Punishment For Clergies That Wed People Without License.

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Punishment For Clergies That Wed People Without License. Daily Law Tips (Tip 652) by Onyekachi Umah, Esq., LL.M, ACIArb(UK)

INTRODUCTION: 

English marriage is a highly regulated relationship in Nigeria. From the age of persons getting married to the venue of marriage, process of marriage to the officiating minister, everything about English marriage is regulated. By a federal law in Nigeria, there is punishment for any clergy that conducts English marriage/wedding for a couple without appropriate license in any part of Nigeria. This work focuses on the offences and punishments of clergies that conduct English Marriages without licenses in Nigeria.

Marriage in Nigeria is either traditional or English marriage. English marriage (Statutory, Court or Registry marriage) is the marriage of one man to one woman in accordance with legally approved processes starting from the office of the Registrar of Marriages. Traditional marriage (Customary, Native, Cultural marriage) is marriage of one man to one or more wives according to tradition and native rituals. In Nigeria, English marriage offers more protection, privileges and rights to couples than Traditional marriage. 

ENGLISH MARRIAGE PROCEDURE AND ROLES OF CLERGIES: 

The processes and procedure for a valid English marriage are laid down by a Federal law (the Marriage Act) made since 31st December, 1914. The process/procedure has 3 stages/steps; STAGE 1 is approaching the Registrar of Marriages at the Marriage Registry to complete documents and give appropriate notices. Where there is no opposition to the marriage notice, the next step (STAGE 2) is for the celebration of marriage (ie, wedding ceremony) in the office of the Registrar of Marriages or in a licensed place of Marriage or in any place authorized by the federal Minister of Interior. This is the point at which clergies (religious leader) may be approached in a process of English marriage in Nigeria. Click to read my other works on “3 Steps to a Valid English Marriage”. 

For every right, there is a duty. While there may be no national standard for the qualification, emergence and regulation of clergies in Nigeria, there is a standard for clergies that are authorized to conduct wedding ceremonies for English marriages. The three (3) most important standard and duties for clergies that are conducting wedding ceremonies for English marriages, are hinged on “Venue and Time of Marriage”, “Status of Clergy” and “Registrar’s Certificate”. 

  1. VENUE AND TIME OF MARRIAGE: Not very church, mosque, prayer center, camp, cathedral or mission house is a licensed public place of worship for conduct of marriage. The Federal Minister of Interior is in-charge of licensing a public place of worship as a public place for celebration of marriage and may at any time cancel such license. Issuance of license and withdraw of same, is to be done by the Minister through a publication in a federal gazette. It is only in a licensed public place of worship (building) that a clergy can conduct the celebration of marriage (wedding) for an English marriage. It is a specific building that is licensed and not all the buildings of a religious group or denomination, so always be mindful of buildings where marriages are conducted. However, a couple can obtain a license from the Minister of Interior allowing them to be wedded in a place that is not a public place of worship. Every celebration of marriage in a public place of worship must be done between the hours of 8.00 am and 6.00 pm in the presence of at least two witnesses apart from the officiating clergy. 
  2. STATUS OF CLERGY: Not every clergy in Nigeria is permitted and authorized to conduct a valid English marriage. Only a recognized clergy of a religious body/denomination that has a licensed public place of marriage that is authorized to conduct and officiate a marriage. And, the conduct of marriage must be in the licensed pubic place of worship (building) of the clergy’s denomination. Hence, a recognized clergy of the Roman Catholic Church cannot conduct/officiate an English marriage in a licensed public place of worship (building) of the Anglican Church or any other demonization. 
  3. REGISTRAR’S CERTIFICATE: English marriage must involve the Registrar of Marriages in the Marriage Registry. So, no clergy is permitted to conduct any wedding for any prospective couple unless the prospective couple shows a Registrar’s Certificate from the Registry of Marriage. A Registrar’s Certificate is the authority allowing a prospective couple to be wedded in a licensed public place of worship. However, in place of a Registrar’s Certificate, a prospective couple can obtain a special license from the Minister of Interior allowing them to be wedded by a clergy without a Registrar’s Certificate. Click to read my work on “How to be Legally Married in Nigeria”.

OFFENCE AND PUNISHMENT OF OFFENDING CLERGIES:

Any clergy or person that is not qualified but knowingly officiates or even witnesses as a marriage officer any English marriage, has committed an offence. The offence is punishable with five (5) years imprisonment and there is no option of fine stated. 

Also, any clergy or person, that officiates a marriage, knowing that any of the requirements by law for the validity of such marriage (like the Registrar’s Certificate and the Venue and Time of Marriage) has not happened or been performed, so that the marriage is void or unlawful on any ground, has committed an offence. The offence is punishable with five (5) years imprisonment and there is no option of fine provided.

CONCLUSION: 

English marriage is not a solely church/mosque or religious affair rather a government affair that starts from the office of the Registrar of Marriages and may be concluded in a licensed public place of worship. It is a criminal offence for any clergy to wed a couple in any part of Nigeria, without abiding by the Marriage Act of 1914. Punishment for an offending clergy is five (5) years imprisonment without any option of fine. No place of worship (mosque, church, congregation, order, parish, diocese, district, communion, zone, fellowship or denomination) is above the law (including the Marriage Act). No internal protocol, liturgy, handbook, manual and divine inspiration of any place of worship can contravene the provisions of law. Click to read my other works on Marriage in Nigeria.  

My authorities are:

  1. Section 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 13, 21, 22, 23, 42 of the Marriage Act, 1914. 
  2. The judgment of the Supreme Court (on the meaning of English Marriage) in the case of AMOBI v. NZEGWU & ORS (2013) LPELR-21863(SC)
  3. The judgment of the Supreme Court (on the essential requirement of a valid Marriage (Customary or English) in the case of  MERIBE v. EGWU(1976) LPELR-1861(SC)
  4. The judgment of the Supreme Court (on the types of marriages in Nigeria) in the case of CHINWEZE & ANOR v. MASI & ANOR (1989) LPELR-851(SC)
  5. The judgment of the Supreme Court (on requirements and steps to marriage) in the case of ANYAEGBUNAM v. ANYAEGBUNAM (1973) LPELR-507(SC)
  6. The judgment of the Court of Appeal (on requirements and steps to marriage) in the case of MOTOH v. MOTOH (2010) LPELR-8643(CA)
  7. The judgment of Odunlami J. of the High Court of the Western State, Ibadan Judicial Division, on 29 April 1974 (on the venue of celebration of marriage) in the case of Julianah Funmilayo Aiyegbusi V. Ezekiel Olusola Aiyegbusi and Ade Aluko (1974). Suit No. 1/238171. 
  8. Itse Sagay, “Nigerian Family Law” (1st edn, Malthouse Law Books 1999) 85. 

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