Last week’s post highlighted the challenges facing proposals to merge customary marriage and Church marriage. As described a few weeks ago, statutory and Church marriages are already integrated in Nigeria because they are largely similar. As we evaluate the challenges facing customary marriage and Church marriage in Nigeria, it is opportune to explore if statutory marriages in Nigeria are merged with customary marriage. Today’s post explores this argument using the provisions of the Marriage Act of 1914, the document regulating statutory marriage in Nigeria.
First, the Marriage Act provides that statutory marriages in Nigeria are to be celebrated in the government registry or a place of public worship, which the government minister must license (Marriage Act, 6). Apart from these two places, the Act does not make room for any other place. Since customary marriages are often done at the bride’s home, they do not meet the requirement for a place of public worship. Using the field or square of a licensed place of public worship to accommodate more people is irrelevant because the celebration is not the religious worship that the Marriage Act intends.
Second, since customary marriages permit polygamy and statutory marriages do not, the Marriage Act is unequivocal regarding polygamy or bigamy. Section 11 (1) of the Act states that the registrar shall not issue a certificate authorising the marriage until he has been satisfied by affidavit “that neither of the parties to the intended marriage is married by customary law to any person other than the person with whom such marriage is proposed to be contracted”.
Section 33 (1) states: “No marriage in Nigeria shall be valid where either of the parties thereto at the time of the celebration of such marriage is married under customary law to any person other than the person with whom such marriage is had.”
Section 35 says: “Any person who is married under this Act, or whose marriage is declared by this Act to be valid, shall be incapable, during the continuance of such marriage, of contracting a valid marriage under customary law, but, save as aforesaid, nothing in this Act contained shall affect the validity of any marriage contracted under or in accordance with any customary law, or in any manner apply to marriages so contracted.”
Regarding penalties for breaching the law, Section 46 states: “Whoever contracts a marriage under the provisions of this Act, or any modification or re-enactment thereof, being at the time married in accordance with customary law to any person other than the person with whom such marriage is contracted, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.”
Section 47 continues: “Whoever, having contracted marriage under this Act, or any modification or re-enactment thereof, or under any enactment repealed by this Act, during the continuance of such marriage contracts a marriage in accordance with customary law, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.”
The words of the Act show that the major concern regarding customary law is polygamy and bigamy, which undermine statutory marriage. Unlike the integration of Church and statutory marriages, the Marriage Act does not permit a single marriage celebration that will be valid both in customary law and statutory law. They must be done differently for validity. However, based on Section 47, customary marriage must come first.
May God continue to help us🙏🏾