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Local government can issue marriage certificates in accordance with marriage act, say lawyers

By Joseph Onyekwere
03 June 2017   |   4:00 am
The second Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani has argued that marriages conducted by local councils are still valid, as the court decision hinges...

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The second Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Monday Ubani has argued that marriages conducted by local councils are still valid, as the court decision hinges on the certificate being issued by the council, which is not in sync with the format designed by the Marriage Act.

“That format was changed by the ALGON people. They went and designed their own format, which is different from the certificate issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Interior).

“The implication is that those who have already conducted their marriages at the local government areas should go for a change of certificate and possibly pay a prescribed fee.

“It does not mean that such marriages have been invalidated, because the judgment did not say that it is only the Federal Government that can conduct marriage,” he explained.

Partner, Perchstone and Graeys, Folabi Kuti also said what the court adjudicated on has to do with the documents issued by the local governments and not the marriage.

The judgment, he stated, did not nullify marriages conducted in local councils; hence those who had their marriages in local governments should go and validate their documents.

A law lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Fassy Yusuf asserted that those who had had their marriages in the councils should go back to exchange the certificate declared null and void for the appropriate one.

“The local government has to comply with the provisions of the Marriage Act and issue certificates as it is done in Ikoyi Marriage Registry.

“That is the right thing to do, unless they want to appeal and in that case, they will ask for stay of execution of the judgment,” he stated.

He also noted that it was the issue of certificate that was in contention and not the marriage itself, adding that the judgment dis not nullify such marriages.

Lagos-based lawyer, Theophilus Akanwa reckoned that the implication of the judgment is that such marriages never existed or were not legally conducted.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) has urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to dismiss a suit seeking a declaration that the Ministry of Interior does not have the powers to solemnise and register marriages.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to rather declare that it is the local councils that have the exclusive right to conduct and register marriages.

The suit, marked FHC/L/CS/1760/16, was filed before Justice Chuka Obiozor by four local governments of Egor (Edo State), Eti-Osa (Lagos State), Owerri Municipal (Imo State) and Port Harcourt (Rivers State).

The local governments, through their counsel, Michael Roger are contending that by virtue of Section 1(5) Paragraph 1(i) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Ministry of Interior has no business registering marriages as it currently does.

Roger had exhibited before Justice Obiozor an earlier judgment by Justice Oyindamola Olomojobi of the Federal High Court, wherein the court declared that only councils have the powers to register marriages by virtue of Section 30 (1) of the Marriage Act and Section 7 (5) of the 1999 Constitution.

However, in the said judgment delivered on June 8, 2002, Justice Olomojobi clarified that other lawful authorities could “celebrate or contract marriages.”

Justice Olomojobi listed “Lawful bodies or authorities, which can celebrate or contract marriages for intending persons, who are desirous of getting married as husbands and wives, as “Registrars in places designated as an office; recognised ministers of a religious organisation in a licenced place of worship; and marriages contracted under the licence granted by the Director General, Ministry of Internal Affairs; Director General of a state government in charge of marriages; any officer in the ministries the Minister of Internal Affairs.”

Relying on Justice Olomojobi’s judgment, the local governments are urging Justice Obiozor to declare that the Minister of Interior has no powers to register marriages.

Joined as respondents in the suit are the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau and Malami.

In response to the suit, Malami filed a preliminary objection, wherein he urged Justice Obiozor to dismiss the plaintiffs’ suit for abuse of court processes.

The AGF argued that the issue raised by the plaintiffs had already been settled by the judgment delivered on June 8, 2002 by Justice Olomojobi.

In a five-paragraph affidavit, a lawyer from the AGF’s chamber, Lawrence Ilop said: “Justice Olomojobi has settled, once and for all, the question of who can contract marriages and did not vest that right solely on the local government councils.

“The marriage registries, as contemplated in the Marriage Act, are designated places of celebration of marriages and not strictly for keeping registers of marriages as being erroneously averred by the applicants.”

He urged Justice Obiozor to dismiss the suit because the plaintiffs were forum shopping and abusing the processes of court.

Justice Obiozor adjourned hearing in the case till June 8.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs have alleged a misinterpretation of the May 15, 2017 judgment of Justice I.O. Harrison of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, insisting the Judge did not declare local government marriage certificate illegal.

The Plaintiffs said Justice Harrison, in the judgment, declined the prayer to perpetually restrain the Registered Trustees of ALGON and their agents “from further issuing the Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate.”

National President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Rev. Samson Ayokunle

They argued that the Judge rather held that, “…all marriages conducted by the first and second defendants (Ikeja Local Government and ALGON) are lawful, in which modified certificates are issued.”

But Justice Harrison had in her judgment, declared that the first defendant did not have the powers to issue modified or customised marriage certificates different from the one provided in Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act.

She said: “The court thus orders as follows: Declaration that the second 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 or altered marriage certificates apart from the form as provided under Form E (first schedule) and Section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990.

“A perpetual injunction, restraining the second defendant, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing Modified Local Government Unified Marriage Certificates,” she held.

The Judge stated that while registration of marriages was regulated by councils, being under the Concurrent List, formation of marriage is under the Exclusive List within the domain of the Federal Government regulated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Interior) -item 6 of second Schedule of 1999 Constitution (as amended).

CAN, Clerics Want Clarification Of Judgment
By Chris Irekamba
THE President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Samson Olasupo Ayokunle has called on legal practitioners to clarify the recent judgment nullifying marriages contracted at local government councils.

He stressed that from the layman’s understanding of the judgment, it did not say that marriages conducted by local governments were not valid, but that marriage certificates issued by local governments were different from the ones from the Ministry of Interior.

Speaking to The Guardian on the recent judgment that declared marriage certificate issued by local council area illegal, he said that local governments could still conduct marriages, but they must comply with and issue certificates that comply with the marriage ordinance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

His words: “I think local governments can still conduct weddings, but they must comply with and issue certificates that comply with the marriage ordinance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is the duty of the local government to obtain the appropriate certificate of wedding from the Ministry of Internal or Home Affairs that complies with the marriage ordinance of Nigeria.

“If, however, I am wrong, then we are waiting to hear from the appropriate authority on where marriages should be conducted and who should issue the certificates.”

The Director of Social Communications, Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos, Reverend Gabriel Osu said: “We need them to clarify properly the intention of the government because as it is now, all it means is that everything done by the local governments are null and void, except that of Ikoyi Registry, which belongs to the Federal Government.

“I don’t think the intention is to nullify anything that has been done previously. The law is meant for the people and not the people for the law. What will they say about traditional marriages?”

The cleric, who blamed the recent pronouncement on rivalry between state governments, local governments and the Federal Government said: “That is what I feel it is, because money is involved and things like that. Well, I don’t know what else it can be and I believe with time, things will be sorted out.

He added that he would advise members of his Church who intend to wed to go to the Ikoyi Marriage Registry and obtain the ‘authentic’ marriage certificate pending further clarification.

Lamenting the condition and fate of those who had obtained local government marriage certificates in the past, Osu noted: “Millions of Nigerians have wedded and received local government marriage certificates so we need more clarification from the government or ministry in charge to tell us the status of all those who have wedded and have obtained local government certificates.

“They need to explain to us. As it is now, the thing has more far reaching implication than meets the eyes, because millions of people have obtained local government marriage certificates should them go and change it or what should they do now?

He cautioned that, “Many people are getting married everyday and the Ikoyi Registry cannot serve everybody going for marriage. As it is now, if you come to me and you want to wed I would just direct you to the Ikoyi Marriage Registry, which is the Federal Government unlike before when you can easily obtain it at any local council.

They need to clarify what they meant, so that people can have sense of direction if not in future, it might backfire. It may be during census or any other thing. Another racketeering will start again because you must tender the authentic certificate so I don’t know what they want to achieve.

“In the Catholic Church for instance, marriage is conducted between two people, a man and woman who exchange vows ‘for better, for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health till death do us part.’

“They are the ones getting married and giving themselves to each other and the priest is the official witness, as well as the people of God in the church who witness to the commitment of their marriage. So the priest definitely will conduct such marriages,” he said.

Another cleric- the General Overseer of Fresh Anointing Missionary Ministries Incorporated, Warri, Delta State, Reverend Francis Ejiroghene Waive argued that the judgment was in line with international best practices.

He said: “I believe it is in our interest as a country and it is in line with international best practices that we have only one legal document recognisable anywhere as a marriage certificate issued by the relevant authority in Nigeria.

“This is my personal view and I think this is what the Lagos High Court validated. To my knowledge, most local councils in the country issue the Marriage Certificate as shown in Form E of the first Schedule of the Marriage Act LFN 1990. Thus you will not see the name of the Local Council printed on the certificate issued. And this is the same certificate issued by most churches in the country as law abiding citizens.

“What the court voided was ‘the modified or customised marriage certificates issued by local governments in contravention of section 24 of the marriage act. I must add that there are also churches that print their own marriage certificates with their name and logo on it, which is similar to what the Court has declared null and void. Consequently, there is a need for all to obey the law.

“Anyone with marriage certificates that are not valid should obtain the correct document immediately. And those getting married henceforth should ensure they get the right certificate. You may want to get an additional church or local government document if you please but you do this with the knowledge that it is not valid in law.

“This position of the Court is the reason some embassies have refused marriage certificates presented by Nigerians in the past. The legal practitioner who instituted this action must be commended for saving others from this experience, which is usually embarrassing.”

On who is qualified to conduct marriages, Waive said: “Trained marriage registrars and trained and licensed ministers are qualified to conduct marriages under the Marriage Act, but the certificates they issue must be the ones shown in Form E of the first Schedule of the Marriage Act LFN 1990 a copy of which must be deposited with the government department which can be through the local council.”

The Archbishop, Ecclesiastical Province of Lagos and Bishop of Remo, Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Ogun State, Reverend Michael Olusina Fape defined marriage as an extension of God’s benevolence to mankind, a union between man and woman; and the first of all human institutions created by God according to Genesis 2:18-24.

“From time immemorial, it would seem as if there has been a legal perspective to the issue of marriage in the Old Testament time. This could be inferred in the New Testament time from the way the Pharisees accosted Jesus with the legality of divorce in Matthew 19:7.

From the context of that scripture passage, a divorce certificate would only be needed to validate the dissolution of marriage, if in the first instance there is one establishing the legality of that marriage.

“In contemporary time, marriage could either be by way of native law and custom, civil or church wedding. However, in both civil and church weddings, there is a marriage certificate issued on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria by the Ministry of Interior (formerly Ministry of Internal Affairs).

This marriage certificate bears the logo of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and can only be issued by the registrar in the Registry of a Local Government so approved by the Law or by a clergyman whose Church has been so duly licensed by the Federal Government to perform wedding services under the Marriage Act.

Under the Marriage Act (Chapter 218) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, there are procedures for conducting marriage services and to make the certificate valid. These include the statutory filing of marriage notice in the council where the wedding is to hold for a period of 21 days.

In case of a Church wedding, and provided there is no caveat during the 21 days, this is followed by another period of 21 days when the Bann of marriage is published in the Church for another consecutive three Sundays. It is when there is no objection that the wedding can take place, with a Marriage Certificate issued by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Monday Ubani

In the Anglican Church, if a civil marriage is contracted in the Registry of a Local Government following due process, and a Marriage Certificate is issued, the same is recognised as legal and will be followed by the service of the blessing of a marriage.

“Today, there are arranged weddings or marriages for various reasons. Many of them fall short of the legal requirements and when such are discovered, they could be declared null and void. Certificates issued for such marriages are invalid. There is, therefore, the need to follow due process for obtaining marriage certificates, whether in a civil marriage from the local council registry or Church wedding,” Fape added.

‘Council Certificate Is For Revenue Generation, Not Marriage Legitimacy’
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos
In northern Nigeria, marriage certificate issued by local councils are not well pronounced and binding on couples because of their cultural and religious beliefs.

Christians and Muslims alike believe in the sanctity of marriage between couples through the involvement of their religious leaders.

But one binding thing that unifies the pronouncement of these two religious is the fact that all the traditional marriage rites must be certified.

One of the couples who married five years ago at a marriage registry at a local council in Jos, Kayode Ojoru told The Guardian that the certificate issued to them by the local council has no legal backing, as far as he was concerned.

Ojoru said: “This is because in my own case, there was no involvement of both parents in exchange of any traditional marriage rites so as to get the blessings of parents.

“It is very common in the state to just carry a partner from the street and go to the marriage registry of the local government. They will give you forms to fill after payment of the prescribed fees, which is only tailored towards generation of revenue for the local government.”

“In this case anybody can be picked somewhere and disguised as parents. The target is the revenue generation and not the legitimacy of the marriage. My marriage was however, willingly dissolved by both of us because of a strong disagreement on a particular issue.”

Ojoru added that he became aware that marriage contracted in the local government registry always deprives biological parents the rights to bless their children before marriage, because traditional rites are not properly made.

“They don’t reject anybody who want a marriage certificate because probably nobody has drawn their attention to the court judgment in question, describing local council certificate as illegal and unconstitutional.”

Also, Gyang Saleh, who got married to Patience about six years ago at the local government marriage registry, said that they were not bothered by the court judgment because the marriage was happily blessed with children and they were happy together.

“We love each other as husband and wife. We don’t have problems with our parents because we married in the local government registry.

“I paid the dowry required and performed the necessary marriage rites for my in-laws before we signed the marriage certificate at the local government. So, for me I don’t see any impact of that judgment on our marriage. We are not praying for any dissolution of the marriage or any disagreement that will make us go to court.”

Former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Jos Branch, Sule Kwasau told The Guardian that there is a Marriage Act in the country, which regulates marriage through the Marriage Registry.

“If you follow all the procedures in the Act very well, the marriage certificates issued therein are lawful and legal. Any marriage contracted at the Church, especially the Catholic Church is also legal.”

Despite Judgment, Local Govts Issue Marriage Certificates
By Temitope Makinde and Kemi Sokoya

In spite of the judgment, some local council registries in Lagos State are still issuing marriage certificates to prospective couples secretly because of the revenue they generate there from.

A visit to Mushin, Ikeja and Apapa council areas revealed that some people who parade themselves as legal officers are issuing marriage certificates to some couples.

When asked about the requirements, they listed N12,200 non-refundable fee for wedding registry, counseling and swearing-in of the couples, before the swearing-in at the court, which last for 21 working days.

Commenting on the development, a shop owner at Ikeja, Abimbola Rasaq said that government should help disseminate the necessary information to help people avoid engaging in illegal marriages at the council areas.

At Ajeromi-Ifelodun council area, some Nigerians who are ignorant of the recent judgment are still patronising the local councils’ registry.

Speaking, a lady who pleaded anonymity said: “I did my marriage some weeks ago before the judgment was delivered. I am yet to collect my certificate. I am disappointed and shattered with this development. It means we have to start everything afresh.”

Ikoyi, Marriage Registry Or Business Centre?
By Tobi Awodipe

A visit to the Ikoyi Registry at Falomo is an eye-opener. The registry has managed to get rid of the touts, fraudsters and lay-abouts that used to hang around the entrance looking for who to defraud. But if you think that the touts are totally gone, you may be wrong, as officials of the Nigeria Civil Defence Corps (NCDC) who work with the Registry officials have simply replaced them.

From the moment you get there, an officer would ask where you’re going and the moment you mention ‘registry’, he or she would lead you to the office and tell you to ask for a particular person, who would already be waiting for you at the entrance.

The officials ‘jostle’ for customers, fighting if need be, and when you finally decide on one, you are told the requirements to get a license or certificate, whichever one you need.

One of the officials who spoke to The Guardian said the certificate costs N31, 000 if one wanted to wed at the registry and would fill a form and an announcement would be posted for 21 days.

She however, said if one wanted it the next day, it could be arranged for an extra N10, 000, but if one wanted it the same day, it would cost N15, 000. But if one’s partner was based abroad, one would pay N60, 000.

On the disparity between home based couples and those based abroad, she said: “Na so we dey collect am.” However, if one simply wanted to register and get a license for Church wedding, one would pay N25, 000 and that could be quickly arranged as well.

The forms to be collected include birth certificate or a sworn declaration of age and an affidavit of bachelorhood and spinsterhood, which would cost N1,000 each and could also be arranged immediately as someone was on stand by to help out.

Around the premises, you see all forms of vendors, offering to get you whatever you needed to facilitate the process. The vendors include cake makers, bouquet makers, caterers, make-up artists, photographers and videographers, among many others.

Speaking with a couple who just wedded at the registry, the bride said she was not aware of the judgment, but decided on Ikoyi because she was told it was easier to get a visa with an Ikoyi registry certificate.

She also claimed that she had to grease the palms of all the officials along the way and could end up spending about N50, 000.

“They would also ask you to ‘appreciate’ them in kind, so apart from the money you would give, you would also give other things. But to be sincere, the officials here are not so bad compared to the ones at Ikeja where my sister got married.

“Those ones wrote for us a list of things we were to buy including juice, assorted biscuits, wine, soft drinks and alcohol. They would also pass tray round severally for ‘appreciation’. I’m just glad it is over now,” she said.

FG Warns Councils Against Issuing Marriage Certificates
From Kanayo Umeh, Abuja

The Ministry of Interior Affairs has warned all local governments areas issuing marriage certificates across the country to desist from doing so, describing it as an illegality.

The ministry said it was illegal for any state or local government in the country to make a separate arrangement outside the one provided for in the Marriage Act.

The Director, Press and Public Relations, Willie Bassey who disclosed this to The Guardian in Abuja, said the authentic marriage certificate is the Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act LFN 1990.

He explained that the ministry issues the Form E marriage certificate in all marriage registries across the country and other licensed places of worship.

Bassey added that, “This is a landmark judgment and a welcome development. Those involved in illegality should therefore desist.

A Lagos High Court had recently barred local government areas from issuing forthwith, marriage certificates, saying it was unlawful and unconstitutional.