BY Bolaji Adebiyi in Abuja
A Lagos High Court has barred local government areas from issuing forthwith, marriage certificate, saying it is unlawful and unconstitutional.
Justice I.O. Harrison said in her judgement delivered on May 15, 2017, a certified true copy of which THISDAY obtained at the weekend, that the issuance of modified or customised marriage certificate by local government areas contravened Section 24 of the Marriage Act and Item 6, Part 1, 2nd Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which lists marriage on the Exclusive Legislative List.
She further ruled that marriage being an Exclusive List item, was under the purview of the federal government, which is regulated by the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The judge, however, declined to nullify all marriages conducted so far by local government areas, directing that such certificates be surrendered and be replaced by fresh ones that would be issued in compliance with the law.
A Lagos lawyer, Olumide Babalola, had on September 29, 2016 filed a class action against Ikeja Local Government Area and Registered Trustees of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), challenging the power of the local government areas to issue modified and/ or customised marriage certificates different from the one provided in Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act LFN 1990.
He sought four reliefs: “A declaration that the 1st and 2nd defendants do not have power to issue modified and/ or customised marriage certificates different from the one provided in Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act LFN 1990;
“A declaration that the 2nd defendant’s Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate is unknown to our law, unconstitutional, null and void;
“A perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing modified and/ or altered marriage certificates apart from the form as provided under Form E (1st Schedule) and Section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990; and
“A perpetual injunction restraining the 2nd defendant, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing ‘Local Government Unified Marriage Certificates.”
Babalola supported his application with a 29 paragraph affidavit, three exhibits and a written address.
In spite of service of summons, the defendants neither filed any process nor appeared in court to defend the suit. The court was, therefore, moved on March 24, 2017 with the claimant appearing in person and arguing his case.
He argued that marriage was on the Exclusive Legislative List and that the Marriage Act enjoined that all marriage certificates were to be in Form E of the 1st Schedule of the Marriage Act LFN, 1990.
He claimed that the 2nd defendant and its branches now issue their own form known as the Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate, which was also issued to him.
Babalola prayed the court to declare the local government areas’ action illegal, unconstitutional, null and void and grant all the reliefs he sought.
Harrison agreed with Babalola and granted the four reliefs, effectively shutting out local government areas from further issuance of the unified marriage certificates and restricted them to only registration of marriages.
“It should be noted that while registration of marriages is regulated by local government being under the Concurrent List, formation of marriage is under the Exclusive Legislative List within the domain of the federal government regulated by the Federal Ministry of Internal Affairs – item 6 of 2nd Schedule of 1999 Constitution,” she said, explaining that: “A marriage had been declared invalid by the Supreme Court on the ground that the marriage certificate was not in line with Form E as provided by the Marriage Act.”
Harrison said following the Supreme Court decision in Anyaegbunam Vs Anyaegbunam, 1973 3 ECSLR 243, it was trite that the local and state governments could not make separate arrangements outside that provided for in the Marriage Act Form E.
Reacting to the judgement, the Director of Press, Ministry of Interior, Mr. Willie Bassey, said it was a welcome development, urging local government areas to comply forthwith.
“The judgement is in conformity with the law and the Constitution and we expect the local government areas to comply with it immediately,” he said, adding that the ministry would soon role out an enforcement strategy.