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Local gov’t seek rights to conduct marriages

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By Mercy Kelani

They sued the federal gov’t of Nigeria at the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Recently, the Lagos Court of appeal overruled a judgement that granted exclusive rights for conduction of statutory marriages to local governments in Nigeria. According to the court, local governments and Federal Marriage Registries have the rights to conduct marriages and ensure issuance of certificates to couples. The Attorney General of Nigeria and Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Interior had been sued by the local governments, who request possession of the exclusive right to conduct conjugality.

These plaintiffs include Eti-Osa in Lagos, Gor in Edo, Owerri Municipal in Imo, and Port-Harcourt in Rivers. They sued the federal government of Nigeria at the Federal High Court located in Lagos. The judgment of the judge, Daniel Isiagor, on the suit in December 2021 stopped the Minister of Interior who is in charge of Marriage Registries from further marriage contractions under the Marriage Act — Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. The Attorney General and the Interior Minister’s dissatisfaction made them file separate appeals regarding the issue.

Neither the Interior Minister nor the local councils have exclusive rights.

Represented by Tijjani Gazali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the AGF advised the Court of Appeal to posit that the trial was not right to have given exclusive rights to the local governments to administer conjugality and issue couples certificates. The judgment delivered on August 2, 2023 revealed that a three-member panel of the court, chaired by Olukayode Bada, asserted that neither local governments nor the federal government possess the exclusive right to administer statutory marriages.

Abubakar Umar, in his decisive statement, cited a judgment of the Federal High Court on a related issue in 2002. He affirmed that the pronouncement of the court that year did not confer neither the Interior Minister nor the local councils with the exclusive rights to conduct this ceremony. Therefore, he added that any reference to exclusive rights to carry out the ceremony is not in alignment with the Federal High Court’s decision in 2002, although variant with the associated Act.

There has been a long-time dispute over conduction of statutory marriages.

It was agreed by the appellate court that the contraction of wedlock in local government councils are authentic. The Appeal Court said that the trial court was wrong to have restrained the Minister of Interior from further registration and celebration of wedlock, and issuance of certificates within local governments. The requests of local governments to order refunds of every marriage fee gotten from couples by the Minister since 2002 was also refused by the Court of Appeal.

In Nigeria, there have been a long-time dispute between the federal government and local councils over conduction of statutory marriages. The dispute worsened when Nigerian embassies cited credibility issues as an excuse to refuse recognition of wedlock certificates issued by local government councils. Also, when granting visas to married couples, only matrimony certificates issued by the Federal Marriage Registries in Lagos, Abuja, and other major cities in the country are recognised in embassies and foreign organisations.

Four local gov’t pleaded restraining order on the Minister of Interior.

Resultantly, the aforementioned four local government councils in Edo, Lagos, Rivers, and Imo States lodged a suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos, seeking conferment of exclusive rights on them to contract marriages. In summons filed on April 12, 2019, the plaintiffs, through Michael Roger, their lawyer, pleaded with the court to grant an “order of perpetual injunction restraining” the Minister of Interior and his agents from contracting wedlock under the Marriage Act of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

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