How To Be Legally Married In Nigeria

The type of marriage being discussed here is marriage under the Act which is also known as statutory marriage. This marriage can be celebrated in any of the three ways or places – 1. in a registrar’s office, 2. in a place of worship, and 3. under a special licence given by the Minister (let it be noted that the Minister of Interior Affairs has the power, as provided under section 13 of the Marriage Act, to issue such licence permitting a marriage to take place without the filing of a notice of marriage for 21 days, as long as he is satisfied that there is no impediment to the marriage, and parental consent, if necessary, must have been obtained in writing. Thereafter, he will issue the licence for the celebration of such marriage, even without a registrar’s certificate). The procedure for its celebration is explained below:

i.    one of the parties to the marriage must complete and sign a notice of marriage at the registrar’s office. This is the first step to be taken by persons who want to be married under the Act.

ii.       the notice must be entered in the Marriage Notice Book.

iii.     the notice must also be displayed at the marriage registry so as to enable members of the public have access to it. This must be done for not less than 21 days before the registrar’s certificate can be issued. The Marriage Notice Book is open to the general public for inspection during office hours without a fee.

iv.     the 21 days’ period is also meant to enable any member of the public to object to the proposed marriage. This is called entering of caveat. The caveat must state the name of the objector, his or her address and the ground of the objection. Once a caveat is entered, the registrar will enter the word “forbidden” in the Marriage Notice Book and refer it to a judge of the High Court who will determine the merit or otherwise of the caveat. If the judge is of the opinion that the caveat has no merit, the “forbidden” will be removed and by the order of the court, the registrar’s certificate will be issued signalling the continuation of the marriage ceremony.  While, on the other hand, if the judge finds merit in the caveat, the judge will order stoppage of further progress on the proposed marriage. However, an appeal against the order of court may be made to the Court of Appeal which is the final court in this matter. It should however be noted that whoever enters a caveat on frivolous grounds may be liable to a civil action in which damages may be awarded against the caveator or objector.

v.     upon the expiration of 21 days, the registrar’s certificate (otherwise known as Form C) will be issued. It is this certificate that will indicate whether the proposed marriage is taking place at the registrar’s office or a licensed place of worship and it will also indicate wedding date.  This certificate is not the same as marriage certificate. The registrar’s certificate is simply a “certificate to marry” allowing a planned marriage to take place; it is not a proof of its actual celebration.

vi.    the registrar will only issue his certificate if he is satisfied by affidavit (a) that one of the parties to the proposed marriage has been resident within the area where the marriage registry is located for 15 days before the issuance of the registrar’s certificate; (b) that each party to the planned marriage is 21 years old and if any of them is less, proof of parental consent must be shown; (c) that there is no any other hindrance to the marriage such as blood relationship between the two parties; and (d) that the intending couples are singles. Before the marriage, an interview will usually be conducted for the intending couples.

vii.     the marriage may be conducted after 21 days but within three months after the filing of the notice. Where a marriage is taking place after three months, fresh notice of marriage must be filled, signed, and delivered to the registrar’s office.

viii.     if the marriage is taking place in the registrar’s office, couples are expected to dress decently on the wedding day but no particular colour of dress is required. The dress could be English or traditional. They must come with rings and minimum of two witnesses.

The registrar, while joining persons together as husband and wife, usually makes these announcements:

“Do I understand that you A. B. and you, C. D, come here for the purpose of becoming man and wife?”

If the parties answer in the affirmative, the registrar shall proceed thus:

“Know ye that, by the public taking of each other as man and wife in my presence and in the presence of the persons now here, and by the subsequent attestation thereof by signing your names to that effect, you become legally married to each other, although no other rite of a civil or religious nature shall take place, and that this marriage cannot be dissolved during your lifetime, except by a valid judgment of divorce, and if either of you before the death of the other shall contract another marriage while this remains undissolved you will be thereby guilty of bigamy and liable to punishment for that offence.”

ix.    the registrar will fill marriage certificate in duplicate. He will also fill the counterfoil. Thereafter, he, the parties, and witnesses will sign the marriage certificate. The registrar will then issue a copy of the certificate to the couple and file the other copy in the Marriage Register Book in his office.

x.     if, on the other hand, the marriage is taking place in a place of worship, the registrar’s certificate must be shown to the priest in charge. The process of celebrating a marriage in a place of worship must begin with the presentation of a registrar’s certificate to the presiding priest by the intending couple. The marriage will thereafter be celebrated in line with the rites of that particular religious body. Some religious organisations will, in spite of the earlier 21 days’ notice, announce to the whole congregation for anybody having objection(s) to the wedding to raise it and if at that point, any valid objection is raised, the priest has a duty not to join the intending couple because doing otherwise constitutes a crime under the law. There must be, at least, two witnesses to the marriage apart from the presiding priest.

xi.     the presiding priest will fill marriage certificate in duplicate and fill the counterfoil too. The priest, the couple, and witnesses will sign the certificate. He will give a copy of the marriage certificate to the couple, and he must return the other copy to the marriage registry within 7 days of the marriage ceremony, while the religious body will keep the counterfoil where the presiding priest would have entered basic details on the marriage certificate such as names of the parties to the marriage, witnesses’ names, date of the marriage, among others. The copy returned to the registry shall be in the Marriage Register Book. Every licenced place of worship is supplied copies of marriage certificate by the Federal Marriage Registry and it is from these that such place of worship issues certificates of marriage to couples from time to time. However, some religious organisations have their own customised marriage certificates different from the ones given to such organisations that have been licensed by the Federal Marriage Registry. Customised marriage certificates of a particular place of worship, apart from the ones bearing the imprints of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, are not good enough (in fact, in some cases they may be totally invalid) to prove the existence of a marriage under the Act. Such customised marriage certificates are usually not recognized, if tendered at a foreign embassy for the purpose of proving that a marriage subsists between two people. It is important, therefore, to ensure that a marriage certificate is in compliance with the format of Form E in the Marriage Act.

xii.    if a marriage is to be celebrated under a special licence issued by the Minister (i.e. the Minister of Interior Affairs), it will not be necessary to file any notice of marriage, and a registrar’s certificate will not have to be issued provided that there is no any impediment to that marriage, and that where parental consent is to be obtained, same must have been duly obtained. A marriage under a special licence may be celebrated in a place of worship, the registrar’s office or any other place. This option is usually employed when notable persons and public figures are to marry and they do not want publicity.

Written By Kehinde ADEGBITE Esq

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