Following the hearing of the above named suit, Hon. Justice Ibironke Harrison of the High Court of Lagos State, Igbosere division delivered a judgement declaring the marriage certificates issued by all local governments in Nigeria illegal and unconstitutional while restraining them from further issuance of “Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate” to Nigerians.
The orders of the court are as follows:
1. Declaration that the 1st Defendant (Ikeja Local Government) does not have powers to issue modified and/or customized marriage certificates different from that provided in Form E under section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990.
2. Declaration that the 2nd Defendant’s (ALGON) “Local government Unified Marriage Certificate” is unknown to our law, unconstitutional, null and void.
3. Perpetual injunction restraining the Defendants, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing modified and/or alter marriage certificate apart from the form as provided under Form E (1st schedule) and section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990.
4. Perpetual injunction restraining the 2nd Defendant, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing “Local Government Unified Marriage Certificates.
5. An Order that all modified marriage certificates issued by 1st and 2nd Defendants be surrendered to the appropriate local government where the marriage was conducted and an appropriate certificate in line with Form E should be re-issued to the Claimant herein and all concerned persons.
As interesting as this judgment would appear, I am of the opinion that the judgement of the Honourable court that Local government Unified Marriage Certificate is unknown to our law and null and void is not in tandem with the provisions of the Marriage Act, Matrimonial Causes Act, and decisions of the Supreme Court on the issue of marriage certificate particularly FORM E. The above decision would at best be adjudged partially but not wholly correct.
The overall premise upon which the court rest its decision is on the fact that the “Customized Marriage Certificate” issued by the Ikeja Local Government and the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) is different from that provided for in FORM E under section 24 of the Marriage Act.
It is not the position of the law that FORM E is the only certificate recognised by the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act as constituting proof of marriage. The salient provisions of Sections 32 and 86 of the Marriage Act and Matrimonial Causes Act respectively are instructive, unambiguous and clear.
Section 32 Marriage Act provides thus:
” Every certificate of marriage which shall have been filed in the office of the registrar of any district, or a copy thereof, purporting to be signed and certified as a true copy by the registrar of such district for the time being, and every entry in a marriage register book, or copy thereof certified as aforesaid, shall be admissible as evidence of the marriage to which it relates, in any court of justice or before any person having by law or consent of parties authority to hear, receive, and examine evidence.”
Section 86 Matrimonial Causes Act provides thus:
“In proceedings under this Act the court may receive as evidence of the facts stated in it, a document purporting to be either the original or a certified copy of any certificate, entry or record of a birth, death or marriage alleged to have taken place, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere.”
His lordship in his judgement cited and referred to the case of ANYAEBUNAM v. ANYAEBUNAM (1973) 3 ECSLR, 243; (1973) ANLR, 320. It is also my view that the decision of the Supreme Court in that case was applied out of context in this case. The rationale behind the decision of the Supreme Court in ANYAEBUNAM’S case was not because FORM E was not issued and obtained by the parties. In fact, the Supreme Court had this to say in ANYAEBUNAM’S case after considering Section 32 Marriage Act and Section 86 Matrimonial Causes Act-
“It must be noted, however, that the above section (section 32 M.A) did not say that such certificate of marriage, or a certified true copy of it, shall be the only evidence of such marriage. Indeed the standard of proof required in matrimonial causes is clearly stated in section 82 and 86 of the matrimonial Causes act…. It seems to us that, while section 82 provides for a general standard of proof, section 86 provides for what is required as proof of birth, death or marriage.
“Again, it will be inappropriate to suggest that the only way to prove a birth, death or marriage is by the production of the relevant certificate or a certified copy thereof. Thus, where there is evidence of a ceremony of marriage having been gone through, followed by the cohabitation of the parties, everything necessary for the validity of the marriage will be presumed….”
See also, AKPARANTA v. AKPARANTA
By the combined provisions of the Acts and case laws, it is my argument that a marriage certificate no matter how customised is as valid as FORM E itself for the purpose of proving celebration of marriage.
It is my opinion that the Court could have, in the alternative and circumstance, ordered the Ikeja Local Government and ALGON to issue FORM E in addition to any Customised Marriage Certificate. The “Customised Marriage Certificates” cannot be said to be null and void as Section 32 Marriage Act and 86 Matrimonial Causes Act acknowledges other forms of certificates, entries or records.
Also, the Standard of Proof of marriage is as stated in Section 82 Matrimonial Causes Act, to wit:
(1) “For the purposes of this Act, a matter of fact shall be taken to be proved if it is established to the reasonable satisfaction of the court.
(2) Where a provision of this Act requires the court to be satisfied of the existence of any ground or fact or as to any other matter, it shall be sufficient if the court is reasonably satisfied of the existence of that ground or fact, or as to that other matter.”
On the other hand, can the Ikeja Local Government and ALGON be said to licensed places to celebrate marriage?
His lordship in his judgement made it clear that the constitutional powers vested on Local governments Council is only “registration of all births, deaths and Marriages” while “the formation, annulment and dissolution of marriage” is an exclusive matter vested on the National Assembly to legislate on. See, Item 1(i) Fourth Schedule and Item 61 Second Schedule to the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1990 (as Amended) respectively.
Under the Marriage Act, marriage can only be celebrated in_
a. A licensed placed of worship, except a license is issued under Section 13 (see, Section 21 of the Act); and
b. The office of a Registrar of marriages. (Section 27 of the Act)
Section 33(2) (a) of the Marriage Act also provides that a marriage will be invalid where it is celebrated “in any place other than the office of a registrar of marriages or a licensed place of worship (except where authorised by the licence issued under section 13 of this Act)”.
It is trite position of the law that, except it can be shown that a Local Government Council has been so designated as a licensed place of worship or that a license has been so issued to the intending couple under section 13 of the Act, any marriage so celebrated in such Local Government Council is invalid ab initio except both parties can show that they did not knowingly and wilfully acquiesce in its celebration.
In conclusion, as much as I applaud Olumide Babalola Esq’s courage for instituting this action, it is my opinion that Mr. Olumide of all persons should have known the position of the law when it comes to celebration of marriage and that the Local Government is not the appropriate forum to celebrate marriage under the Act and that, even if a license under section 13 of the Act was issued to him, he was supposed to obtain marriage certificate in FORM E from the Marriage Registry after the celebration of the marriage.