An appraisal of the decision in Egor Local Government v. Hon. Mininster of Interior
The recent decision of the Federal High Court delivered by Justice Obiozor in Suit No: FHC/L/ CS/1760/16 - EGOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT, EDO STATE & ORS Vs. HON MINISTER OF INTERIOR & ORS has been a mantra on the public stage largely because of the misinterpretation of the said judgment. One of the foremost issues raised by the said decision is whether marriages conducted at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry are valid and equally, whether or not the Ikoyi Marriage Registry can register Marriages. The heated debate about this judgment results from what would be the effect on the public if the questions above were answered in the negative? One certainty is that all marriages conducted and registered in the Ikoyi Marriage Registry would become void.
A glossary look at the case in question - "Egor Local Government V. Hon Minister of Interior". The applicants sought amongst others for:
- A declaration that registration of Marriages are within exclusive authorities of the Registrar within the local government.
- A declaration that contracting and registration of Marriages by the Federal Ministry of Interior is unconstitutional, null and void.
- A declaration that the Ministry of Interior doesn't have power to contract and issue Marriage Certificates
- An Injunction restraining the Ministry of Interior from further establishment of any Marriage registry
The issue for determination in the case is whether it is only local government authorities that can contract and register Marriages to the exclusion of such other authorities designated by the Ministry of Interior. The Nigerian judicial system places heavy reliance on the doctrine of "stare decisis", which succinctly means that where there is a question of law previously decided by a superior Court, such decision shall be binding on a lower Court in deciding a similar question of law likewise where there are two conflicting decisions on an issue by two Courts with concurrent jurisdiction, the veracity of both decisions can only be posited by a higher Court when a party files an appeal to that effect. Hence in deciding this case, recourse was made to an earlier decision of the Federal High Court in FHC/L/870/2002-HAASTRUP & ANOR v. ETI OSA LOCAL GOVERNMENT & 2 ORS, where
it was posited that those who can validly contract or celebrate marriages include the Ministry of Interior. However, with respect to registration of marriages, it is within the exclusive authority of the Registrar in the marriage district (Local Government) in accordance with the provisions of section 30(1) of the Marriage Act, section 7(5) Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and Paragraph 1(i) Fourth Schedule to the constitution.
The order of injunction against the Federal Ministry of Interior was an ancillary claim that had earlier been decided by the same court. Consequently, the Court merely upheld and re-affirmed the position in the Haastrup's case, that the Ministry of Interior can validly conduct marriages but reserved the power for registration of marriages exclusively in the Local Government.
Against this backdrop and having regards to the fact that the substance of the suit had already been decided in an earlier decision of the same court, the judge struck out the case for abuse of Court process and advised that the parties could appeal to a higher court as he could not rule again on the matter to avoid conflicting decisions. Also, the primary claim brought before him was for declaration, which means an interpretation of a provision of a written document; in this case a statute. The order of injunction against the Federal Ministry of Interior was an ancillary claim that had earlier been decided by the same court. Consequently, the Court merely upheld and re-affirmed the position in the Haastrup's case, that the Ministry of Interior can validly conduct marriages but reserved the power for registration of marriages exclusively in the Local Government.
On another note, in the case of Olumide Babalola V. Ikeja Local Government and Anor., the Claimant applied for a declaration that the local government does not have power to issue modified/customized Marriage Certificates different from the one provided for in Form E under Section 24 of the Marriage Act and a declaration that the Registered Trustees of Association of Local Governments in Nigeria (ALGON) Unified Marriage Certificate is unconstitutional, null and void. The Court affirmed the position with regards to the form of the Marriage Certificates, it however held that marriages that are already conducted and are not in conformity with Form E be regarded as good and valid in Law for all intents and purposes, there should however, be a reissuance of the proper certificate to all persons in possession of the "invalid certificates "and this will have no effect on the subsisting validity of the Marriage. The Court also reaffirmed that while registration of marriage is regulated by Local Government, the formation of Marriage is regulated by the Ministry of Interior.
Conclusively, in light of the judicial authorities discussed above and in line with the relevant statutory provisions cited herein, it is our view that the local governments have the exclusive right to validly register and issue certificates of Marriage relying on the position held in Haastrup's case. However, the Local Governments must comply with all the stipulated provisions in the Marriage Act, for the issuance of Form E and no other customized form is acceptable and failure to comply with the provision renders the whole process voidable.
From the foregoing, the right given to the local governments places no ban on the Ministry of Interior's power to contract and celebrate marriages. Based on the decision given in the Haastrup's case, it only restrains the Ministry from further registration of Marriages. However, this would not apply to marriages registered before this decision, due to the doctrine of retrospective law. In essence, marriages registered at the Ministry of Interior before the decision in Egor Local Government V. Hon Minister of Interior are valid while further registrations conducted by the Ministry of Interior may be challenged.
Originally published in Aurora, 2018
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