Ned Nwoko/Regina Daniel: Undue media hysteria
It all began two weeks ago whilst I was on vacation in the United Kingdom. I read the media frenzy concerning the private life of one of Nigeria’s most illustrious maritime lawyer and political statesman -Prince Ned Nwoko. The story goes that a budding and talented actress Miss Regina Daniel of the NollyWood fame is getting married to this Delta north senatorial district born political statesman Prince Ned Nwoko who not too long ago is said to have obtained a license from the National University Commission for the setting up of west Africa’s first ever Sports university to be known as STAR University which he choose to locate in his beautiful countryside in Delta State as a weapon of mass empowerment of his people. At first when I read the story from the social media platforms of some youngsters, what occurred to me whilst I was busy quaffing cups of hot Americano coffee in central London, was that it was just mere chattering by some youths who needed to just take up some topic to spend on during their school holidays given that universities were on break.
But the story has since taken a life of its own and indeed important persons in the social platforms have jumped into the fray or rather into the arena of social conversations on a matter that from all angles are extremely private matters of two adults who as it were have consented to be married as husband and wife in absolute compliance with the extant marriage Act applicable in Nigeria. The conversations around the marital status of Ned Nwoko and his new wife Mrs. Regina Daniel have however dangled between the imaginary to mere fabrications from persons who never took some moments to reflect on the other developmental dimensions of Ned Nwoko who was in the House of Representative for four years between 1999-2003 and again has just been returned as the winner of Delta North senatorial election of 2019 by competent court of law. However, as someone who has led one of the foremost Civil Rights bodies, I am also very conversant with Prince Ned Nwoko’s political and social trajectories and I am aware that given the charged political environment, any unfounded stories could be framed up and blown out of proportions just to damage his unprecedented political and social profiles.
A professional look at the relevant laws shows that what has happened between Prince Ned Nwoko and Regina Daniel who is a grown up adult and a professional in her own right have all the imprimatur of legality and therefore all the stories being made up to tarnish the time- tested image of a statesman built by Prince Ned Nwoko could be the handiworks of his entrenched political rivals. By the way his new wife has gone past the age of legal consent for marriage as she is no more a teenager. Lets reflect on the laws relating to marital unions in Nigeria. What then is marriage? From available legal research “a marriage is an interpersonal relationship with governmental, social, or religious recognition, usually intimate and sexual and often created as a contract. The most frequently occurring form of marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife. Other forms of marriage also exist, for example, polygamy in which a person takes more than one spouse, is common in many societies.
Law experts had opined that a marriage must have legally been in existence before a divorce and consequential issues can arise. Law scholars say such consequential issues include maintenance, maintenance pending suit, lump sum settlement, settlement of property, division of assets and custody of children. Specifically, section 18 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act CAP A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 provides for protection of family life. This is achieved principally by the sanctity of marriage. Scholars say there are basically three different types of marriage that a man and a woman can contract in Nigeria. They are:(a) Statutory/Church Marriage
(b) Customary Marriage
(c) Islamic Marriage
Writing about extant legislations regulating Marriages in Nigeria will inevitably see us state that the principal legislations regulating statutory marriages in Nigeria are: 1. The Marriage Act;2. The Matrimonial Causes Act Cap M7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004;Matrimonial Causes Rules made pursuant to the Matrimonial Causes Act. Some issues around legal jurisprudence and Jurisdiction are key and indeed pivotal to this conversation. Lawyers say the main requirements for courts to have jurisdiction in relation to matrimonial causes proceedings is domicile in Nigeria. A person who is domiciled in any state of the federation is considered domiciled in Nigeria and can bring a petition for matrimonial causes reliefs in the High Court of any State of the Federation. Also, the Marriage Act, which is a federal legislation, makes provisions for the celebration of marriages in Nigeria. It is clear that the Act is designed only for the celebration of marriage between a man and a woman, and the marriage has to be a monogamous one. A monogamous marriage has been defined in the Interpretation Act as: “a marriage which is recognized by the law of the place where it is contracted as a voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others during the continuance of the marriage”. “The Church believes that marriage, by divine institution is a life, long and exclusive union and partnership between one man and one woman. Its laws and regulations are based on this belief”.
Indeed the Church rites at marriage ceremonies state as much. It is a union that ensures till “death do us part”. If therefore a woman whilst still in a marriage contracted under statute, contracts another marriage, statutory, or otherwise, she has committed the offence of bigamy. The same applies to a man who whilst still married under the Act, proceeds to take more wives under Customary or Islamic Law. The Criminal Code Act. Reads as follows:- “Any person, who having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
This section of this Code does not extend to any person whose marriage with such husband or wife has been dissolved or declared void by a Court of competent jurisdiction, nor to any person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband or wife, if such husband or wife, at the time of the subsequent marriage, shall have been absent from such person for the space of seven years, and shall not have been heard of by such person as being alive within that time”.
` Indeed in certain circumstances a marriage solemnized in Church without the licence of the Registrar of marriage shall be null and void. The relevant Law reads:-“A marriage shall be null and void if both parties knowingly and willfully acquiesce in its celebration –(a) in any place other than the office of a Registrar of marriage or a licencesed place of worship (except where authorized by the licence issued under Section 13 of this Act) or(b) Under a false name or names or (c) Without a Registrar’s certificate or notice or licence issued under Section 13 of this Act duly issued or (d) By a person not being a recognized Minister of some denomination or body or a Registrar of marriage”.
To be continued tomorrow
Onwubiko, head, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)