By Olakunle Bamisile
Yul Edochie — son of veteran actor, Pete Edochie — has been married to May Aligwe since he was 22 years old and their union is blessed with three sons and a daughter. Interestingly, on Wednesday, April 27, the revered actor set social media agog by announcing the birth of his son; this time with his colleague, Judy Austin. To announce the birth of his son through his second wife, Judy, Yul Edochie wrote: “His name is STAR DIKE MUNACHIMSO YUL-EDOCHIE. Born by my second wife @JudyAustin and I love him so much, just as much as I love my other children.” This action of Yul to have a second wife and a son through her has however elicited a range of reactions and counter-reactions from many persons, including fellow actors, and some of these independent observers have pondered the legality of Mr. Yul’s act and acts in relation to Mr. Yul’s. While Yul Edochie’s personal life is of no interest to this writer, the relationship of his action with the law, particularly the marriage act, should be of immense interest to the rest of us — those independent observers and legal neophytes alike. Shocker!
Marriage, albeit interesting and a thing of joy, may be invalid according to the law, and the Marriage Act expressly provides for instances of said invalid marriages. Section 33 (1) of the Act provides thus: “No marriage in Nigeria shall be valid where either of the parties thereto at the time of the celebration of such marriage is married under customary law to any person other than the person with whom such marriage is had”. The purport of this provision is that, while owambe (ceremony) of marriages is not prohibited, it might be an owambe of an invalid marriage. For instance, if a man who is under a subsisting “customary law” marriage (i.e. a marriage under customary law) marries another woman, the marriage with such other woman is legally invalid. So, if Mr. Yul Edochie was married to May Aligwe under customary law, any marriage with Judy Austin is legally invalid.
Moving further, Section 35 of the Marriage Act provides thus: “Any person who is married under this Act, or whose marriage is declared by this Act to be valid, shall be incapable, during the continuance of such marriage, of contracting a valid marriage under customary law, but, save as aforesaid, nothing in this Act contained shall affect the validity of any marriage contracted under or in accordance with any customary law, or in any manner apply to marriages so contracted”. As such, a person who has entered into, and is still in, a valid marriage by virtue of the Marriage Act cannot go ahead to marry another person under customary law. Any such marriage with that other person will be invalid. So, if Mr. Yul Edochie’s marriage with May Aligwe is a valid one under the Marriage Act, a ‘customary law’ marriage with Judy Austin would be invalid.
Without doubts, the law is of utmost importance and it is common knowledge that ignorantia legis non excusat (ignorance of the law is not an excuse). To stress the importance of law and to cure ignorance of law, it is imperative to note that the Marriage Act also specifies offences and penalties in relation to marriages.
Section 39 of the Act provides thus: “Whoever, being unmarried, goes through the ceremony of marriage under this Act with a person whom he or she knows to be married to another person, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.” Shocking? Be it shocking or not, five years imprisonment awaits anyone (unmarried) who goes through the ceremony of marriage under the marriage act with a married person. So, If Judy Austin was unmarried ab initio and goes through a ceremony of marriage under the Marriage Act with Mr. Yul Edochie knowing that Mr. Yul is married to May Aligwe, Judy might be liable to five years imprisonment.
Furthermore, Section 46 of the Marriage Act provides thus: “Whoever contracts a marriage under the provisions of this Act, or any modification or re-enactment thereof, being at the time married in accordance with customary law to any person other than the person with whom such marriage is contracted, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years”. Therefore, a person who, being married under customary law, enters into a marriage under the Marriage Act with another person is liable to five years imprisonment. Be it you, me,Yul Edochie or Judy Austin, five years awaits!
In the same vein, Section 47 of the Marriage Act provides thus: “Whoever, having contracted marriage under this Act, or any modification or re-enactment thereof, or under any enactment repealed by this Act, during the continuance of such marriage contracts a marriage in accordance with customary law, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years”. This illustrates that a person who, being married under the Marriage Act, enters into a marriage under customary law with another person is liable to five years imprisonment. Again, be it you, me,Yul Edochie or Judy Austin, five years awaits!
Legal tip for ladies who don’t want to have “a junior wife”: conduct a statutory marriage (a marriage under the Marriage Act) and there’ll be no junior wife. If your husband adds another wife, a 5-year jail term awaits both him and his ‘new’ wife.
For the avoidance of doubt, the foregoing is not in any way a critique of Mr. Yul Edochie’s purported marriage with his ‘second wife,’ Judy Austin (Muoghalu Uchechukwu Judith) as limited facts are available. Rather, the purported marriage has created an avenue for public enlightenment; many thanks to Mr. Yul Edochie.
The writer, Olakunle “Cardinal” Bamisile, is a student of the prestigious faculty of law of Lagos State University and may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org and 07087263472