By the judgment of the Federal High Court delivered by Hon. Justice (Prof) Chuka Austine Obiozor, dated the 30th day of April, 2018 in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1760/16 between Egbor Local Government Edo state & 3 ors v. Hon Minister of Interior & 2 Ors, the decision of the Federal High Court which is to the effect that the registration of marriages 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 and Paragraph 1 (i) of the Fourth Schedule of the same Constitution, still subsist. As well as the part that bothers on authorities or bodies that can celebrate or contract marriages, which states among other things that under marriage contracted by license granted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Minister of Internal Affairs can celebrate same. Same applies to D.G state government in charge of marriages.
The Plaintiffs also described as Applicants had via a 2nd Amended Originating Summons sought for the following reliefs to wit:
A declaration that by virtue of Section 1(5) and Paragraph 1(i) of the 1999 Constitution as amended (sic), the registration of marriages are within the exclusive authorities (sic) of Registrar within Local Government; a Declaration that contracting and registration of marriage by Federal Ministry of Interior (sic) under Federal Marriage Registry Ikoyi, lagos, Owerri, Imo State, Port Harcourt Government Council Rivers State (sic) and other states (sic) outside the legislative competence of the National Assembly is unconstitutional, null and void; a Declaration that the 1st Respondent does not have power to contract, celebrate and issue marriage certificate in the applicant’s Local Government; a perpetual injunction restraining the 1st respondent either by themselves (sic), their agencies, servants from further establishment of any Federal Marriage in any part of the applicant’s Local Government in Nigeria; a Perpetual injunction , restraining the 1st Respondent either by itself, agencies, servants from further issuing Marriage certificate to intending couple in the Applicant (sic) Local government in Nigeria; an order of the Honourable Court sealing all the Federal Marriage Registry established by the 1st Respondent in the Applicants’ Local Government in Nigeria; an order of the Honourable Court directing that the entire marriage Certificate issued by the 1st Respondent at the Federal Marriage Registry Ikoyi or any others (sic) established should be surrendered (sic) and re-issued (sic) by the Applicants Local Government Marriage Registry and an order directing the 1st Respondent to rename it’s Federal Marriage registry within the Jurisdiction of the Applicants (sic) Local Government Council Marriage/for a sealing the Registry offices (sic).
The application was supported by a 13 paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Oluyole Temitayo Oluwaseun on the 28th day of September, 2017 and supported with a written address. The 2nd defendant filed a motion on notice dated and filed the 22nd of May, 2017 praying the court to dismiss the suit for being an abuse of Court process. The Preliminary objection was supported by a 5 paragraph affidavit deposed to by one Lawrence Ilop on the 22nd of May 2017 with a written address in annexure. The applicant did not reply stating that every issue already raised were those addressed in the preliminary objection raised by the 3rd Respondent. The 3rd respondent had earlier challenged the jurisdiction of the court.
The court summed up the issue which is to the effect that, whether the suit constitutes an abuse of judicial process to thereby rob the court of jurisdiction.
The 2nd applicant had argued that the suit is a duplication of the decided case with suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 between Haastrup and Anor v. Eti Osa Local Govt and 2 ors, where the reliefs sought in the instant case has been exhaustively resolved in the former suit, thus amounting to an abuse of court process and ought to be dismissed.
The court in looking at the arguments of the counsel held that the plaintiff in his counter affidavit did not address the issue raised, though he had argued that the case is not a duplicate of the instant one.
The court affirmed that there was nothing before the court showing that the decision of the court in the Haastrup’s case had been nullified or appealed.
The court while looking at the decision though not before it as exhibit identified the issue for determination in the suit which was taken judicial notice of as follows: “Whether it is only local authorities which are to contract and register marriages to the exclusion of any other authorities designated by the ministry of internal affairs.”
Recognizing the former Ministry of Internal Affairs as the same as the Ministry of the Interior, the court cited page 22 of the decision of the Court under review, and stated where the court resolved the issue it raised: The court held that the pronouncement sought was same pronounced before by the court in the case with suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 (Haastrup), which was under review, therefore the present court cannot revisit the matter.
According to his Lordship, it would have been different if the plaintiff’s action and claims merely anchored in the decision FHC/L/870/2002 with corollary order(s) for injunction, but this was not the case in the primary claims.
In the words of the court:
“It would be different if the plaintiff’s action and claims merely anchored in the decision FHC/L/870/2002 with corollary order(s) for injunction. This is not what I find in the primary claims(s) of the plaintiffs which by the way determine my jurisdiction. The jurisdiction of this court in this matter is not determined by the ancillary injunctive orders sought, which constitute the incidental claims (s) in the action. The primary or main claim(s) or main claim (s) but not the incidental or ancillary claim(s) determine jurisdiction.”
The court finally noted that it seems that the plaintiffs have a palpable compliant and ubi jus ibi remedium but they have wrongly approached the court. The court therefore struck out the case for abuse of court processes and not dismiss same.
In all below are the summaries of what the ratio and obiter entail, to ward off further contradiction:
- The Federal High Court is one (See Page 21, Paragraph II, Line 8 of the Judgment)
- Two matters can validly arise and be maintained contemporaneously in so far as the causes of action are different.
- The Substance of the claim of the plaintiffs is a re-submission of the very issues in FHC/L/870/2002, which means the causes of action are not different.
- It would be different if the plaintiff’s action and claims merely anchored in the decision FHC/L/870/2002 with corollary order(s) for injunction.
- The jurisdiction of the court in this matter is not determined by the ancillary injunctive orders sought, which constitute the incidental claims (s) in the action.
- The primary or main claim(s) or main claim (s) but not the incidental or ancillary claim(s) determine jurisdiction.
- The plaintiffs seem to have a palpable compliant, but wrongly approached the court.
- The suit was struck out for abuse of court process.
- The decision of the court in FHC/L/870/2002 subsists being not on appeal or set aside.
- This decision partly reads:
“The registration of marriages 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 o the Federal Republic of Nigeria and paragraph 1 (i) of the Fourth Schedule of the same Constitution.”
- The decision was not before the court as exhibit but the court took judicial notice of same suo motu.