The Ministry of Interior is currently undertaking a nationwide engagement with relevant stakeholders to clear the air on the controversies dogging the conduct of statutory marriage in the country.
For some time now, the Ministry of Interior and some local government areas in Lagos, Edo, Imo and Rivers States have been locked in legal battles over the right to conduct, celebrate, register marriages and issue marriage certificates.
The LGAs have insisted that their statutory powers to register marriages are being usurped by the Federal Government through the Ministry of Interior. For instance, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State is seeking a court order to take over the popular Ikoyi Marriage Registry being operated by the Ministry of Interior, on the contention that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Interior, has no business operating a marriage registry.
The stand-off between the Federal Government and the LGAs has created confusion in the land as to which is valid between the marriage certificate issued by the Ministry of Interior and that issued by the LGAs.
It was, therefore, not surprising that the conference hall at Sheraton Hotel in Lagos was filled to capacity last week Thursday when the sensitisation train of the Ministry of Interior berthed in Lagos.
At the conference with the theme, “Achieving harmonious compliance with the conduct of statutory marriage in Nigeria,” the stakeholders, including representatives of the LGAs, were eager to know the true position of the law on who has the statutory powers to conduct, celebrate, register marriages and issue marriage certificates.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Interior, Mrs Georgina Ehuriah, a lawyer, knew what was at stake and she took the issues head-on.
Alluding to the raging controversy, Ehuriah began by explaining that the stakeholders’ conference became necessary because there was a need to address and lay to rest issues such as “The poor understanding of the Marriage Act leading to non-adherence to its provisions; the proliferation of marriage certificates and other essential marriage documents; and the raging controversy between local governments and the Ministry of Interior as to who is constitutionally mandated with conduct of marriages leading to litigation.”
Citing sections 24, 30(3) and 30 of the Marriage Act, Ehuriah declared that only the Principal Registrar of Marriages was authorised to print and distribute marriage certificate to places of worship throughout Nigeria.
“The implication is that any certificate not printed by and delivered by the Principal Registrar of Marriages is illegal and cannot serve the desired purposes,” she stressed.
She noted that only 4,725 places of worship were licensed by the Ministry of Interior to conduct marriages. Out of this number, however, Ehuriah pointed out that only 314 had renewed their licences. She advised the defaulting places of worship to do the needful to avoid marriages being conducted by them to be invalidated.
“The implication of this is that marriages conducted in unlicensed places of worship are not in line with the Marriage Act and cannot serve legal purposes when the need arises; and as such unlicensed places of worship are operating contrary to Section 6(1) of the Marriage Act,” Ehuriah stressed.
The Permanent Secretary, however, said that the Ministry of Interior was willing and was already making arrangements to give couples whose marriage certificates were not issued in line with the Marriage Act opportunity to bring them to conformity.