From the time Nigeria became a British dependency till the present, the celebration of monogamous marriage here has been governed by statute law. It is, therefore, necessary to give a brief historical sketch of the statutory developments in this field.
1. Historical backgroundAfter the cession of Lagos to the British Crown in 1861, the first statutory provisions on marriage for the Settlement of Lagos came into existence in 1863. The Marriage Ordinance of that year provided for 'the granting of licences for marriages in the Settlement of Lagos and its dependencies'. Further, the Registration Ordinance of the same date dealt with the registration and solemnization of marriages within the Settlement of Lagos. In 1872 and 1873 respectively, there was Divorce Ordinance applicable also to the Settlement.
These were repealed in 1877. While Lagos was part of the Colony of the Gold Coast, the Marriage Ordinance 1884 was enacted for that Colony. This was the first comprehensive piece of legislation dealing with various matters relating to the solemnization of marriages. Ii repealed all the earlier enactments. In 1886 Lagos was separated from the Gold Coast Colony, but the 1884 Ordinance continued to apply in Lagos.
It is significant that neither the 1884 Ordinance nor its predecessors applied to the then Protectorate of Nigeria. Consequently, outside the Colony of Lagos it was possible to contract either a customary-law marriage or a Christian marriage in accordance with the rites of the church. But in 1900 part of this gap was filled by the promulgation of the Marriage Proclamation for the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria. Its provisions were similar to those of the 1884 Ordinance. With the merger of Lagos Colony and the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria in 1906, the Marriage Proclamation was repealed and the 1884 Ordinance applied to the whole of the new political and administrative entity. Meanwhile, the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria was left out of these developments. Up to 1907 there was no provision for statutory marriage in that part of Nigeria. But in that year, the defect was made good by the issue of the Marriage Proclamation 1907 for the Northern Protectorate.
This piece of legislation, like its Southern counterpart, was similar to the 1884 Ordinance. The merger of Northern and Southern Nigeria in 1914 made it imperative to streamline the marriage laws in the new political entity, Nigeria. This was achieved through the Marriage Ordinance 1914, which applied throughout Nigeria. It repealed the Marriage Ordinance 1908, the Marriage Proclamation 1907, and the Foreign Marriage Ordinance 1913. With minor amendments, this statute still continues to regulate the celebration of monogamous marriages in Nigeria. The 1914 statute is substantially similar to the 1884 Ordinance and based on the same principles of monogamy as the English- law of marriage.
However, the cardinal principle of the Nigerian statute is that it made the celebration of marriage a purely civil function, leaving it open to the parties to observe any religious ceremony they may think fit." Although today the celebration of monogamous marriage in Nigeria is regulated by the Marriage Act, such marriage is usually referred to as statutory marriage. For the purposes of clarity this term will be used in our discussions.