Questioning authenticity of marriage certificates issued by local governments
Marriage in Nigeria can be traditional, religious and legal at the same time. So, basically, there are three different types of marriages that a man and a woman can contract in Nigeria namely statutory/church, customary and Islamic.
It is important to the extent that every normal man or woman aspires to get married at some point, but that is not the case with those who took oaths of celibacy mostly on religious grounds.
In spite of this, many Nigerians contract marriages in different ways. One of such ways is by obtaining marriage certificate from the local council registry.
This system has been patronised by many Nigerians who consummate their marriages at the registry unaware that they were on the wrong path legally.
However, the bubble appears to have burst, following a recent Lagos High Court judgment, which barred local government councils from issuing forthwith marriage certificates and declaring such marriages as unlawful and unconstitutional.
Justice Ibironke. O. Harrison said in her judgment delivered on May 15, 2017 that the issuance of customised marriage certificates by local government councils contravened Section 24 of the Marriage Act and Item 6, Part 1, 2nd Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which lists marriage in the exclusive legislative list.
She further ruled that marriage, being an exclusive list item was under the Federal Government’s purview, which is regulated by the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The judge, however, declined to nullify all marriages so far conducted by the councils, directing that such certificates be surrendered and replaced by fresh ones to be issued in compliance with the law.
A Lagos lawyer, Olumide Babalola, had on September 29, 2016 filed a class action against the Ikeja Local council and Registered Trustees of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), challenging the council’s powers to issue modified marriage certificates different from the one provided in Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act LFN 1990.
He sought four reliefs: “A declaration that the first and second defendants do not have the powers to issue modified and/or customised marriage certificates different from the one provided in Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act LFN 1990;
“A declaration that the 2nd defendant’s Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate is unknown to our law, unconstitutional, null and void;
“A perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing modified and/ or altered marriage certificates apart from the form as provided under Form E (first Schedule) and Section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990; and
“A perpetual injunction restraining the 2nd defendant, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing ‘Local Government Unified Marriage Certificates.”
Babalola supported his application with a 29 paragraph affidavit, three exhibits and a written address.
In spite of service of summons, the defendants neither filed any process nor appeared in court to defend the suit. The court was, therefore, moved on March 24, 2017 with the claimant appearing in person and arguing his case.
He argued that marriage was on the Exclusive Legislative List and that the Marriage Act enjoined that all marriage certificates were to be in Form E of the first Schedule of the Marriage Act LFN, 1990.
He claimed that the second defendant and its branches now issue their own form known as the Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate, which was also issued to him.
Babalola prayed the court to declare the council’s action illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and grant all the reliefs being sought.
Harrison agreed with Babalola and granted the reliefs, effectively shutting out councils from further issuance of the unified marriage certificates and restricted them to only registration of marriages.
“It should be noted that while registration of marriages is regulated by local government being under the Concurrent List, formation of marriage is under the Exclusive Legislative List within the domain of the Federal Government regulated by the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs – item 6 of second Schedule of 1999 Constitution,” she said.
She explained that: “A marriage had been declared invalid by the Supreme Court on the ground that the marriage certificate was not in line with Form E as provided by the Marriage Act.”
Harrison said following the Supreme Court decision in Anyaegbunam Vs Anyaegbunam, 1973 3 ECSLR 243, it was trite that the local and state governments could not make separate arrangements outside the one provided for in the Marriage Act Form E.
With this judgment, it is now left for those who married at the local councils to go back and formalise their marriages as required by law. But the questions are; how and why do the local council registry and church continue to wed couples? Does it mean they did not know the implications and the illegality? Or are they doing it simply because of the money they are making from it and the desperation on the part of the intending couples to consummate their marriages anyhow?
Speaking to The Guardian on the judgment and role of local councils in marriage, a Lagos-based lawyer, Chika Nwodu said that there are registrars of marriages in the local councils who register marriages conducted in the council areas.
Nwodu said: “Legally, they only have to register marriage conducted within the council. The registrars often have offices in local councils headquarters. The first step to a valid marriage is to give a notice of marriage to the registrar of marriages by the intending couple.
“The notice is given by filling and signing a form after payment of a prescribed fee in the registrar’s office. The registrar of marriages would cause the notice to be entered in the “Marriage Notice Book” and the same published on the outer door of his office and the
notice board of the local councils.”
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