Olakunle Olafioye; Onyedika Agbedo
The latest controversy trailing the validity or otherwise of marriages contracted at local government registries in Nigeria and those contracted at federal government marriage registries may have been fueled by the dwindling patronage of local government registries by shown.
Until May 2017 when a Lagos High Court presided over by Justice I.O Harrison ruled that lo- cal government areas in Nigeria do not have the powers to issue provided in Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, local government registries in Lagos State were beehives of activity as intending couples thronged the registries in their hundreds to perfect their marriages.
But following the legal battle and the injunction by the court restraining local government registries against conducting marriages, Sunday Sun learnt that the government registries were deserted by many would-be couples due to the uncertainty occasioned by the development.
However, despite the lifting of the order barring them from conducting marriages since July 2017, most local government council registries in the state have continued to suffer loss of revenue as most intending couples now prefer to have their marriages contracted at federal registries.
A marriage counselor, Mrs shunning of local government registries by intending couple this way: “The disagreement between federal registries and local government registries has been there tive pronouncement by a court of competent jurisdiction in favour of local registries, couples will continue to shun them because of the belief in the supremacy of the federal government over the state and secondly, because of the alliance between religious centres and federal registries as regards the issuance of marriage certificate.
Sources in some of the local government areas and LCDAs visited by Sunday Sun correspondents lamented that marriage registries which used to be one of the major sources of revenue generation for the LGAs are now struggling to meet their targets.
“Although people still come here for their marriages, the patronage has dropped drastically compared to what we used to have in the past. I think the problem started around May 2017 when local governments were restrained from conducting marriages. De- spite the fact that the embargo was lifted two months later, the number of people coming here for their marriages is still very low when you compare it with what we used to have before the court case,” a source at Ijaye Ojokoro LCDA marriage registry told one of our correspondents.
The feeling was similar at some other local government marriage registries visited by our correspondents including Alimosho, Ifako Ijaye, Ikeja LGAs and a couple of other LCDAs marriage registries.
But in what appeared to be desperation to reverse the trend, the Lagos State Government on Thursday, May 17 claimed that the state had secured a court in- junction restraining the Ikoyi Registry from conducting marriages.
Speaking at a press conference, the Lagos State Commissioner for Local Government and Community Affairs, Muslim Folami assured that the judgment would be communicated to all stakeholders, including embassies.
Folami who noted that the decision of the court was supreme and legally binding on all, maintained that all marriages conducted and registered in any of the 20 local governments and 37 local coun- cil development areas in the state were valid and in accordance with the Marriage act.
According to him, the judgment would put a stop to the perception of superiority of Ikoyi Marriage Registry over the local govern- ment registries.
“We are going to use every sions across the state to sensitize
our people and inform them about this latest development. From Epe to Ikorodu, Badagry, Ikeja and La- gos Island,” he said.
But in a swift reaction, the Ministry of Interior dismissed the claim by the Lagos State Govern- ment insisting that the presiding judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor, only upheld the judgment of a Federal High Court delivered in 2002, which was not appealed.
The Director of Legal, Ministry of Interior, Bola Odugbesan, made Abuja.
Dismissing the claims by the Lagos State Government, Odug- besan presented a copy of the judgment by Justice Obiozor, who described the case as “an abuse of court process” and struck it out.
Odugbesan explained that the case, Suit No: FHC/L/ CS/1760/16, between Egor Local Government Area, Edo State and three others Vs. Ministry of Interior & others, cited by the Lagos State Government, was actually struck out by Justice Obiozor in his judgment delivered on April 30, 2018.
“In the case, the court was invited to interpret the provisions of the Constitution conferring on local governments the powers to register marriages.
“The Minister of Interior, through his Counsel, Bola Odugbesan, argued that under item 61 of the Exclusive List, matters connected with marriage under the Marriage Act, issuing of marriage outside the purview of state and/or local governments.”
“The Federal High Court in its judgment dated April 30, 2018, struck out the case of the plaintiffs, i.e., Egor LGA & Ors.
“The court held that the case is an abuse of the court process in view of the earlier judgment of the court in 2002, which upheld the sanctity of the rights of the minister to issue licences to places of worship to conduct marriages, and the registrar under the Marriage Act to register marriages.
It is instructive to note that Lagos State was not a party in the case,” Odugbesan explained, insisting that the Federal High Court never ordered the closure of Ikoyi Marriage Registry.
Reacting to the issue, Malachy Ugwumadu, a lawyer and rights activist, said the law only recognises marriages that are contracted in marriage registries in accordance with the Matrimonial Causes Act.
He said: “My take is that the law recognises marriage contract-ed under the Act and that occurs in recognised marriage registries. When parties approach marriage registries and contract their mar- riage there, regardless of whether they have had traditional marriages or church weddings, what the law recognises is marriage contracted under the Act and that happens in the marriage registries. So, you cannot be talking of marriages contracted in marriage registries without records of that marriage. It is that record that is the registration. So in effect, two things happen there — marriages are contracted there and they are registered as marriages contract- ed under the law. So, you cannot have a marriage under the Act and it is in INEC data base or in the data base of the National Population Commission (NPC). Marriages contracted under the Act are documented as a matter of record in the marriage regis- marriage. So that controversy is largely orchestrated by limited knowledge of what happens there. The High Court cannot intervene in any matrimonial matter except of the marriage, which is issued by a marriage registry. When I say Act, I mean the Matrimonial Causes Act and it doesn’t happen in any other place other than the marriage registry. That is what the law recognises.
Asked if marriages contracted in marriage registries domiciled in local councils also have the backing of the law, Ugwumadu added: “The fact that it is domiciled in the local council does not mean that it is no longer a marriage registry. Virtually every local government in this country has a marriage registry. It is recognised by law;; that is why they issue marriage cer- Act. It’s just like having police posts in local communities for ease of access, but it is still the same Nigeria Police Force. Also look at it this way — the issue of domicile is for the entire Nigerian State. It is for that reason you can take a marriage matter that was contracted in Ekiti State to Kano State and institute an action there. It is only in marriage matters that you can do that, otherwise you will be caught with what we call territorial jurisdiction.