It all began two weeks ago whilst I was on vacation in the United Kingdom.
I read the media frenzy concerning the private life of one of Nigeria’s most illustrious maritime lawyers and political statesmen, Prince Ned Nwoko.
The story goes that a budding and talented actress Miss Regina Daniel of the NollyWood fame is getting married to this Delta north senatorial district born politician who not too long ago was said to have obtained a license from the National Universities Commission for the setting up of West Africa’s first ever Sports university to be known as STAR University which he choose to locate in his beautiful countryside in Delta State as a weapon of mass empowerment of his people.
At first when I read the story from the social media platforms of some youngsters, what occurred to me whilst I was busy quaffing cups of hot Americano coffee in central London, was that it was just mere chattering by some youths who needed to just take up some topic to spend on during their school holidays given that universities were on break.
But the story has since taken a life of its own and indeed important persons in the social platforms have jumped into the fray or rather into the arena of social conversations on a matter that from all angles is an extremely private matter of two adults who as it were have consented to be married as husband and wife in absolute compliance with the extant Marriage Act applicable in Nigeria.
The conversations around the marital status of Nwoko and Daniel have however dangled between the imaginary to mere fabrications from persons who never took some moments to reflect on the other developmental dimensions of Nwoko who was in the House of Representative for four years between 1999-2003 and again has just been returned as the winner of Delta North senatorial election of 2019 by a competent court of law.
As someone who has led one of the nation’s foremost Civil Rights bodies, I am also very conversant with Prince Ned Nwoko’s political and social trajectories and I am aware that given the charged political environment, any unfounded story could be framed up and blown out of proportion just to damage his unprecedented political and social profiles.
A professional look at the relevant laws shows that what has happened between Prince Ned Nwoko and Regina Daniel who is an adult and a professional in her own right has all the stamp of legality and therefore all the stories being made up to tarnish the time- tested image of a statesman built by Prince Ned Nwoko could be the handiwork of his entrenched political rivals. By the way his new wife has gone past the age of legal consent for marriage as she is no more a teenager. Lets reflect on the laws relating to marital unions in Nigeria. What then is marriage? From available legal research “a marriage is an interpersonal relationship with governmental, social, or religious recognition, usually intimate and sexual and often created as a contract. The most frequently occurring form of marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife. Other forms of marriage also exist, for example, polygamy in which a person takes more than one spouse, is common in many societies.
Law experts have opined that a marriage must have legally been in existence before a divorce and consequential issues can arise.
Law scholars say such consequential issues include maintenance, maintenance pending suit, lump sum settlement, settlement of property, division of assets and custody of children.
Specifically, section 18 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act CAP A9, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 provides for protection of family life. This is a achieved principally by the sanctity of marriage.
Scholars say there are basically there are three different types of marriage that a man and a woman can contract in Nigeria. They are:(a) Statutory/Church Marriage
(b) Customary Marriage
(c) Islamic Marriage
Writing about extant legislations regulating Marriages in Nigeria will inevitably see us state that the principal legislations regulating statutory marriages in Nigeria are: 1. The Marriage Act;2. The Matrimonial Causes Act Cap M7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004;Matrimonial Causes Rules made pursuant to the Matrimonial Causes Act. Some issues around legal jurisprudence and Jurisdiction are key and indeed pivotal to this conversation.
Lawyers say the main requirements for courts to have jurisdiction in relation to matrimonial causes proceedings is domicile in Nigeria. A person who is domiciled in any state of the federation is considered domiciled in Nigeria and can bring a petition for matrimonial causes reliefs in the High Court of any State of the Federation. Also, the Marriage Act, which is a federal legislation, makes provisions for the celebration of marriages in Nigeria. It is clear that the Act is designed only for the celebration of marriage between a man and a woman, and the marriage has to be a monogamous one. A monogamous marriage has been defined in the Interpretation Act as: “a marriage which is recognized by the law of the place where it is contracted as a voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others during the continuance of the marriage”. “The Church believes that marriage, by divine institution is a life, long and exclusive union and partnership between one man and one woman. Its laws and regulations are based on this belief”.
Indeed the Church rites at marriage ceremonies state as much. It is a union that ensures till “death do us part”.
If therefore a woman whilst still in a marriage contracted under statute, contracts another marriage, statutory, or otherwise, she has committed the offence of bigamy. The same applies to a man who whilst still married under the Act, proceeds to take more wives under Customary or Islamic Law. The Criminal Code Act. Reads as follows:-
“Any person, who having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years. This section of this Code does not extend to any person whose marriage with such husband or wife has been dissolved or declared void by a Court of competent jurisdiction, nor to any person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband or wife, if such husband or wife, at the time of the subsequent marriage, shall have been absent from such person for the space of seven years, and shall not have been heard of by such person as being alive within that time”.
Indeed in certain circumstances a marriage solemnized in Church without the licence of the Registrar of marriage shall be null and void. The relevant Law reads:-“A marriage shall be null and void if both parties knowingly and willfully acquiesce in its celebration –(a) in any place other than the office of a Registrar of marriage or a licencesed place of worship (except where authorized by the licence issued under Section 13 of this Act) or(b) Under a false name or names or (c) Without a Registrar’s certificate or notice or licence issued under Section 13 of this Act duly issued or (d) By a person not being a recognized Minister of some denomination or body or a Registrar of marriage”.
Goung further, we could decipher from a celebrated case, Anyaegbunam V. Anyaegbunam, whereby the Supreme Court declared where there is a dispute as to whether a Church service is a service of marriage or a Church blessing of a marriage, the “Certificate of Marriage” issued by the Church would not be evidence of marriage unless it can be shown that the required licence of the Registrar of Marriages was produced and the certificate was in the form prescribed by the Marriage Act. In this case, the Court ruled in favour of the husband that the Church ceremony was a mere blessing of marriage, and not a marriage under the statute.
Critically, the Marriage Act does not state what marriageable age is and this is a fundamental omission in the Law. However the Child’s Rights Act passed into Law in 2003 specifically prohibits the marriage of a person under 18 years, whether male or female. The relevant provision reads as follows:-“No person under the age of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly, a marriage so contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever”
“Furthermore bethrothal of a person under 18 years is completely forbidden. No parent, guardian or any person shall bethroth a person under 18 years to any other person. Such betrothal if it ever happens is null and void. Marriage under Customary Law is largely polygamous. A polygamous marriage is the union for life of one man with several wives. There is no limit to the number of wives a man can marry under customary law.
Generally the following are pre-requisites for a valid customary marriage:(a) Betrothal
(b) Capacity of the parties
(c) Consent of parties as well as consent of parents/family
(d) Marriage consideration/dowry
(e) Solemnization of the marriage
(f) Consummation of the marriage.
A decided case at the Supreme Court in the case of Osamwonyi V. Osamwonyi held that under Bini Native Law and Customs, the consent of the parties was necessary for a valid marriage under customary law. Furthermore, under the Criminal Code Act, it is an offence punishable with seven years imprisonment for any person who with the intent to marry a female person of any age or to cause her to be married by any other person takes her away or detains her against her will. Furthermore, parental consent is necessary before a valid customary marriage can take place. In Okpanum V. Okpanum, the High Court of East Central State of Nigeria held that in order to constitute a valid customary marriage, there must be parental consent and mutual agreement between the parties.
Solemnization is an essential ingredient of a valid customary law marriage. It generally involves breaking kola, pouring libation, sharing drinks and other activities. The bride is invariably handed over to the bridegroom and his family. In another decided case Omoga V. Badejo, the Court held that there must be a formal handing over of the bride to the groom in the presence of the two families and witnesses and the acceptance and taking away of the bride to her husband’s house for marriage under Yoruba Native Law and Custom, to be valid. This notwithstanding, until bride price or dowry is refunded a customary marriage remains intact even if the woman has left the matrimonial home to live with another man.
Consummation of the marriage under Native Law and Custom is essential. Consummation simply means having sex, with a view to making a marriage complete. In traditional societies, the very night of the marriage is eagerly awaited by the groom’s family as he is expected to announce his exploits to his family and state if his wife was found intact or not. MARRIAGE UNDER ISLAMIC LAW
Islamic Law marriage possesses most of the features of Customary Law marriage, but nonetheless, I shall briefly highlight a number of issues in respect of this type of marriage which is most prevalent in the northern part of the Country. Islamic marriage like customary marriage is a polygamous one with the man taking up to four wives if he desires.
An Islamic Law marriage to be valid, must have the following pre-requisites:
(a) Consent of the parties
(b) Parental consent
(c) Payment of the Saduquat (Sadaki) – dower
There must be freely given consent to the marriage by the parties. However, under the Maliki School of Islamic Law, a father has the right to conclude a marriage on behalf of his infant sons and virgin girls. The ceremony is called the Ijbar.
Parental consent is also necessary for a valid Islamic marriage.
Saduquat (Sadaki) or dower is the bride price received by the parents of the bride to be. It is the entitlement of the woman and not that of her parents, though it is paid through the parents.
Legal authorities say that the marriage needs to be solemnized by a Mallam in the presence of at least two upright Moslem witnesses. All the other incidents pertaining to a customary law marriage by and large also ensure for Islamic law marriage.
Besides, A Christian marriage only from the repercussion of the offence of conspiracy with the husband alone. This provision does not ensure for the benefit of a wife of a polygamous marriage. There is a similar protection from liability of a husband and wife of a Christian Marriage for offences committed by either of them with respect to the other property.
Likewise no husband or wife of a monogamous and Mohamedan marriage shall be compelled to disclose any communication made to him or her during the marriage by any person to whom he or she is married expect in respect of very grievous offence.
Lawyers affirmed that for those young men and women who promise to marry their fiance (e) under the Act and break such promise, the guilty part can be sued in the Civil Court for damages for breach of promise of marriage. To succeed in a claim for damages, it has to be proved that the promise was a marriage under the Act by someone who is single, and that that person has failed or refused to honour his or her obligation. In Margaret Uso V. George Iketubosin (1957) WRNLR 187, in awarding £600 as damages, the Court held as follows:-“The Plaintiff is now over thirty, while she is still personable, her attractions are waning. She was tied to this man during the years when the prospects of marriage were greatest. It may well be that as a result of his conduct she will remain unmarried”.
Nneka Okonkwo a lawyer who took time to explain all these legal import of the marriage Act is of the view that our youth should take heed and educate themselves and by so doing would engage themselves in meaningful national conversations that would make the government to implement measures to improve their wellbeing rather than spend their precious times and data debating meaningless about Prince Ned Nwoko and Regina Daniel whose marital union has met all thr legal thresholds.
Her words: “In conclusion there are quite a number of other laws relating to marriage which affect both men and women, but on account of time, I would not be able to discuss them in this paper, suffice to say that the aforementioned discourse raises the main issues relevant to all of us in so far as Laws relating to marriage are concerned.”
But why are Nigerians not reflecting on some of the milestones made by Prince Ned Nwoko who from every indication is a self-made man who is not just a professional lawyer, but a great employer of hundreds of Nigerians in different ramifications of the employment enterprises?
May be it is a case of selective amnesia.
But let me remind Nigerians that Ned Nwoko provided the needed cash to fund the repair of failed south east- Abuja link road.
Few weeks back, Prince Ned Nwoko had mobilised private resources to repair failed portions of the road linking the South- East with Abuja through Onicha Ugbo/Idumuje Ugboko and Ewohinmi in Edo State.
The road has become a vital short cut for travellers from the South- East to the North but failed after heavy rainfalls in recent months.
The single lane road originally constructed by NDDC has become a major transit for travellers from South East and the North thus increasing the economic activities of the towns along its path namely OnichaUgbo-idumuje Ugboko- Ewohinmi.
The failed sections of the road exposed commuters to travel delays and other hardships, including attacks by hoodlums operating on the Onicha Ugbo- Idumuje Ugboko axis.
Prince Nwoko said: “I am funding the repairs of the road in my private capacity, to lessen the sufferings of travellers caused by the terrible condition of the road.
“This is just a palliative effort, but I will continue even in my personal capacity, to push the Federal Government to urgently undertake a total reconstruction of the road.”
He had also reportedly donated N30 Million for the completion of Nigerian Bar Association Secretariat in Delta State known as Asaba House.
This man should be appreciated for the good thongs he stand for and be left in peace to consummate his marital union to his sweetheart- a fully grown and mature adult Regina Daniel who i think is still been seen as that teenage star who entertained millions of Nigerians through her movie roles and her near perfect interpretations of assigned creative industry roles.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.huriwanigeria.com, www.thenigerianinsidernews.com;www.emmanuelonwubiko.com.