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Whether Local Government Council is one of the Forums for Celebration, Contraction of Marriage

Date:

CASE TITLE: MINISTER OF INTERIOR v. ETI-OSA LG, LAGOS STATE & ORS (2023) LPELR-60826(CA)

JUDGMENT DATE: WEDNESDAY, 2ND AUGUST, 2023

JUSTICES:

  • JIMI OLUKAYODE BADA, JCA
  • FREDERICK OZIAKPONO OHO, JCA
  • ABUBAKAR SADIQ UMAR, JCA

DIVISION: LAGOS

PRACTICE AREA: FAMILY LAW

SUMMARY OF JUDGMENT:

FACTS:
This is an appeal against the judgment of the Federal High Court, Lagos Division delivered on the 8th day of December 2021 coram D. E. Osiagor, J., in Suit No. FHC/L/CS/816/2018

The 1st to 4th respondents, as plaintiffs, sought several reliefs through an amended originating summons from the trial Court, including perpetual injunctions against the 1st defendant regarding marriages under the Marriage Act within their Local Government Councils. The appellant, acting as the 1st defendant, filed a counter-affidavit in opposition to the amended originating summons, while the 5th and 6th respondents, as the 2nd and 3rd defendants, also responded. The trial court granted some reliefs and refused others, leading to the appellant’s dissatisfaction and the initiation of an appeal to the Court of Appeal.

ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION:

The following issues were adopted for the determination of the main appeal:

  1. 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?
  2. Whether the learned trial Judge was right when it granted the reliefs sought by the 1st to 4th Respondents and found that the judgment 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 governments?

While the cross-appeal was determined on the following issue:

“Whether the Cross-Appellants are entitled to all the reliefs sought in its Amended Originating Summons.”

COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS:

The Appellant’s counsel argued that, according to the combined provisions of Section 4(1), (2), (3), and Item 61 of Part 1 of the 2nd Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) 1999, the National Assembly holds the right to promulgate laws related to the formation, annulment, and dissolution of marriage. It was further submitted that the Marriage Act, Cap M6 LFN 2004, was enacted by the National Assembly in the exercise of its statutory powers.

The Appellant’s counsel contended that the Marriage Act recognizes only marriage districts and does not attribute any functions to the Local Government Council. According to him, the celebration of marriage, as per the Marriage Act, can occur at any licensed place of worship or a designated office in a marriage district by a registrar, excluding the Local Government Council. The counsel argued that the trial Court’s order restraining the Appellant from conducting marriages in districts supervised by the 1st to 4th Respondents is erroneous and inconsistent with the constitutional provision. He emphasized that the exclusive legal capacity to conduct marriages lies with the Appellant, not the 1st to 4th Respondents.

Moreover, the Appellant’s counsel argued that the trial Court’s findings were inconsistent with the judgment in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/870/2002 and the provisions of the Marriage Act. He asserted that the questions raised in the Originating Summons by the 1st to 4th Respondents were unrelated to the agreement between the Appellant and the 6th Respondent. According to him, the contract between the Appellant and the 6th Respondent was not disputed by the parties, and the learned trial Judge was wrong to find it unconstitutional.

The Appellant’s counsel further submitted that the 1st to 4th Respondents had the obligation to prove their entitlement to the sought reliefs at the trial Court, and they failed to discharge this obligation. He contended that the trial Court’s failure to interpret keywords like “formation of marriages,” “contracting and celebration of marriages” according to the Constitution constituted a grave error. The counsel concluded that there was no basis for the trial Court to have granted the injunctions and reliefs sought by the 1st to 4th Respondents.

In opposition, counsel to the 1st to 4th Respondents argued that the issues of contraction and/or celebration of marriage fall within the scope of the authority of the Registrar of Marriage Districts and/or a licensed place of worship. According to him, the Appellant, the 6th Respondent, and their agents lack the powers to contract, celebrate, or register marriages under the Act. He further contended that the Appellant is vested only with the power to issue licenses to prospective couples for marriage celebrations.

The 1st to 4th Respondents’ counsel referred to the first schedule of the Marriage Act, indicating that the marriage districts created by the act are based on the States (Creation and Transitional Provisions) Decree of 1967. Following the abrogation of these districts by states and local governments, local governments inherited the functions of the marriage districts.

The counsel concluded that the trial Court was correct in declaring the agreement between the Appellant and the 6th Respondent illegal, and the decision in Suit No. FHC/L/870/2002 appropriately distinguished between registration, celebration, and contraction of marriage under the Marriage Act.

DECISION/HELD:

On the whole, the main appeal succeeded in part, while the cross-appeal was dismissed.

RATIO:

FAMILY LAW – VALID MARRIAGE: Whether local government council constitutes one of the forums for the celebration and contraction of marriage

“Without a doubt, the regulations governing the celebration and contract of marriage is rooted in the Marriage Act as well as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The aforementioned statutory enactments were duly considered by the Court in Suit No: FHC/C/L/CS/870/2002 before the lower Court identified the forum for the celebration of marriages. In the absence of an appeal challenging the findings in Suit No: FHC/C/L/CS/870/2002, the pronouncement made by the Court therein remains extant. Both parties have agreed in their respective briefs of argument that a designated office in a Marriage District is statutorily recognized as one of the venues for the celebration and contraction of marriage.

However, it is the Appellant’s contention that a marriage district does not include a local government council. I am of the view that the Appellant has misconstrued the rationale and legislative intent behind the identification of marriage districts in the Marriage Act.

In addition to the Marriage Act, several subsidiary legislations were enacted for proper description of the marriage districts and the registrars of marriage in these districts. One of the subsidiary legislations is the Marriage (Appointment of Principal Registrar, Registrars, etc.) Notice (L.N 72 of 1971). The first Schedule of this legislation categorizes the various marriage districts within the administrative regions which were in operation at the time. It follows logically that following the abolition of the geographical regions and the creation of states from the old regions, the functions of the marriage districts will be designated to the states/local governments for administrative purposes.

I am therefore in complete agreement with the 1st to 4th Respondents that the local government council constitutes one of the forums for the celebration and contraction of marriage. As a corollary to this finding, it must be stated that the Appellant and the 1st to 4th Respondents are entitled to contract and celebrate marriages at the local government council in due compliance with the provisions of the Marriage Act.” Per UMAR, J.C.A.

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