Appeal Court restores FG’s power to register marriages

Lagos—The Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos has held that the Federal Government and Local Government Councils have the legal authority to celebrate, contract, and register marriages between prospective couples, the Nation newspaper reports.

The appellate court, in two decisions, overturned the December 8, 2021 judgment of the Federal High Court in Lagos which barred the Federal Government from further registering marriages contracted or celebrated under the Marriage Act, 2004 in some local Government Council Areas in the country.

A three-man panel of the court comprising Justice Jimi Olukayode Bada (presiding), Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar and Justice Fredrick Eziakpono Oho unanimously held that no single organ of government has the exclusive authority to contract and celebrate marriages between a prospective couple.

The Federal High Court had, in the 2021 judgment by Justice Daniel Osiagor, restrained the Minister of Interior and/or either by his privies, agents or delegates from further registering marriages contracted or celebrated under the Marriage Act, 2004 within the Plaintiffs’ Local Government Councils Area.

The judge made the decision in a suit jointly filed by Eti-Osa Local Government, Lagos State; Egbor Local Government, Edo State; Owerri Municipal Local Government, Imo State; and Port-Harcourt City Local Government; against the Minister of Interior, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), and Anchor Dataware Solution Limited.

The lower court granted reliefs 1, 2, 3 and 4 as endorsed on the amended originating summons while it refused reliefs 5 and 6. Relief 7 was granted in part.

Dissatisfied, the Appellant (Minster of Interior) in a Notice of Appeal marked CA/LAG/CV/566/2022 prayed the Appeal Court to determine two issues:

“Whether the lower court was right when it held that the plea of the doctrine of res judicata is inapplicable to the 1st to 4th Respondents’ action.

“Whether the learned trial Judge was right when it granted the reliefs sought by the 1st to 4th Respondent 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 government’’.

The AGF also filed another appeal challenging the lower court’s decision. This appeal was marked CA/LAG/CV/968/2022.

Resolving the issues, the appellate court in two judgments delivered on Wednesday, August 2, 2023, held that the lower court was wrong in granting reliefs 1–4 of the reliefs sought by the 1st to 4th Respondents and granting reliefs 7 as endorsed on the amended originating summons in part.

Justice Abubakar Umar, who read the lead judgment in the first appeal by the Minister of Interior, held that both the Appellant and the Respondents had the vires to celebrate, contract, and register marriages between

However, Justice Umar stated that the lower court was correct in refusing reliefs 5 and 6 as endorsed on the Respondents’ amended originating summons.

On why the lower court was wrong when it restrained the federal government from further registering marriages, the appellate court held: “I have found supra in this Judgment that the decision in Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 which the Cross-Appellants have predicated their action on, does not in any manner whatsoever grant exclusive rights to the Cross-Appellants to conduct or celebrate marriages within the local government council.

“On the contrary, the court in Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 highlighted the various fora for the conduct and celebration of marriages.

“The court identified the lawful bodies or authorities vested with the powers to celebrate and contract marriages for intending persons and recognized the marriage districts/local government council, and marriages conducted under the license granted by the Director-General Ministry of Internal Affairs, Director-General of a State Government in charge of marriages and the Minister of Internal Affairs.

‘’The simple implication of the decision in Suit No: FHC/L/870/2002 is that no one organ of government has the exclusive preserve of contracting and celebrating marriages between a prospective couple.

“I am therefore of the considered view that the restriction imposed by the lower court directing the 1st Cross Respondent to only conduct, celebrate and contract marriages in the marriage registries situate at Ikoyi, Lagos and Federal Capital Territory Abuja is wrong and erroneous…

“Having found that the reliefs 1-4 ought not to have been granted by the lower court, it follows therefore that reliefs 5 and 6 being ancillary must fail as a matter of course.

“It is the law that where a principal relief fails, all reliefs ancillary or depend thereto will fail.

“Accordingly, the Judgment of the lower Court delivered on the 8th day of December 2021 in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/816/2018 succeeds and fails in part. Parties should bear their respective cost.’’

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