..Sets aside restrictions imposed on federal govt by lower court
The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, has set aside the judgement of Justice Daniel Osiagor of the Federal High Court, which restrained the federal government from further registering marriages contracted or celebrated under the Marriage Act, Cap. M6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004, within some local government areas in the country.
The appellate court, in its judgement delivered on August 2, held that both the federal government and local government councils have the legal authority to celebrate, contract and register marriages between prospective couples. The court held that not one organ of government had the exclusive preserve of contracting and celebrating marriages between prospective couples.
The court also held that the restriction imposed by the lower court directing the Ministry of Interior to only conduct, celebrate and contract marriages in the marriage registries situated at Ikoyi, Lagos, and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, was wrong.
The lead judgement was delivered by Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar and adopted by Justice Jimi Olukayode Bada (presiding) and Justice Fredrick Eziakpono Oho.
The lower court judge had in his judgement delivered on December 8, 2021, in a suit jointly filed by Eti-Osa Local Government Area, Lagos State; Egbor Local Government Area, Edo State; Owerri Municipal Local Government, Imo State; and Port Harcourt City Local Government against the Minister of Interior, the Attorney General of the Federation, and Anchor Dataware Solution Limited, granted Reliefs 1, 2, 3 and 4 as endorsed on the amended Originating Summons, while Reliefs 5 and 6 were refused, Reliefs 7 was granted in part.
The lower court also retrained the Minister of Interior and/or either by his privies, agents or delegates from further registering marriages contracted or celebrated under the Marriage Act, Cap. M6 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004, within the plaintiffs’ local government councils area.
The lower court, however, refused to grant the request for an order directing the Minister of Interior to transmit or return all marriage certificates issued within the respective plaintiff’s local government councils subsequently after the delivery of the judgement of Hon. Justice R. Oyindamola Olomojobi of the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division, Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 between Prince &. Hasstrup & Anor vs. Eti-Osa Local Government Council & 2 Ors, delivered on the 8th day of June 2004
The lower court also declined the request directing the Minister of Interior to return all fees/money paid by couples since the judgement in suit no FHC/L/870/2002 delivered on the 8th of June 2004, to the plaintiffs’ Marriage Registries for re-issuance.
Dissatisfied, the appellant (Minister of Interior), in its Notice of Appeal marked CA/LAG/CV/566/2022, urged the appeal court to determine two issues, namely, “Whether the lower court was right when it held that the plea of doctrine of res judicata is inapplicable to the 1st to 4th Respondents’ action.
“Whether the learned trial judge was right when it granted the reliefs sought by the 1st to 4th Respondent and found that the judgement in Suit No: FHC/870/2002 granted exclusive rights to the 1st – 4th Respondents and other local governments in Nigeria to conduct, celebrate and register marriages within their local government.”
Resolving the issues, the appellate court, in its lead judgement delivered by Justice Abubakar Umar, held that the lower court was wrong in granting reliefs 1st to 4th of the reliefs sought by the 1st to 4th Respondents and granting reliefs 7 as endorsed on the amended originating summons in part.
Umar held that both the appellant and the respondents had the vires to celebrate, contract, and register marriages between prospective couples.
However, Umar stated that the lower court was correct in refusing reliefs 5 and 6 as endorsed on the respondents’ amended originating summons.
On whether the lower court was right when it held that the plea of doctrine of res judicata was inapplicable to the 1st to 4th Respondents’ action, the court held that by virtue of the declaratory orders made in Suit No FHC/L/870/2002, the 1st to 4th Respondents were entitled by law to seek the enforcement of the said orders by instituting fresh proceedings as in the instant case.
The judge stated, “I do not agree with the appellants that the subject matter and reliefs in Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 are the same with Suit No: FHC/L/CS/816/2018. As rightly contended by the 1st to 4th Respondents, Suit No: FHC/L/CS/816/2018 seeks to enforce Suit FHCAL/870/2002 and not to relitigate the issues already determined by the court in the said action.
“I am of the considered view that the 1st to 4th Respondents commenced Suit No FHC/L/CS/816/2018 in order to enforce the declaratory reliefs made by the court in FHC/L/870/2002. In the enforcement of the said judgement, the fresh proceedings in Suit No FHC/L/CS/816/2018 cannot be tainted by the doctrine of res judicata.
“I, therefore, have no difficulty in finding that the doctrine of res judicata is inapplicable to Suit No FHC/L/CS/816/2018. This issue is consequently resolved against the appellant.”
Umar, however, held that the lower court was wrong when it restrained the federal government from further registering marriages contracted or celebrated under the Marriage Act, Cap. M6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (LFN), 2004, within some local government councils areas.
The judge said, “Having regard to the earlier pronouncement in this judgement on the merits of the Amended Originating Summons filed by the Cross Appellants at the lower court, I hold the firm view that the lower court was correct when it refused reliefs 5 and 6 sought by the cross appellants.
“The lower court was, however, wrong when it granted Relief 7 of the Amended Originating Summons in part when same ought to have been out rightly refused.
“I have found supra in this judgement that the decision in Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 which the cross appellants have predicated their action on, does not in any manner whatsoever grant exclusive rights to the cross appellants to conduct or celebrate marriages within the local government council.
“In the contrary, the court in Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 highlighted the various fora for the conduct and celebration of marriages. The court identified the lawful bodies or authorities vested with the powers to celebrate and contract marriages for intending persons and recognised the marriage districts/local government council, and marriages conducted under the license granted by the Director-General Ministry of Internal Affairs, Director-General of a State Government in charge of marriages and the Minister of Internal Affairs.
“The simple implication of the decision in in Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 is that not one organ of government has the exclusive preserve of contracting and celebrating marriages between a prospective couple.
“I am, therefore, of the considered view that the restriction imposed by the lower court directing the 1st Cross Respondent to only conduct, celebrate and contract marriages in the marriage registries situate at Ikoyi, Lagos and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, is wrong and erroneous.
“The lower court was, however, correct in dismissing Reliefs 5 and 6 as endorsed in the Amended originating summons. A cursory review of the said reliefs dissipates any doubt that the reliefs are consequential in nature and predicated on the success of the substantive/principal reliefs as contained in Reliefs 1-4.
“Having found supra that the reliefs 1-4 ought not to have been granted by the lower court, it follows, therefore, that reliefs 5 and 6 being ancillary must fail as a matter of course. It is the law that where a principal relief fails, all reliefs ancillary or depend thereto will fail.
“In light of the foregoing, I resolve the sole issue in the cross appeal against the cross appellants. I hold that the cross appeal filed by the cross appellants is unmeritorious and is hereby dismissed.
“On the whole, the substantive appeal initiated by the Appellants is resolved in the following terms:
‘The action commenced by the 1st to 4th Respondents at the lower court is not tainted by the doctrine of res judicata.
“The tower court is wrong in granting reliefs 1-4 of the reliefs sought by the 1st to 4th Respondents and granting reliefs 7 as endorsed on the amended originating summons in part.
“The lower court was correct in refusing reliefs 5 and 6 as endorsed on the 1st to 4th Respondent’s amended originating summons.
“The appellant and the 1st to 4th Respondents have the vires to celebrate, contract, and register marriages between Prospective couples.
“Accordingly, the judgement of the lower court delivered on the 8th day of December 2021 in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/816/2018 succeeds and fails in part. Parties should bear their respective cost.”