The focus of this educational article is to demystify the myths surrounding the Federal Marriage Registry in Ikoyi (hereinafter Ikoyi Registry), which has become a Mecca for Nigerians, irrespective of their domicile and residency, seeking court marriages.
In addition, this article sheds more light on the latest judicial ruling—concerning the Ikoyi Registry and The Matrimonial Causes Act (hereinafter The Marriage Act)—that was widely misinterpreted in the public sphere last week.
When we talk about marriages in Nigeria, most Nigerians think of two types of marriage: 1. Religious marriages. 2. Court marriages. Religious marriages are very prevalent and well recognised in Nigeria, but they are not governed by The Matrimonial Causes Act (hereinafter The Marriage Act), which means that matters arising out of such marriages do not enjoy certain legal protections that are statutorily accorded to court marriages.
Here, I will be focusing on court marriages. There is no superiority between a marriage contracted in your local magistrate court, where you are domiciled, and marriages contracted at the Ikoyi Registry. Certainly, the Ikoyi Registry is a federal court, but marriages contracted in other local and state jurisdictions are equally accorded the same statutory protections. The Federal Government has done a terrible job at conveying this important message because of its failed attempts to arbitrarily arrogate more powers to itself.
In a seminal case—initiated by four local governments from Lagos, Edo, Imo, and Rivers states (hereinafter Plaintiffs) in 2018 against the Federal Ministry of Interior, which has continuously, but unsuccessfully, made arbitrary and capricious attempts to federalise all forms of marriage, and its agents—Justice D.E. Osiagor delivered a powerful rebuke of the sinister attempts by the Minister of Interior to cause a constitutional crisis.
Using its overwhelming powers, and acting ultra vires, the Ministry of Interior created inextricable linkages between its Federal Marriage Registries and other essential services that are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal Government. What does that mean? If you are trying to, say, get a federal benefit, one of the requirements, if you are married, will be a marriage licence issued by any of the Federal Marriage Registries across the nation. That is a clear abuse of power.
Justice Osiagor, in a judgement delivered last week, recognised the clear and present danger that such grandstanding by the Federal Government posed to our system of government, writing that: “Taking further steps to Nigerian Immigration Service and Foreign Embassies in Nigeria to recognise Federal Marriage Certificate only is a complete abuse of power that undermines the constitutional recognition of the three tiers of government in Nigeria.”
To be clear, Justice Osiagor did not completely bar the Ministry of Interior from “contracting, celebrating, or registering marriages under The Marriage Act,” but the honourable judge did delineate the constitutionally appropriate jurisdictions that are equally responsible for performing such obligations (i.e., contracting, celebrating, or registering marriages).
However, the honourable judge answered, partly, the prayers of the plaintiffs by issuing a restraining order against the Ministry of Interior, barring it from contracting, celebrating, or/and registering marriages under The Marriage Act, with the exception of marriages entered into at Ikoyi Registry and the Federal Capital Territory.
In other words, the judgement affirmed the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior over marriages entered into at Ikoyi Registry and the FCT.
But local governments and their registrars (you will recall that the plaintiffs that brought this case were local governments from four different states) and other statutorily recognised authorities shall continue to have equally shareable jurisdiction over contracting, celebrating, or registering marriages under The Marriage Act.
The attempt by the Ministry of Interior and its agents to create an exclusive uniform marriage registry is, therefore, for now, null and void, save for marriages entered into at Ikoyi Registry and the Federal Capital Territory. There, the Ministry of Interior has absolute jurisdiction, so it can create a searchable repository in those places. Furthermore, it cannot use its powers to undermine others. The Ministry of Interior should, therefore, undo those inextricable linkages that are likely to sow confusion in the public sphere.
The Ministry of Interior must understand that its attempt to generate more revenue from issuing licences will sap the revenues of the affected local and state governments. Most importantly, it endangers the constitutional roles and functions of other tiers of government.
Justice Osiagor understood the motive of the Federal Government here, which he summarily condemned, ruling that “[The Ministry of Interior and its partners] are metamorphosing from a regulatory agency into a revenue-driven agency in establishing marriage registry to conduct marriages all over the federation within the marriage districts (local government areas) reserved for the registrars of marriages in these districts.”
Here are the takeaways. Past and current marriages entered into at Ikoyi Registry are still legally recognisable and valid, contrary to the rumour that the honourable court had invalidated all the previously entered marriages, but they are not superior to marriages entered into in other jurisdictions.
Those who disseminated falsehoods, last week, misunderstood the ruling of the court, or/and deliberately engaged in mischief that created an unnecessary frenzy in the public sphere.
Finally, in a country as big as Nigeria, it is highly unreasonable to believe that marriages contracted at Ikoyi Registry are more superior to marriages contracted in other jurisdictions. That is not how the law works. It is highly unlikely that foreign embassies/countries will give credence to such an unreasonable claim, based on the rumours out there, as that would be a clear deviation from the interrelated rules governing jurisdiction, domicile, residency, forum convenience, and due process. No liberal constitutional democracy will create such an unreasonable arrangement. So, to allay your fears, the Ikoyi Registry is not superior, whether within or outside Nigeria.