By Abdulwahab Abdulah
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), has urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to dismiss a suit urging it to declare that the Federal Ministry of Interior has no power whatsoever to solemnise and register marriages in Nigeria.
In the originating summons filed by the plaintiffs, they are praying the court to declare that it is Local Government Areas that have the exclusive right to conduct and register marriage.
Those who brought the matter before Justice Chuka Obiozor are four local government areas – Egor Local Government Area of Edo State; Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State; Owerri Municipal Local Government Area of Imo State and Port Harcourt Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Their position is that by virtue of Section 1(5) Paragraph 1(i) of the 1999 Constitution, the Federal Ministry of Interior, an agency of the Federal Government, has no business registering marriages as it currently does.
Their lawyer had exhibited before Justice Obiozor an earlier judgment by Justice Oyindamola Olomojobi of the same Federal High Court, wherein the court declared that only local government areas have the power to register marriages by virtue of Section 30(1) of the Marriage Act and Section 7(5) of the 1999 Constitution.
Joined as respondents in the suit are the Minister of Interior, Abdulraham Danbazau, and the AGF, Malami.
In his preliminary objections, the AGF urged Justice Obiozor to dismiss the plaintiffs’ suit for being an abuse of court processes.
The AGF argued that the issue raised by the plaintiffs had already been settled by the judgment delivered on June 8, 2002 by Justice Olomojobi.
In a five-paragraph affidavit, a lawyer from the AGF’s chamber, Lawrence Ilop, said Justice Olomojobi “has settled, once and for all, the question of who can contract marriages and did not vest that right solely in the Local Government Councils.”
Ilop added, “The marriage registries, as contemplated in the Marriage Act, are designated places of celebration of marriages and not strictly for keeping registers of marriages as being erroneously averred by the applicants.”
He urged Justice Obiozor to dismiss the suit because, according to him, the plaintiffs were forum shopping and abusing the processes of court.
Justice Obiozor adjourned hearing in the case till June 8.
The plaintiffs have alleged a misinterpretation of the May 15, 2017 judgment of Justice I.O. Harrison of the Lagos State High Court, saying the judge did not declare LGA marriage certificate illegal.
In the said judgment, Justice Harrison declined the prayer to perpetually restrain the Registered Trustees of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria and their agents “from further issuing the Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate.”