There has been much debate about the judgment delivered on April 30, 2018 by Honourable Justice (Prof.) C.A. Obiozor of the Federal High Court, Lagos, in respect of the suit marked FHC/L/CS/1760/16 – Egor Local Government Edo State & 3 ORS V. Hon. Minister Of Interior & […]
There has been much debate about the judgment delivered on April 30, 2018 by Honourable Justice (Prof.) C.A. Obiozor of the Federal High Court, Lagos, in respect of the suit marked FHC/L/CS/1760/16 – Egor Local Government Edo State & 3 ORS V. Hon. Minister Of Interior & 2 Ors. The case borders on the power of the Ikoyi Marriage Registry and other federal marriage registries to contract and celebrate marriages.
Following the judgment of the court, headlines such as, “Marriages conducted by Ikoyi Registry not legally binding, court rules”; “Court stops Ikoyi Registry from conducting marriages,” etc. have appeared in various quarters. Such headlines have caused a number of persons who had their marriages conducted at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry to fret about the legality of their marriage.
I have read the judgment of the honourable court and will like to clarify and highlight a couple of points. First, Honourable Justice Obiozor did not make any pronouncement on whether the Ikoyi Marriage Registry or any other federal marriage registry can conduct, celebrate or register marriages. In fact, the court did not consider the substance of the case because the 2nd defendant in the suit filed an objection to the suit, on the basis that the issues raised in the instant suit had already been decided by another judge of the Federal High Court in a previous suit – Suit No. FHC/L/870/2002: Haastrup & Anor V. Eti Osa Local Government & 2 Ors. Honourable Justice Obiozor upheld the objection.
Obiozor J had, in the course of examining the issues raised in the two suits, referred to the judgment of the court in the Haastrup case where the court held that whilst marriages can be contracted under a licence granted by the Director General, Ministry of Internal Affairs (now Ministry of Interior) and the Minister of Interior: “as regards registration of marriages only, this is within the exclusive authority of the registrar within the marriage district (local government) in accordance with the provisions of Section 30(1) of the Marriage Act and Section 7(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and paragraph 1(i) of the Fourth Schedule of the same Constitution”.
The purport, therefore, of the decision of the court in Haastrup’s case is that whilst the Ikoyi Marriage Registry, which issues marriage licenses under the hand of the Minister of Interior, can validly contract marriages and issue marriage certificates, only local government marriage registries can register such marriages. Registration of marriages simply entails the transmission of a copy of the marriage certificate to the registrar of marriages for the district in which the marriage took place. By Section 30(1) of the Marriage Act, every registrar of marriage is expected to keep in his office, a Marriage Register in which every certificate of marriage filed in his office shall be registered. Thus, going by the decision of the court in Haastrup’s case, the Marriage Register and a copy of every marriage certificate issued ought to be lodged with the local government marriage registries. Therefore, after a marriage has been validly contracted at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry, the marriage certificate issued must be transmitted to the local government marriage registry within the district for registration. Failure to register the marriage certificate with the local government marriage registry does NOT render a marriage invalid.
It is also important to note that going by Obiozor J’s findings in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1760/16, there is, at the moment, no appeal against the decision of the court in Haastrup’s case, which therefore means that the decision of the court in Haastrup’s case is legally binding. Therefore, newly-wedded couples are to ensure that a copy of their marriage certificate is filed at the local government marriage registry and that same is entered in the Marriage Register.
It appeared to the court that the plaintiffs – Egor Local Government Area of Edo State, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State, Owerri Municipal Local Government Area of Imo State, and Port Harcourt City Local Government Area of Rivers State – in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1760/16 had, in filing the said suit, tried to enforce the decision of the court in the Haastrup case, but went about it the wrong way, seeking similar declaratory reliefs as that contained in the Haastrup case. Obiozor J, in delivering the judgment, had hinted that the court would have been empowered to adjudge the case on its merits if the plaintiffs had simply sought reliefs seeking to enforce the decision of the court in the Haastrup case rather than seeking declaratory reliefs that federal marriage registries, such as the Ikoyi Marriage Registry, do not have the power to contract, celebrate and issue marriage certificates as they had done in the Haastrup case.
Given that Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1760/16 was merely struck out by the court, the plaintiffs have the option of filing court processes seeking reliefs aimed at enforcing the judgment of the court in the Haastrup case. Be that as it may, it behoves the local government authorities, the Federal Government as well as the courts to ensure that whatever decision is taken will not cause unnecessary difficulty and hardship for persons who have contracted and registered their marriages at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry and other federal marriage registries. It is in situations such as this that the maxim, “salus populi est suprema lex” – the welfare of the people is the supreme law – proves apt.
- Makinde, a legal practitioner, wrote from Lagos