4 Takeaways from Chief Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu’s “Remarriage” Ceremony

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By HW Emmanuel J. Samaila*

  1. Relationship with husband’s family under customary law

It is not uncommon that a widow will desire to remain in her husband’s house and continually live with the members of his family, people that have become her family over the years. It is a beautiful thing to see such cordial relationship between families united by customary marriage.

  1. Peculiarity of customary marriage ceremony

In every custom exists a procedure for a widow to remain in her husband’s house. While she may be allowed to remarry with conditions, she may also be allowed to continue living in her matrimonial home with their children (if any). The Mgbafu Mgbe rite for widow performed at Umuikea Emeabiam Community, as explained by the family, fits into the second scenario. (See news item no.1).

  1. Fallacy of assuming the existence of a general marriage custom

When the news of the “remarriage” broke out, some commentators were critical of the ceremony opining that it did not comply with the requirements of a customary marriage. Such statements were obviously premised on the presumption of the uniformity of customary practices across tribal or ethnic groups. Nothing is as fallacious as such an assumption. Custom is so peculiar to a group of people to the extent that even among the same ethnic group within the same area, variations in a practice are not uncommon. Therefore, a person from Ikeja has no legal standing to dictate to a person in Nnewi, Katsina-Ala or Maiduguri what their customary practice is. Apart from not being fallacious, the assumption of the existence of a uniform practice among all ethnicities negates one of the essences of customary law: non-uniformity.

  1. Validity of a customary marriage

Many commentators opined that the elements of a valid customary marriage were absent in the ceremony performed at Umuikea Emeabiam Community. It is apparent that they were x-raying the “marriage” ceremony through the lens of their custom and on the assumption of the existence of a general marriage custom with trite features. But as Prof. Odinkalu said in the 3rd news item, “marriage is a relationship between the parties to it and between family & peoples too.”

So, whatever the components and nature of the ceremony performed at Umuikea Emeabiam Community by the two families, even if they tag it “marriage rites”, that is what it is. No one, not even the Court, can dig into the nature of the ceremony performed and rule that it does not constitute a valid marriage.

More importantly, a widow’s decision ought to be respected. She knows best what steps to take to deepen her relationship with her in-laws and also protect the interest of her children.


References:

  1. https://theeagleonline.com.ng/akeredolus-family-speaks-on-marriage-of-widow-to-brother-in-law/
  2. https://lawandsocietymagazine.com/betty-akeredolu-marries-husbands-younger-brother/
  3. https://lawandsocietymagazine.com/betty-akeredolu-there-is-no-suggestion-of-widow-inheritance-here-odinkalu/
  4. https://lawandsocietymagazine.com/betty-akeredolus-remarriagesuch-traditional-practices-are-fuelers-of-gbv-priscilla-usiobaifo-braveheart-initiative/

*Upper Customary Court, Gwantu. Email: samailaemmanuelj@gmail.com

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