By Tochukwu Anayo-Enechukwu
50 percent of the Nigerian Population are married (), and the rate of Marriage keeps increasing year after year. This is because Marriage is a thing desirous by most people. It is important to note that Marriage goes beyond the union of a man and a woman, but requires the Knowledge of how to contract into a valid union and the understanding of the type of marriage you want to indulge in. This Article examines the types of Marriage in Nigeria and the requirements for such Marriage to be Valid according to the Nigerian legal system.
Definition of Term
Marriage is a Legally and Socially sanctioned union, usually between a man and a woman that is regulated by Laws, customs, beliefs and attitude that prescribe the rights and duties of the parties and accords status to their offspring.
A more encompassing definition of marriage is that “ Marriage is a formal union, social, and legal contract between two individuals that unities their lives legally, economically and emotionally. The contractual marriage agreement usually implies that the couple has legal obligations to each other throughout their lives or until they decide to divorce.”
Types of Marriage
- Customary Marriage:
Customary Marriage is also known as Traditional Marriage. It is the marriage according to the Custom or Native Law of a particular society which could be the custom of the bride’s community or ethnic group where the Customary Marriage is observed.
For a Customary Marriage to be valid, the following requirements must be fulfilled:
Consent of Parents and guardian of the bride and Consent between the parties to marry each other. This consent must be given before celebration of the Marriage. In the case of Osanwoyi v Osanwoyi () A and B were married under the Custom and Native law. B paid a dowry of sixty thousand (60,000) to A’s Father without the knowledge and consent of A. The Court held that there was no valid marriage between A and B under the Customary Law. Thus, before a Customary Marriage is valid, both parties have to agree to marry each other and the parents who will receive the bride price also have to give an approval. This was judicially furnished in Okpanum v Okpanum (3) where the court held that in order to constitute a valid Customary Marriage, there must be parental consent and mutual agreement between the Parties. This was also held in other customary law cases in Nigeria.
Payment of Bride price. The groom must pay a bride price to the parents or guardian of the bride as the case may be. And the groom must comply with their Marriage list or requirements in order take the bride away from their Custody.
The Marriage must be between Citizens of Nigeria. That is to say that the Marriage between a Nigerian and Non-Nigerian is void under the Customary Law. In the case of Savage v Maltery (4) the Court held that the Marriage between a Yoruba girl and a Sierra Leonean man is void and in Fonesca v Passman (5) same was held for the Marriage between an Efik girl and a Portuguese man.
The Marriage must be free from Consanguinity and affinity. That is to say that parties to the Marriage should not be related by blood or birth otherwise the marriage will be void. In most customs, it is an abomination to marry or have sex with someone of the same blood. Thus, where a Marriage is between two people of same blood e.g. brother and sister, mother and son, male and female cousin, such marriage by virtue of it’s Consanguinity is void under the Customary Law.
And also, the marriage must be conducted in accordance with the custom of the particular society.
- Statutory Marriage
Statutory Marriage is a Marriage performed in compliance with the Marriage Act. It is usually called White or Religious wedding.
For a Statutory Marriage to be Valid, it must comply with the provisions of the Marriage Act which includes that:
Notice of Marriage should be given to the Registrar of Marriage in the Local Government where the marriage will be conducted and after that the intending couples fill the form, sign and pay the prescribed fee to the office of the Registrar, the Registrar shall cause this notice of Marriage to be published. This is to entertain objections to the Marriage on reasonable grounds by citizens of the Country.
If there is no reasonable objection to the Marriage, the Registrar will then issue a Certificate of Marriage to the Couples and the Marriage must be done within 3 months of the issuance of the Certificate by the Registrar otherwise the Certificate will become void.
The Marriage must be with the consent of both parties, but such Marriage whether obtained with consent is void where the two persons are within the prohibited degree of Consanguinity or prohibited degree of affinity prescribed in Section 3 and 4 of the Marriage Act.
The Marriage must follow the requirements of law of that place with respect to the form of solemnization of marriage.
The Marriage must be conducted at a registered place of Worship which could be either a Church or a Mosque and it must be conducted under the supervision of a registered Clergy and celebrated between the time of 8am to 6 pm any day.
After the Celebration of the Marriage, the Marriage Certificate must be signed by the couples, witnessed by two people and the officiant (Person conducting the Marriage Ceremony) and the duplicate must be sent to the Registrar. Note that the Marriage certificate in question is one issued by the Registrar not one issued by the Church or Mosque. The Supreme Court in the case of Anyaegbunan v Anyaegbunan (6) held that: A Certificate of Marriage issued by the Church would not be evidence of Marriage unless it can be shown that the required license of the Registrar of Marriage was produced and the Certificate was in the form prescribed by the Marriage Act.
It is further important to note that Statutory Marriage is the Voluntary Union for life between one man and one woman to the exclusion of others as defined in Hyde v Hyde (7). Thus, it is a recognized offence to marry more than one man or woman under a Statutory Marriage. Let’s quickly consider this offence.
Bigamy is literally the offence of Marrying someone while already Married to another Person. Section 70 of the Criminal Code Act prescribes it as an offence in Nigeria, it provides: Any person who, having a husband or wife living marries in any case in which such Marriage is void by reason of it’s taking place during the life of such husband or Wife is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for 7 years.
The import of the above section is that a person has committed the offence of Bigamy where he or she Marries another person during the existence of their previous Marriage. For example, if Mr Tochukwu is married to Mrs Amaka, and Tochukwu later marries Cynthia, the Marriage between Tochukwu and Cynthia is void and Tochukwu is liable for committing the offence of Bigamy.
However, Tochukwu is not liable for the offence of Bigamy if he has divorced with Amaka or Amaka has died or he has not heard from Amaka for a period of Seven without Knowledge of whether Amaka Is still Alive.
It is worthy to note that this offence of Bigamy is only applicable in Statutory Marriage; that is Marriage under the Act and not Church blessings as held in Akparanta v Akparanta (8). This offence is not applicable in Customary Marriages except in a Situation where a person married under the Customary Law decides to Marry another person under the Marriage Act or a person already married under the Marriage Act decides to Marry a different person under the Customary Law as provided in Section 6 and 47 of the Marriage Act 1914 which prescribes a term of five years imprisonment for such offence.
In Conclusion, it is important to know the requirements of these types of Marriage before you contract into any of them. This Article just provides a bit of the necessary requirements you may need, you can read the Marriage Act or further inquire about the Requirements of Marriage in your Custom to know more. Failure to adhere to these requirements may lead to your Marriage being Void as that is the position according to the Nigerian legal system. Importantly, if you are married under the act, you have to Legally divorce before you enter into a marriage with another person.
© Tochukwu Anayo-Enechukwu
Tochukwu, Anayo-Enechukwu is a Public Speaker, Content Creator and Prolific Writer. His proficiency in writing has earned him numerous publications in National and International Magazines. Recently, he was awarded Co-author of Songs of Peace – The World’s Biggest Anthology of Contemporary Poetry ever to be published. You can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org or 08109494399.
 Nigeria Data Portal < https://nigeria.opendataforafrica.org/yjdggyg/nigeria-population-by-marital-status > Accessed on June 10, 2020.
 Bscholarly < https://bscholarly.com/characteristics-of-customary-law/ > Accessed 16 July, 2020.
.  10 SC 1
-  2 ECSLR 561.
-  Renner’s Gold Coast report 505
-  WRNLR 41
- 7.  LR 1 P. & D. 130.
- 8.  2 ECSLR 779, 783. See also Characteristics of Nigerian Legal system < https://bscholarly.com/characteristics-of-nigerian-legal-system/ > Accessed 16 July, 2020.