The Lagos Division of the Federal High Court did not declare as illegal or invalid marriages conducted at the Federal Marriage Registry in Ikoyi, Lagos.
Justice D.E Osiagor in his judgment on December 8, obtained by PREMIUM TIMES, granted an order restraining the Ministry of Interior from further contracting, celebrating, or registering marriages under the Marriage Act, “except for marriages conducted in the Marriage Registries of Ikoyi, Lagos, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
The judge also restrained the ministry from further granting or issuing marriage certificates under the Marriage Act, “except for marriages conducted in the Marriage Registries of Ikoyi, Lagos, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”
The judge, however, declined to grant the reliefs seeking an order to the ministry of interior to return marriage certificates it had earlier issued and to also refund the fees paid by couples.
Since Tuesday, some traditional media and blogs have been awash with reports that a federal high court in Lagos had declared as unconstitutional the conduct of marriages by the federal government.
The reports specifically stated that the court declared as illegal and invalid all marriages conducted at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry in Lagos.
According to ThisDay, “the court ordered the closure of all federal marriage registries opened by the ministry, including that of Ikoyi marriage registry with immediate effect.”
The reports threw the social media into a frenzy, with several commentators turning it into a joke.
In 2018, four local governments across Nigeria instituted a suit at the federal high court in Lagos against the Minister of Interior, the Attorney-General of the Federation, and Anchor Dataware Solutions Limited.
The local governments – who are the plaintiffs in the suit – include Eti Osa local government council, Lagos State; Egor local government council, Edo State; Owerri Municipal local government council, Imo State; and Port Harcourt City local government council, Rivers State.
According to the plaintiffs, following an earlier judgment by Justice Oyindamola Olomojobi in 2004, the court should restrain the interior ministry and its agents from contracting, celebrating, and registering marriages as well as issuing marriage certificates for marriages contracted or celebrated by the plaintiffs’ registrars.
They argued that the interior ministry and its agents under the Marriage Act can only issue or grant licences to authorise intending parties to marry, contract or celebrate marriages.
The plaintiffs also urged the court to direct the ministry of interior to return all marriage certificates issued within the respective plaintiff’s local government councils subsequently after the judgment in 2004.
They also urged the court to direct the ministry to refund all the fees paid by couples since the 2004 judgment to the plaintiffs’ marriage registries for re-issuance.
They further urged the court to order the sealing of all the Federal Marriage Registries established by the interior ministry in local governments across the country or, alternatively, restrict the ministry to only issue licences to places of public worship for the celebration of marriage.
In his judgment, Mr Osiagor noted that an earlier suit by the plaintiffs before Justice Chuka Obiozor, in 2017, was struck out for lack of jurisdiction.
In that suit, Mr Obiozor listed lawful bodies or authorities which can celebrate or contract marriages to include “registrars in places designated as an office; recognised ministers of religion in a licensed place of worship; marriage contracted under the license granted by the director-general, ministry of internal affairs (now interior), director-general of a state government in charge of marriages, any officer in the aforementioned ministries, and of course, the minister of internal affairs.”
Mr Osiagor traced the suit before him to the public-private partnership agreement between the interior ministry and Anchor Dataware Solutions Ltd with the primary purpose of establishing marriage registries across the states.
“By this agreement, the first respondent (ministry of interior) literally outlawed any marriage conducted by the local government (Marriage District) registrars,” the judge noted.
He further noted that under the obligations between the ministry and the private company, the former directed the Nigeria Immigration Service to make federal marriage certificate an inclusive eligibility requirement for all married applicants for international passports.
The ministry directed the marriage registries in the local governments to obtain approval from federal marriage registries so as to continue to conduct marriages in accordance with the marriage act.
“The first defendant combining with its private partners (third defendant) are metamorphosing from a regulatory agency into a revenue-driven agency in establishing marriage registry to conduct marriages all over the federation within the marriage district (local government areas) reserved for the registrars of marriages in these districts,” said the judge.
“Taking further steps to Nigerian Immigration Service and Foreign Embassies in Nigeria to recognise Federal Marriage Certificate only is a complete abuse of power that undermines the constitutional recognition of the three tiers of government in Nigeria.
“It is highly condemnable and I so condemn it.”
The judge said the attempt by the interior ministry to centralise the conduct, contracting and registering of marriages with it as its exclusive repository undermines the 1999 Constitution, flouts Justice Olomojobi’s earlier judgment, and is an affront to the three tiers of government that makes up the federation.
“The stealthy manner in arrogating marriage territories beyond the statutorily delineated Central Licensing place of worship and undermining the local governments (Marriage Districts) is illegal. Let no minister stealthily and surreptitiously do that.”
The judge said that any marriage registry established by the interior ministry outside the former Federal Capital Territory of Lagos and present Capital Territory of Abuja is a “voyage in futility.”
He, therefore, granted orders of perpetual injunction restraining the interior ministry and its agents “from further contracting, celebrating, and registering marriages under the Marriage Act within the plaintiffs’ local government areas, except marriages conducted in the registries in Ikoyi and Abuja”.
The judge also granted orders of perpetual injunction restraining the ministry and its agents from further granting and issuing certificates of marriage certificates within the plaintiffs’ local government councils, except marriages conducted in the registries in Ikoyi, Lagos, and Abuja.
He, however, refused to grant the relief to order the ministry of interior to return marriage certificates it had earlier issued and to also refund the fees paid by couples.
By this judgement, there shall be no Federal Marriage Registry in Marriage Districts in local governments, except in Ikoyi and Abuja.
Verdict: The claims that the court had ordered the closure of the Federal Marriage Registry in Ikoyi and that all marriages conducted there are illegal are FALSE.