Marriage in Nigeria is a recognized institution of parties by the law and it serves as evidence of a contractual marriage between a couple. There are two kinds of marriage celebrated in Nigeria, the Statutory Marriage and the Customary Marriage. A statutory marriage enjoys the full benefits of the law. A statutory marriage contracted is regulated and protected by the Marriage Act Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990. There are steps for getting legally married in Nigeria as provided by the Marriage Act and the same must be strictly adhered to. These steps will be discussed below.
Before conducting a civil marriage in Nigeria, it is important to state that there are two main marriage registries in Nigeria which are; the Federal Marriage Registries example of which is the Ikoyi Registry (covers all residents in Lagos, South-South and South East), and the marriage registries within all States of the Federation and Local Government level.
The Steps for getting married in Nigeria are;
- The first step for getting married in Nigeria is for the intending couple to file a marriage notice by obtaining a form at the Marriage Registry of choice with two (2) passport photographs once there is an intention to contract a civil marriage. This is in accordance with Section 7 of the Marriage Act which provides “that whenever any person desires to marry, one of the parties to the intended marriage shall sign and give to the Registrar of the district in which the marriage is intended t take place a notice as in Form A in the First Schedule of the Act”.
- The notice to marriage is entered by the Registrar in a Marriage Notice Book as provided by Section 10 of the Marriage Act and the same will be published in the notice board within twenty-one (21) days for the general public to be aware and make objections to the marriage where necessary.
- The applicant is to make payment of the prescribed fees.
- Upon payment of the prescribed fees, the Registrar is to issue a Form C after the following requirements provided by Section 11 of the Marriage Act have been met by the applicant;
- That one of the parties has been resident within the district where the marriage is intended to be celebrated at least fifteen (15) days preceding the granting of the certificate.
- That each of the parties for the intended marriage is twenty-one (21) years old and if under that age, then the requisite consent must have been obtained in writing and affixed to an affidavit from the bride’s parent or legal guardian where applicable, except in the case of a widower or widow.
- That there is no form of impediment or affinity, consanguinity, kindred, or any other lawful hindrances to the marriage.
- Another requirement is that neither of the parties to the intended marriage is married under customary law to any other person other than with whom the marriage is proposed to be contracted with.
- Upon the satisfaction of the above conditions, the Registrar would require the intended couple to depose to an affidavit, upon deposing to the affidavit the Registrar will state out the prohibitive degrees and explain the penalties involved and failure by the applicants to disclose a breach of any of the above conditions would be liable to imprisonment.
- The Registrar of the Marriage Registry then proceeds to sign a written declaration or affidavit that explanation of the above conditions has been given and to show that the intended couple understands the full implications of the law and have satisfied all the necessary conditions to be met for getting married in accordance with Section 11(3) of the Marriage Act.
- Furthermore, upon proof that there is no lawful impediment to the proposed marriage and after the expiration of the 21 days notice, the Minister of a licensed place of worship or the Registrar will issue a Registrar’s Certificate in Form D and grant the marriage license authorizing the celebration of the marriage between the parties in compliance with Section 13 of the Marriage Act.
- The parties are then required to select a date for the wedding which is usually between three (3) months from the date notice of intention to marry was lodged at the Registry in accordance with Section 12 of the Marriage Act. If the marriage does not take place within three (3) months after the date of the notice, the notice and all other proceedings shall be void and a fresh notice will be given before the parties can lawfully marry.
- On the date set for the wedding, and at the time stipulated, the couple with their respective families proceed to the designated marriage registry to finalize the marriage proceedings.
- On the wedding date, the marriage certificate will be printed in duplicates by the Registrar as in Form E, the names of the parties, the date of the marriage, and the names of the witnesses will be entered into the Marriage Certificate as provided by Section 25 of the Marriage Act.
- The Marriage Certificate will also be signed in duplicate by the officiating minister, the parties, and their witnesses in compliance with Section 26 of the Marriage Act. The Minister is to deliver one certificate to the parties and shall within seven (7) days transmit the other to the Registrar of Marriages for the district in which the marriage took place.
- The Marriage Certificate is then registered in a book called the Marriage Register Book by the Register, as provided by Section 30 of the Marriage Act; the Certificate is handed to the couple while the Minister or Registrar retains a duplicate copy. Finally, once all steps listed above have been concluded, the couple becomes legally married under the law.
For a marriage to be recognized as legal under Nigerian law, it must be conducted in accordance with the Marriage Act. It must be noted that the marriage is required to be celebrated either at a licensed place of worship or in the office of the Registrar of Marriages. The marriage will be considered invalid where it was celebrated under false names, or celebrated in a place other than a licensed place of worship or the office of the marriage registry as stipulated in Section 33 of the Marriage Act.