By Uche Amunike
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has stated that it is unconstitutional for marriages to be conducted by the Federal government and went ahead to declare or all unions solemnized at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry, Lagos, illegal and invalid.
Justice D.E. Osiagor who presided over the court maintained that only the local government marriage registries had the power to do such by the provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended, stressing that the conduct of marriages and issuance of certificates were majorly the job of the local government, according to the law.
He further stated that the Ministry of Interior which operated marriage registries through the prompting of the Federal government were acting beyond their powers, insisting that all marriages conducted by Federal marriage registries or through their agents, were illegal and invalid.
He ordered that all Federal marriage registries opened by the Ministry, including that of Ikoyi Marriage Registry is closed with immediate effect.
Over the years, there has existed a legal battle between some local government areas in Nigeria and the Federal government over determining who has the power to operate Marriage registries, conduct marriages and issue marriage certificates. This was why the local government areas have insisted that their power to register marriages which were statutorily provided was being coveted by the Federal government, through the Ministry of interior.
This made the Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State to seek redress in court where it demanded to take over the popular Ikoyi Marriage Registry that is being operated by the Minister of interior on the basis that the Federal government through the ministry, had no business operating a marriage registry.
The suit marked FHC/LS/CS/816/18 with defendants, Ministry of Interior and Attorney General of the Federation, accused the ministry of usurping the local government power to conduct marriages and issue marriage certificates.
It asked the court to declare that the Federal government has no business in conducting marriages and issuing marriage certificates and therefore ordered the closure of all marriage registries operated by the Federal ministry of interior or through their agents, including the Ikoyi Marriage Registry.
The court eventually granted their request saying that only local governments have the power to conduct marriages in Nigeria.
This judgement was not the first time such judgement emanated from that court, as on May 17 2018, Justice Chuka Austine Obiozor while delivering judgement on Suit No: FHC/L/CS/1760/16, issued a restraining order against the Ikoyi Marriage Registry from conducting marriages, stating that it was not constitutional for the Federal government to perform the duties of the state and local governments and stated that marriage registries in the local government of Lagos State were the only ones authentically and legally binding to carry out such functions.
Shortly after, the Lagos State Commissioner for Local Government and Community Affairs, Muslim Folami, held a press conference where he said that the judgement will be communicated to all stakeholders including the embassies.
He stated that the decision of the court was supreme and legally binding on all and that all marriages conducted and registered in any of the 20 local governments were valid and in accordance with the marriage act. He further said that judgement will end the perception of superiority of Ikoyi Marriage Registry over the local government registries and assured that every available platform in the five divisions across the States will be used to sensitize the people and inform them about the latest developments from Epe to Ikorodu, Badagry, Ikeja and Lagos Island.
Instead of complying with the decision of the court however, the Federal Ministry of Interior established more marriage registries across the country.