Nigeria is as pluralistic in her legal systems as she is in ethnic make ups. There are basically three systems of law in Nigeria I.e the English law, Customary law and Islamic law (also known as Sharia law).
Each of these laws has its system of marriage, though they have their differences and similarities. All the three systems of marriage are equal at least in terms of their recognition as marriage that could be legally contracted in Nigeria by anyone who wishes.
It is possible for a person to contract two marriages, one under the Customary law and the other under the Islamic law but this is unacceptable as far as English law is concerned.
It is important at this point to have a look at each of the marriages with some details.
English Law Marriage
Contracting marriages in line with the tenets of the English law is governed by the Marriage Act in Nigeria. As far back as 1860 the court had, in Hyde vs. Hyde, defined marriage as ” the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”. This has been accepted as the meaning of the English law marriage ever since. This type of marriage clearly abhors polygamy.
For a marriage to be valid and qualified as an English law marriage in Nigeria, the under listed conditions stipulated by the Marriage Act must be complied with.
Conditions for Valid English Law Marriage
- Parties to the marriage must have agreed to be husband and wife
- The man must have filed a notice in the Marriage Registry within the area where the marriage is to be celebrated, stating his intention to get married
- The notice is then entered in the Marriage Notice Book by the registrar
- The notice remains open for a minimum of 21 days before the Registrar can issue Marriage Certificate
- During the 21 days, anybody who so wishes may enter a caveat as an objection to the planned marriage
- At this point, the Registrar will refer the caveat to the High Court which will determine the fate of the caveat one way or the other
- Where the caveat is held valid by the High Court, the Registrar will be stopped from issuing the Marriage Certificate until the objection raised in the caveat ceases to exist
- Where the High Court invalidates the caveat, the Registrar will proceed to issue the Marriage Certificate. The issuance of the Marriage Certificate should not be earlier than 21 days or later than 3 months from the time of filling a notice of intention to get married by the man.
Other Factors That May Prevent Issuance of the Marriage Certificate
Apart from any objection that may be contained in a caveat, the Registrar must not issue the Marriage Certificate in any of the following situations:
- where none of the parties has been resident in the area where the marriage is to be celebrated 15 days preceding the issuance of the marriage certificate
- where the Registrar is satisfied that one of the parties is a minor (I.e below age of 16)
- where consent of one of the parties to the marriage is obtained by fraud, dress, undue influence, mistaken identity or a party incapable of giving consent due to mental ill-health
- where the parties have blood relationship like cousins
- where one of the parties is already married either under the English or Customary law.
Celebration of Marriage
The marriage itself can take place in either of two places I.e the Marriage Registry or a place of worship.
In the case of the Marriage Registry, the following conditions apply:
- it must take place before the registrar
- there must be at least two witnesses, and
- it must take place between 10 am to 4pm.
While in the case of a place of worship, the rules are these:
- it must be conducted by a recognized minister of the religious organization concerned
- the place of worship must be a place licensed under the Marriage Act to conduct marriage
- there must be minimum of two witnesses
- before conducting the marriage, the minister must be certain that the Marriage Certificate has been obtained by the parties
- the marriage must take place between 8am to 6pm
- the minister must send a copy of the Marriage Certificate to the Registrar of Marriage within 7 days of the marriage
English law marriage is the most complicated to conclude as will be seen later in the article, when compared to the other two systems of marriage in Nigeria.
Customary Law Marriage
Customary law marriage is the easiest marriage to contract in Nigeria. It is a marriage celebrated according to the customs and traditions of any local tribe in Nigeria. In terms of marriage, varied tribes in Nigeria have a lot in common.
Essentials of a Customary Law Marriage
- Agreement between a man and a woman to be husband and wife
- Parental consent especially that of the woman’s side
- Payment of the dowry by the man to the woman’s family
- Handing over of the woman to the man.
Once the above conditions are fulfilled, a Customary law marriage is validly contracted. This marriage accommodates polygamy so the man can marry as many wives as he wishes. In fact, there is no limit to the number of women that a man can marry under various native customs in Nigeria.
Islamic Law Marriage
Islamic law marriage refers to a marriage celebrated by two Muslims (I.e a male & a female) in line with the dictates of the Sharia law. Islamic law allows a Muslim male to marry up to 4 wives provided that he will ensure fairness, equity and justice among them.
To have a marriage validly celebrated in line with the Islamic law, the following must be fulfilled:
- the parties to the marriage must have agreed to marry each other
- the consent of the woman’s father or uncle or any male family member is compulsory
- the man must give a gift( it could be money or an article) as dowry. The monetary value of whatever is given must not be less than N5000. There is no maximum
- celebration of marriage itself must be witnessed by the minimum of two witnesses.
Once the above requirements are met, an Islamic law marriage is deemed to have taken place.
What I have planned to do by this article is to present succinct picture of different marriages that Nigerians and Non-Nigerians residing in Nigeria can contract depending on the individual’s preference.
The only marriage that is not free for all is the Islamic law marriage which can only take place between a Muslim male and female. However, a Muslim male is allowed to marry a female who belongs to “the People of the Book”. This refers to Jewish or Christian females.
Apart from Christians and Jewish faithfuls, a Muslim male cannot marry from any other faith. It might be interesting to hear that the converse is the fate of a Muslim female. She can only marry a fellow Muslim male. This smacks of a subtle strategy to win more converts into the Islamic fold.
Having said that, I believe Nigeria is one of the countries where multiplicity of marital choices is well taken care of. Although marriage between same sex or people who are closely related by blood is not allowed and there is no indication that that will happen in no distant future.
It is quite funny to note that some people term marriage under the English law as “legal marriage” as if other marriages are not. This is wrong. As a matter of fact, all the three marriages are legal.