Law & Human Rights

June 12, 2009

Court voids Immigration condition for issuing passports to married women

The current administrative policy of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) compelling a married Nigerian woman to produce a letter of consent from her husband as a condition for issuance of international passport has been declared unconstitutional by the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt.

The presiding Judge, Justice G.K. Olotu, made this declaration in a suit by Dr. Priye Iyalla_Amadi, wife of renowned author, Elechi Amadi, against the director general of the Nigeria Immigration Service (first defendant) (NIS), (second defendant) and the service itself.

Justice Olotu, in his judgment, said this requirement for processing of application for international passport as it concerns married women, is a violation of Section 42 (1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution and Article 18(3) of the West African Charter on the People’s Human Rights, being discriminatory on grounds of sex, hence unlawful and unconstitutional.

Following the loss of her international passport, Dr. Iyalla-Amadi had applied to the NIS for the issuance of another passport and the officer who attended to her request gave a list of documents that she would attach to the her formal application, among them a letter of consent from her husband.

Irked by this condition, the plaintiff protested against it on the ground that a mature adult citizen of the country like her should not require the consent of any person before she could be issued a Nigerian passport, but her protest fell on deaf ears, thus the decision to file the suit against the NIS.

The defendants did not really dispute the facts adduced by the plaintiff in their counter_affidavit but sought to justify the requirement of a letter of consent from the husband of a married woman who wants to be issued a Nigerian passport on the basis that Nigerian married women are classified alongside with minors by the government as persons who require consent from the head of the family.

NIS argued that the requirement for consent was put in place to perpetuate the authority of the man over his wife, no matter the status she had attained in society. It also stated that the requirement was set to avoid unnecessary breakdown of marriage institution in the country.

Another argument advanced by the NIS was that obtaining a Nigerian passport from the Federal Government by a Nigerian is a privilege, hence any person applying must fulfil all the conditions laid down by the sole agent of the government, which is the NIS.