The Federal Government has expressed its readiness to appeal a ruling which declared that local government councils are primarily responsible for conducting and issuing marriage certificates in Nigeria.
Shuaib Belgore, Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Interior and Principal Registrar of Marriage, made the government’s stance known in a statement on Tuesday.
Justice D. E. Osiagor of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, in his judgment in a suit instituted by the Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State against the Federal Ministry of Interior, held that LGA councils are empowered to issue marriage certificates.
However, following several media reports on Tuesday claiming that the court nullified all weddings conducted by the Ikoyi marriage registry, the Ministry of Interior said such claims are “false and misleading”.
According to the ministry, the same court had in a previous case held that while local government councils are empowered to register marriages, it is the Federal Government that can conduct marriages in the country.
It noted that the court previously ruled that local governments are only delegated by the Federal Government to conduct marriages, by virtue of Legal Notices issued pursuant to the Marriage Act.
The ministry, therefore, described reports surrounding the current court ruling as a “deliberate distortion” of the court’s decision, saying the local governments were yet to appeal the judgment previously issued.
The statement read: “The attention of the Ministry of Interior has been drawn to news making the rounds on social media claiming that the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has declared all Marriages conducted by Ikoyi marriage registry to be illegal and invalid.
“We would like to state that this statement is false, misleading and a deliberate distortion of the decision of the Court in Suit No: FHC/L/CS/816/18 between Eti-Osa Local Government Council & 3 others v. Honourable Minister of Interior and 2 others, where the Honourable Court held that only the Local Government councils can conduct valid marriages in Nigeria.
“It is noteworthy that, the same Federal High Court situated in Ikoyi, Lagos in Suit No. FHC/L/870/2002 between Prince Haastrup and Eti Osa Local Government held that the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Interior is constitutionally empowered to conduct marriages in Nigeria and held that the Local Governments were delegated by the Federal Government to conduct marriages, by virtue of Legal Notices issued
pursuant to the Marriage Act.
“In that case, the learned trial judge held that nothing in the role of local governments, as defined in the Constitution, suggests that local governments can conduct or contract marriages as alleged in their pleadings. The Court affirmed that powers of the local governments to contract statutory marriages is derived from the Legal Notices issued by the President. The Court also confirmed that the role of local governments, as enshrined in the Constitution is limited to registration of all forms of marriages (including Islamic and customary marriages).”
The Interior Ministry urged Nigerians who solemnised their marriages at federal marriage registries or at licenced worship places not to panic, saying they should maintain status quo ante as the initial judgment is still subsisting.
It stated that it would appeal the judgment issued by Justice Osiagor when it gets the certified true copy of the ruling.
The statement read: “The General Public is invited to note that these judgments are all still subsisting, competent and have not been appealed against till date. Further to the above, the current decision of the Federal High Court delivered by Hon. Justice D. E. Osiagor of Court 6, cannot set aside a previous decision of the same Court, which is of coordinate jurisdiction, as that would amount to the court sitting on appeal over its own judgment.
“In the circumstances, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Interior, has applied for a certified true copy of the judgement and will take appropriate further action including but not limited to filing of an appeal in respect of this conflicting and confusing decision, in line with the provisions of the Constitution.
“We would like to appeal to the general public, the international community, to couples who had hitherto had their marriages solemnized at Federal Marriage Registries by duly licensed places of worship and to all intending couples to be calm and continue transacting their normal businesses at all Federal Marriage Registries subsisting throughout the federation in line with statutory and constitutional provisions.”