The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), has urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to dismiss a suit seeking a declaration that the Federal Ministry of Interior does not have the power to solemnise and register marriages.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to rather declare that it is Local Government Areas that have the exclusive right to conduct and register marriages.
The suit was filed before Justice Chuka Obiozor by four local government areas – Egor Local Government Area of Edo State; Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State; Owerri Municipal Local Government Area of Imo State and Port Harcourt Local Government Area of Rivers State.
The LGAs, through their lawyer, Mr Michael Roger, are contending that by virtue of Section 1(5) Paragraph 1(i) of the 1999 Constitution, the Federal Ministry of Interior, an agency of the Federal Government, has no business registering marriages as it currently does.
Roger had exhibited before Justice Obiozor an earlier judgment by Justice Oyindamola Olomojobi of the Federal High Court, wherein the court declared that only local government areas have the power to register marriages by virtue of Section 30(1) of the Marriage Act and Section 7(5) of the 1999 Constitution.
However, in the said judgment delivered on June 8, 2002, Justice Olomojobi clarified that other lawful authorities could “celebrate or contract marriages.”
Justice Olomojobi had held, “Lawful bodies or authorities, which can celebrate or contract marriages for intending persons, who are desirous of getting married as husbands and wives, are; 1. Registrars in places designated as an office 2. Recognised ministers of religion in a licenced place of worship 3. Marriages contracted under the licence granted by the Director-General, Ministry of Internal Affairs; Director-General of a state government in charge of marriages; any officer in the afore-stated ministries and of course, the Minister of Internal Affairs.”
Relying on Justice Olomojobi’s judgment, the LGAs are urging Justice Obiozor to declare that the Federal Minster of Interior has no power to register marriages.
Joined as respondents in the suit are the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, and the AGF, Malami.
In response to the suit, the AGF filed a preliminary objection, wherein he urged Justice Obiozor to dismiss the plaintiffs’ suit for being an abuse of court processes.
The AGF argued that the issue raised by the plaintiffs had already been settled by the judgment delivered on June 8, 2002, by Justice Olomojobi.
In a five-paragraph affidavit, a lawyer from the AGF’s chamber, Lawrence Ilop, said Justice Olomojobi “has settled, once and for all, the question of who can contract marriages and did not vest that right solely in the Local Government Councils.”
Ilop added, “The marriage registries, as contemplated in the Marriage Act, are designated places of celebration of marriages and not strictly for keeping registers of marriages as being erroneously averred by the applicants.”
He urged Justice Obiozor to dismiss the suit because, according to him, the plaintiffs were forum shopping and abusing the processes of court.
Justice Obiozor adjourned hearing in the case till June 8.
Meanwhile, the plaintiffs have alleged a misinterpretation of the May 15, 2017 judgment of Justice I.O. Harrison of the Lagos State High Court, saying the judge did not declare LGA marriage certificate illegal.
In the said judgment, Justice Harrison declined the prayer to perpetually restrain the Registered Trustees of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria and their agents “from further issuing the Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate.”
Rather, the judge held that “…all marriages conducted by the 1st and 2nddefendants (Ikeja LGA and ALGON) are lawful in which modified certificates are issued and deemed as being good valid in law.”