The proof of a valid marriage conducted in Nigeria is provided under the Marriage Act 2004 which is the principal law that governs statutory marriage in Nigeria. Under Nigerian Law, there are only two recognized forms of marriage in Nigeria which are a statutory marriage and a Customary marriage.
For a customary or traditional marriage, which is a marriage conducted according to the native law and custom of a particular ethnic group and for there to be proof of customary marriage, the following requirements must be met;
- It must be proven that the consent of the parents of the parties of the marriage was had and obtained before the customary marriage was conducted also, parties to the marriage had a mutual agreement to celebrate such marriage.
- To prove that a customary marriage was celebrated, there must be evidence of payment of bride price by the groom to the parents or guardian of the bride to the marriage.
In another light, statutory marriages are marriages conducted in accordance with the Marriage Act and for such marriage to be valid before the eyes of the law; it must comply with all the provisions of the Marriage Act 2004.
To facilitate the proof of statutory marriages in Nigeria, Section 30 of the Marriage Act provides that “Every Registrar shall forthwith register in a book, every certificate of marriage which shall be filed in his office according to the Form E in the first schedule and every such entry shall be made in the order of date from the beginning to the end of the book and every entry shall be dated on the day on which it is so entered and shall be signed by the Registrar, and such book shall be indexed in such manner as is best suited for easy reference thereto”.
This provision of the Act simply means that every statutory marriage conducted in Nigeria is evidenced by a Certificate of Marriage issued by the Registrar of a marriage registry, in which the certificate of marriage filed is kept in a Marriage Register Book.
Furthermore, Section 32 of the Act provides in respect of evidence of a statutory marriage that “Every certificate of marriage shall be filed in the office of the registrar of any district, or a copy thereof, purporting to be signed and certified as a true copy by the registrar of such district for the time being, and every entry in the marriage register book, or copy thereof certified as aforesaid, shall be admissible as evidence of the marriage to which it relates, in any court of justice or before any person having by law or consent of parties authority to hear, receive and examine evidence”.
From the above-stated section, it simply states that there are different forms for proof of marriage in Nigeria. The proof of a statutory marriage can be by the following ways;
- By a Certificate of Marriage issued by the Marriage Registry;
- By the Certified True Copy of a Marriage Certificate and;
- By conducting a due diligence search in the Marriage Registry Book, held in the custody of the Registrar of Marriage.
Furthermore, where there is an inquiry to be made about the existence of a statutory marriage, an inquiry can be conducted at the appropriate marriage Registry, to search the marriage Register book after paying the necessary fees. Section 30 (2) of the Act provides that “the Registrar shall at all reasonable times allow searches to be made in the marriage register book, and shall give certified copies therefrom upon payment of the prescribed fee”.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1970 also provides for the proof of statutory marriages conducted in Nigeria. Section 86 of the Act provides that “in proceedings under this Act, the court may receive as evidence of facts stated in it, a document purporting to be either the original or a certified copy of any certificate, entry or record of a birth, death or marriage alleged to have taken place, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere”.
By the provisions of the above-stated section, where the existence of a statutory marriage is in contention before a court, the court can receive as evidence either the marriage certificate, the certified true copy of the marriage certificate, or the entry in the marriage registry book.
In conclusion, there are instances where the existence of a marriage contracted between a husband and wife needs to be proved to a third party, by the order of the court, government authority, or to be used for official purposes. To prove the existence of marriage to the satisfaction of the inquiring party, it can be done in form of providing the original marriage certificate issued by the marriage registry, or by a certified true copy of the marriage certificate, or finally by conducting a search on the entries of marriage certificates in the marriage registry book which is obliged to be properly kept by the Registrar of Marriages.
While for a customary marriage, the proof of the same will be satisfactorily done where there is evidence that parties and parents of the parties agreed for such marriage to be celebrated and there was payment and receipt of bride price for the intending bride.