Fact check: What Court really said about Ikoyi Marriage Registry

Fact check: What Court really said about Ikoyi Marriage Registry Fact check: What Court really said about Ikoyi Marriage Registry

Contrary to misconceptions and misinterpretations, the Federal High Court in Lagos did not bar Federal marriage registries in Ikoyi, Lagos and Abuja from further contracting marriages under the Marriage Act, 2004 in Nigeria.

This is the correct version of the latest judgment of the Federal High Court delivered by Justice Daniel Osiagor on December 8, 2021, on a suit filed by four local governments in four states who were seeking to stop the federal government from further contracting, celebrating, registering marriages as well as issuing licences to authorise intending parties to marry and issuing marriage certificates, under the Marriage Act.

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Eti Osa Local Government Council in Lagos State is the first Plaintiff. The three others are the local government areas, where the Federal Government established Federal Marriage Registries – Egor local LG Council in Edo State, Owerri Municipal LG Council in Imo State and Port Harcourt City LG Council in Rivers State.

In the case instituted in 2018, the applicants sued the Minister of Interior and the Attorney-General of the Federation. A firm, Anchor Dataware Solutions Limited, was later joined as a third defendant, by an Order of the Court in 2019.

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The reliefs sought included an Order directing the Minister of Interior to transmit or return all marriage certificates issued within the Plaintiffs’ Local Government Councils subsequently after the delivery of a 2004 judgment of Justice Oyindamola Olomojobi of the same Federal High Court, which gave Local Government Registrars exclusive authority to register marriages.

The Plaintiffs’ 6th and 7th prayers also sought an Order for the 1st defendant to return all monies paid by couples since the 2004 judgment to the Plaintiffs’ Marriage Registries for re-issuance, and for the Court to seal all Federal Marriage Registries established in the aforementioned four local governments, or to alternatively restrict Federal Marriage Registries to only issue Licenses to places of public worship for the celebration of marriages.

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But in their legal arguments, the Federal Government through the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation contended that no law either under the Constitution or under the Marriage Act that regulates marriages in Nigeria, gives exclusive authority to a Local Government registrar to contract and celebrate marriages in Nigeria. It added that parties have the option of where to celebrate and contract their marriage.

RESOLUTION

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First, Justice Osiagor condemned the steps taken by the Interior Minister to enter into a Public Private Partnership Agreement with Anchor Dataware, “with the primary purpose of establishing marriage registries across states of the Federation.”

The ministry was also found to have directed the Nigeria Immigration Service to make federal marriage certificates an inclusive eligibility requirement for all married applicants for international passports.

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It also directed marriage registries in the local governments to obtain approval from federal marriage registries so as to continue to conduct marriages in accordance with the marriage act.

The court described these steps as a complete abuse of power that undermines the constitutional recognition of the three tiers of government in Nigeria.

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“By this agreement, the first respondent (ministry of interior) literally outlawed any marriage conducted by the local government (Marriage District) registrars.”

“The first defendant combining with its private partners (third defendant) 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 district (local government areas) reserved for the registrars of marriages in these districts”

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“It is highly condemnable and I so condemn it. The stealthy manner in arrogating marriage territories beyond the statutorily delineated Central Licensing place of worship and undermining the local governments (Marriage Districts) is illegal. Let no minister stealthily and surreptitiously do that.”

“VOYAGE IN FUTILITY”
The judge said that any Federal marriage registry established by the interior ministry outside the former Federal Capital Territory of Lagos and the present Federal Capital Territory of Abuja is a “voyage in futility.”

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But, the court issued a perpetual injunction restraining the Interior Minister and his agents from further contracting, celebrating, granting certificates of marriage and registering marriages under the Marriage Act within the plaintiffs’ local government areas, EXCEPT marriages conducted in the registries in Ikoyi and Abuja.

He, however, refused to grant an Order for the ministry of interior to return marriage certificates it had earlier issued and to also refund the fees paid by couples.

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On the last relief sought seeking the sealing of all federal Marriage registries, the court says, “there shall be no Federal Marriage Registry in the Marriage Districts (Local Government Councils) save Ikoyi and Abuja Federal Marriage Registry predating the 1999 Constitution, without prejudice to the 1st Defendant’s exclusive powers to issue license to places of public worship to celebrate marriages all over the Federation.”

But, the Ministry of Interior, says it will appeal the “conflicting and confusing” decision. Dr. Shuaib Belgore, who is the Permanent Secretary/Principal Registrar of Marriages at the Ministry, also appealed to “the general public, the international community, to couples who had hitherto had their marriages solemnized at Federal Marriage Registries by duly licensed places of worship and to all intending couples to be calm and continue transacting their normal businesses at all Federal Marriage Registries subsisting throughout the federation in line with statutory and constitutional provisions.”

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Note:

-Justice Osiagor slams FG for “undermining powers of LGs to conduct marriages”
– Interior ministry to appeal decision, says federal marriage registries established throughout federation subsists

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