of people or things and not the other way round. In the lead judgment of the Supreme Court Nnamani JSC (as he then was) observed:
“…As regards the decision of the majority that ejusden generis rule applied in construing Section 7 (i) (b) (iii), I do not think that this can be justly supported by claiming that the rule applies in reverse. If the ejusdeme generis rule applied, the generis words “or other measures” would have taken their colour from specifically enumerated subjects: banking, foreign exchange, and currency and not the other way round as indeed happened here…rather than argue that ejusdem generis rule was applied to section 7 (i) (b) (iii) in reverse, I think that the basis of the decision was that associated words could be understood in a common sense.
Ut Res Magis Valeat Quan Pereat – Ejusdem Generis Rule
This is another canon of interpretation which means that the construction should ensure that the intention of the legislature is not frustrated or defeated. It is the duty of the court to give meaning to an ambiguous expression.
In Curtis V. Stovin (1989) 22 Q.B.D. 513, See also State V. Governor, Osun State (2007) All FWLR (pt. 366) 736 C.A.
In Curtis V. Stovin, Bowen L.J. stated the rule as follows:
The rules for the construction of statutes are very much like those which apply to the construction of other documents especially as regards one crucial rule-viz that if possible, the words of the Act of parliament must be construed so as to give a sensible meaning to them. The words ought to be construed ut res magis valeat quam pereat.
Fry L.J in the same case held as follows:
…the only alternative construction offered to us would lead to this result – that the plain intention of the legislature has entirely failed by reason of slight inexactitude in the language of the section. If we were to adopt this construction, we should be constructing the Act in order to defeat its object rather with a view to carry it’s object into effect.
In Hill V. East and West Dock Co. (1884) A.C. 448 at 456, the court held that where there is an expression used in enactment which may be susceptible to two interpretations, the court may consider the consequences of either interpretation in arriving at the intention of the legislation. That interpretation which appears to defeat the intention of the Act should be by-passed in favour of that which would further the object of the Act.
In Rein V. Lane (1867) 2 L.R Q.B. 144 at 151, Lord Bowen L.J. stated the rule as follows:
It is I apprehend, in accordance with the general rule of construction that you are not only to look at the words, but you are to look at the context, the connotation and the object of such words relating to such matter and interpret the meaning according to what would appear to be the meaning intended to be conveyed by the case of the words under the circumstances.
The Nigerian courts have applied this rule of interpretation in relevant cases. The Supreme Court case of Idehen V. Idehen (1991) 6 NWLR (pt.198) 382 at 432, whilst applying this rule with all its force cited with approval the case of Savannah Bank (Nig.) Ltd V. Ajilo. In the Savannah Bank case, Obaseki JSC held that a statute should not be given a construction that will defeat its purpose. Obaseki JSC in that case further held as follows:
“…Where alternate constructions are equally open that alternative is to be chosen which would be consistent with the smooth working of the system which the statute purports to be regulating and that alternative is to be rejected which will introduce uncertainty, friction or confusion into the working of the system – Shannon Realities Ltd V. Villede St Michel (1924) A.C. 185.
In Osadebay V. A.G. Bendel State (1991) 1 NWLR (pt169) 525, Nnaemeka-Agu JSC held as follows:
It is, of course, a legitimate principle of interpretation of statutes that if the choice is between two interpretations, one of which will achieve the manifest purpose of the legislation, the court should avoid a construction which would reduce the legislation to futility and accept the bolder construction based on the view that the legislator would legislate only for the purpose of bringing about an effective result. Nokes V. Doncaste Amalgamated Collieries Lyd (1940) A.C. 1014 at p.1022, also in the case of Shannon Realities Ltd V. Ville de St Michel (1924) A.C. 185 at pg. 192 and 193.
This principle of interpretation is often expressed by the Latin Maxim: “ut res magis valeat quam pereat”