By Sandra Umeh
Lagos – A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday fixed June 8 to hear a suit challenging the registration of marriages by the Federal Ministry of Interior.
The suit, marked FHC/L/CS/1760/16, was filed before Justice Chuka Obiozor by four local government areas in the country.
They are: Egor in Edo, Eti-Osa in Lagos, Owerri Municipal in Imo and Port Harcourt in Rivers States.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare that it is the local government areas that have the exclusive right to conduct and register marriages.
The Minister of Interior; and the Attorney General of the Federation are joined as respondents in the suit.
The local government areas, through their lawyer, Mr Michael Roger, are contending that by virtue of Section 1(5) of the 1999 Constitution, the Federal Ministry of Interior, an agency of the Federal Government, has no business registering marriages as it currently does.
Roger had exhibited before the court an earlier judgment of the Federal High Court declaring that only local government areas had powers to register marriages by virtue of Section 30 (1) of the Marriage Act and Section 7(5) of the 1999 Constitution.
However, in the said judgment delivered on June 8, 2002, Justice Oyindamola Olomojobi, clarified that other lawful authorities could, “celebrate or contract marriages.”
Relying on Justice Olomojobi’s judgment, the local government areas are urging Justice Obiozor to declare that the minister of interior has no power to register marriages.
Besides, the plaintiffs also alleged a misinterpretation of May 15, 2017 judgment of Justice I.O. Harrison of the Lagos State High Court that the judge did not declare local governments’ marriage certificate illegal.
In the said judgment, the court declined the prayer to perpetually restrain the Registered Trustees of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), and their agents from further issuing the Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate.
Meanwhile, in response to the plaintiff’s instant suit, the AGF filed a preliminary objection, and 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 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, Mr 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.”
He said that the marriage registries, as contemplated in the Marriage Act, “are designated places of celebration of marriages and not strictly for keeping registers of marriages.’’
He urged Justice Obiozor to dismiss the suit, adding that the plaintiffs were forum shopping and abusing the processes of court.|
Justice Obiozor adjourned hearing in the case until June 8.