Marriage is an age long institution, and is reportedly established by God Himself. The Holy Bible credits marriage to be the very first institution instituted by God, alongside law. Genesis 1: 26 and 27 shows that God created man and woman and gave them charge to multiply; but Genesis 2:24 presents the exact institution of marriage by God, but before that in Genesis 2:16-17 God has instituted law and this was closely followed by marriage in 2:18. What this shows is that marriage as precious as it is, is an institution closely founded on law, and is as old as law itself. The place of marriage in the Glorious Quran is also very crucial and important.

Statutory marriage in Nigeria

In customary setting, marriage is equally founded on certain customary laws such as payment of bride price, handing over of the bride to the father of the man, and presence of witnesses. Where these essential ingredients are missing, the marriage may be held to be invalid or will not be recognised by the community. However, it is the incidence of customary law marriage that we are most concerned with.

A woman married under customary law lacks the same security available to a woman married under the Marriage Act (not under the Church doctrine as shall be shown shortly). This is because customary marriage permits polygamy, which means that the woman may someday wake up to realise her husband has got a new wife. This is such a serious issue that every woman must be conscious of it.

Another interesting problem is that a woman married under customary law does not enjoy automatic right over the property of her husband as his administrator under the Administration of Estates Law if the husband dies without a will. This simply means that under the AEL once a husband married under the Act dies, and is survived by his wife, his wife takes precedence above everyone else, including the children, relatives and parents, to administer that property. The same does not apply in customary law, as the property will be administered and eventually distributed according to the customs and practices of the community, and most communities do not rank wives ahead of the first son or the relatives including the eldest male member of the extended family.

Customary marriage

An equally serious problem is that where a man who has married under customary law, has made a Will prior to getting married which has not provided for his wife, the Will remains valid and will not be affected by the subsequent marriage, and so if the man dies before the Will is amended or revoked, the Will remains binding and the woman will lose out. However, interestingly where a woman is married under the Marriage Act, her marriage automatically revokes every Will the man has made prior to getting married to her, except if the Will was made in furtherance of that marriage. So, that the man did not revoke or amend the Will before his death will not affect the woman; the Will is simply invalid, and the woman will apply and be granted letters of administration.

This brings us to our question, what then is Marriage under the Act? Is it the same thing as Church or White Wedding? The short answer is that Marriage under the Act is a marriage conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Marriage Act, which is a national legislation. A church or white wedding is NOT a marriage under the Act EXCEPT it complies with the provisions of the Act.

At this point, I assume you are very interested in knowing the provisions of the Act. The provisions are clear and simple. It simply provides that the marriage must be conducted in a court registry or at a LICENSED place of worship. Thus, not all churches are licensed. Many young ministries are not licensed and so if you have done your traditional marriage and subsequently done your white wedding in an UNLICENSED church, the white wedding is simply a formality or church blessing. YOU ARE MARRIED UNDER CUSTOMARY LAW. Please note, the fact that the church is registered or incorporated is not evidence that it is licensed. Marriage license is a special license that must be applied for and gotten from the Principal Registrar. The question must be how can you know if a church is licensed.  There are two ways, ask the priest or pastor for confirmation. Just as they ask lots of questions during your interview, you have a right to ask if they are licensed. Two; if you know anyone who has married in that church, check the certificate they were issued. If it bears the name of the church, rather than the Federal Republic of Nigeria and other formats, then the church is most likely not licensed.

Statutory marriage

The second important point, is that the ceremony must be officiated by a pastor or priest of that DENOMINATION. A Deeper Life pastor cannot validly celebrate a marriage in an Anglican church. The last point is that the certificate issued must be that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, not the church certificate except it is issued alongside that of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Other factors such as witnesses and time of celebration are always complied with in practice.

The above is what makes a marriage valid under the Act, anything less will mean that you are actually married under customary law and not under the Act, with its attendant consequences. Note this article does not discourage people from marrying under customary, but simply informs you of the consequences. The ideal scenario is to comply with all godly customary rites, and then proceed to do church wedding in a licensed place of worship; anything less will mean married in the church, bound by village customs.


Emeka Ezekwesiri Chigozie is a young vibrant lawyer, he can be reached on:

08062421406(Call and WhatsApp) Linkedin: Ezekwesiri Emeka

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