Rethinking our Matrimonial Causes Practice – Lessons from Maryam Sanda


The world was recently exposed to the realities of “marriage” when the news broke about the death of a former past PDP chairman. Bilyamin Bello was alleged to have been killed by his wife Maryam Sanda. The matter is now in court and it would be most inappropriate to say anything about the possible outcome of the case. There are however a lot of speculations about the reasons why Maryam might have done what she has been accused of doing. Let’s consider the ones that are yet to get to court.

I had lunch with a prospective client last week. She wants to divorce her husband. She wants us to file a divorce petition on her behalf. When I asked her the reason why she wants to file for divorce, she gave the following:

  1. He is arrogant.
  2. He is egocentric.
  3. He verbally abuses me and those abuses affect me psychologically.

 She had since left her matrimonial home. While she was talking I showed a lot of empathy. In truth, I really could imagine what she was dealing with. But a judge is wired not to imagine or understand how a person can be psychologically abused. More often than not, they do but the law says those are not cogent reasons for a divorce to happen.

In my response, I assured her that I understood her frustrations. However, I made her understand that the reasons for seeking dissolution of the marriage are very weak and the judge may not grant the dissolution. She was more shocked than disappointed at the system of seeking dissolution of marriage.

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She told me how many of her friends are suffering in silence because of the stigma of bringing their private life to the open court for their marriages to be dissolved. She questioned why a couple would want to express in the public how they are unable to satisfy themselves in bed just because they need “cogent” reasons to get dissolution of marriage.

The prospective client got very furious when I mentioned to her that couples can’t even agree to get their marriages dissolved. I said it is called connivance and it is a ground for the judge to dismiss the Petition.  She couldn’t comprehend this. All explanations I gave to attempt to clarify this were unsuccessful.

But you know, she was right in all her assumptions and conclusions. Our matrimonial cause practice has remained obsolete.

Why on earth should couples who have agreed to go their separate ways be compelled to appear in court to “convince” the judge that their marriage should be dissolved? Would it not effectively manage the number of cases filed in court if there is an administrative form which consenting couples can fill at the Marriage Registry for their marriages to be dissolved? Would it not help couples who prefer to keep their dirty linens indoors if some more private approach is adopted for dissolution of marriage?

Until we are ready to begin to look at more discrete and simple ways of dissolving marriages that are irretrievably broken down, we would continue to deal with more of Maryam Sanda.


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