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Bride Price Payment In Nigeria

It is a well established principle of customary law in Nigeria that the payment of bride price is an essential ingredient of a valid customary law marriage. The term 'bride price' is often used interchangeably in Nigeria with 'dowry' by both writers and others concerned with customary law. Such practice, however, may lead to confusion in thought as 'dowry' stricto sensu means the property which a woman brings to her husband. On the other hand, 'bride price' may be defined as

". . . any gift or payment, in money, natural produce, brass rods, cowries or in any other kind of property whatsoever, to a parent or guardian of a female person on account of a marriage of that person which is intended or has taken place"

In Ibikade v Aize, Old, J., in dealing with the problems of terminology and the nature of dowry (bride price) said:

Is the term 'dowry' equivalent to the term 'price"? or 'purchase price' of an article: is a single sum payable (even if by instalments to the owner or owners of the article .... Dowry on the other hand, is not, usually a single or simple sum like a price. Dowry in a customary law marriage is the total of the various absolutely necessary sums or fees which must be paid by the prospective husband either at different stages and/or for different heads or purposes to seal the marriage agreement between the parties and their families Quite often a payment for one purpose cannot be considered or even discussed until payment has been made for another purpose which is regarded as a necessary prior step in the ladder of the marriage agreement. As the marriage (or even further discussion about it) cannot take place without payment of the various purposes or heads, these payments become a sine qua non in a customary marriage transaction.

For our purposes, the term bride price will be used in this study. It is known in Yoruba customary law as ldana.

From the foregoing, the essential characteristics of bride price may be summarized as follows: it is a gift or payment, it may take the form of money, natural produce or some other form of property; the payment is made to the parent or guardian of the bride-to-be on account of the marriage of the female person and it is paid in respect of a marriage which is intended or has taken place.

We shall now examine some of the main features of bride price.

Nature of bride price

Whether bride price takes the form of a gift or payment depends on the customary law of each locality. Historically, bride price took the form of labour provided by the suitor for the parents of his wife-to-be. Such labour was rendered in addition to a small cash payment and drinks. But with the advent of modern cash economy, bride price took the predominant form of money payment. At the same time, payment in other forms of property became a rare occurence.

Quantum Of Bride Price

There is no uniformity of the rules governing the quantum of bride price throughout Nigeria. It varies from one locality to another. Even within a state, the differences may be profound. For instance, in Anambra State, Onitsha town is a known area of low bride price which is about forty Naira. On me other hand, Awka and environs are known for high bride price which may range in hundreds of Naira. Incidents of high-bnde price in parts of Nigeria have been criticized for causing social ills particularly in preventing young men who cannot afford the large sums of money demanded by parents of bride-to-be from getting married. Similarly, frustrated young women may be tempted to indulge in unmoral associations.

How much is actually paid in each case may depend on the outcome of negotiations between the two families. In other cases the girl's family merely asks the suitor to pay what he considers fit and proper for a wife.

In older to combat incidents of high bride price, action has been taken in several Parts of Nigeria to limit, by legislation, what is payable. The Limitation of Dowry Law 1956, regulates the quantum of bride price in the four Eastern States— Anambra, Imo, Cross River and Rivers States. Section 3(a) of the Law prescribes that sixty Naira shall be the maximum bride price payable in respect of marriages where no incidental expenses are involved. But where incidental expenses are payable, the bride price shall not exceed fifty Naira and the incidentals the sum of ten naira.MJ The law defines 'incidental expenses' of marriage as "customary gifts or payments, other than dowry, made or incurred, on account of a marriage, before, at the time or after marriage." What infact constitutes incidental expenses varies from one part of the country to another. However, the distinction between bride price and incidental expenses is of some importance even though both payments are made in respect of the marriage.

It is an offence to pay or to receive as bride price any amount in excess of the maximum prescribed by the Law. Moreover, it is also an offence to incur any incidental expenses above the ceiling of ten Naira. The offence of each case is punishable, on conviction, with six month's imprisonment.

The courts are precluded from entertaining or continuing any suit or proceeding, making any decree or order or executing such order if the claim involved in the suit contravenes the law. The same limitation of jurisdiction applies where the decree or order of a court would offend against the provisions of the Law. In Okeke v Okoye, the plaintiff respondent claimed as against the appellants in the Udoka District Court, Grade A', Awka Division, that he, being the eldest son of his deceased father, was, in accordance with the customary law of the area, the person entitled to the bride price paid on one Ifechukwu Okoye, daughter of his late father.

The case was transferred to the Chief Magistrate Court, Awka, by the Customary Court Adviser. The Magistrate found as a fact that the first defendant/appellant had received the sum of sixty Naira and three goats in respect of the marriage of Ifechukwu. He therefore made an order for the sixty Naira and three goats to be paid over to the plaintiff. On appeal to the High Court, the defendants argued that the Magistrates' order was illegal, being contrary to section 5 of the I -nutation of Dowry Law. Section 5(b) provides that:

No court shall make any decree or order if the claim involved in such suit or proceeding or if the passing of the decree or order or if such execution would be in any way contrary to any provision of this Law.

Egbuna. J., upheld the defendant's submission But, the learned judge changed the order of the Magistral: to read thirty pounds' (sixty Naira) and not thirty pounds and three goats.'

It it necessary to examine the effect of the Law on the validity of marriages in respect of wtuch payments in violaocm of the provisions were made. Significantly the Law is silent on this issue. In Emeakuana v Umeojiako,151 the court was called upon to determine the paternity and custody of a child. It was contended on behalf of the appellants that the marriage in question was void because the bride price was paid in ruafran currency which was illegal and non-existent in the eyes of the law, or alternatively because it exceeded the limit set down by the Law. Obi-Okoye, J., as he then was, found that part of the bride price was paid in Biafran currency and part in items such as yams. He then decided that the part made up of yams constituted valuable consideration and that the illegal currency will not invalidate the marriage. On the effect of excess payment, he held that although the Law renders both the payer and payee liable for prosecution for an offence, it does not operate to nullify the marriage.

Other statutory limitation of bride price also exist. The Marriage, Divorce and Custody of Children Adoptive By-Laws Order, 1958152 which applies to Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Ondo and Bendel States, prescribe a standard bride price of twenty Naira.153 This amount may, however, be varied with the approval of the Conmussiooer for Local Government when the by-laws are adopted.

Furthermore, declarations of customary law of marriage in a number of Local Government Areas lay down the maximum bride price for the respective areas. In Bm (Bono State) the bride price roust not exceed thirty Naira while in Idoma156 (Benue State) the ceiling is sixty Naira.

Following public complaints of incidents of high bride price, the Imo State Govenirnent in 1979 commissioned the State Branch of the National Council of Women's Societies of Nigeria to look into the problems and find solution. The Council's report recommended inter alia a maximum cash expenses of five hundred Naira for trarriage. The Government, however, rejected this view on the grounds that the provisions of the Limitation of Dowry Law 1956 were still adequate. Inspite of this conclusion, four members of the Imo State House of .assembly in 1981 introduced a Bill — the Limitation of Bride Price Law - which sought to repeal the 1956 Law. The Bill prescribed a bride price of not more than five hundred Naira where no incidental expenses are paid. In other cases, the bride price shall not exceed two hundred Nana and the incidental expenses three hundred Naira. The bill never became law.

When Is Bride Price Payable

Although customary law provides for the payment of bride price, it does not insist that the payment must be completed before the marriage is contracted. But at least part-payment must be made before a valid marriage can be performed.

It may be concluded, therefore, that the validity of a marriage does not depend on full payment of the agreed bride price prior to the marriage.

Person To Whom Bride Price Is Payable

A father is the right person legally entitled to receive bride price in patrilineal societies in Nigeria. In his absence, the right devolves on the male head of his immediate family. Where neither the father nor his successor is available, the guardian of the girl or a person in loco parentis becomes entitled to receive the bride price of his ward.

In the riverine areas of Ijo which practice matrilineal descent, the wife of an iqwa or 'small dowry' marriage and her children belong to her father's family rather than that of the husband. As a result, the bride price in respect of a daughter of such marriage goes to her maternal uncles or other members of her mother's family.

Waiver Of Bride Price

As many families become westernised and are willing to grant a waiver of bride price, the question has arisen whether in such circumstances a valid customary law marriage can be celebrated. Where the waiver relates to the payment of only a part of the bride price no serious legal problem arises because some consideration has intact been given for the marriage. The position is different where the whole bride price is waived. It seems that so long the parties acknowledge the fundamental nature of bride price, some token payment must be made.

The question of waiver of bride price was canvassed in Nickaf v Nickaf. In that case, the plaintiff Mrs I'm Nickaf sued her husband, Mr. Nickaf, for libel which was in the form of a disclaimer of their marriage published in a national newspaper. Both parties came from Kagoro in Kaduna State. The plaintiff and her father averred that the respondent asked for her hand in marriage. Both Titi and her father consented to the request. No bride price was paid or demanded nor was there a traditional marriage ceremony. Evidence was given for the plaintiffs case that bride price is not always necessary in Kagoro custom. It only becomes necessary when the girl's parents demanded it. On the other hand, witnesses for the respondent claimed that the payment of bride price and the marriage ceremony are vital for a valid marriage. The learned trial judge of the court of first instance found that a valid customary marriage subsisted between the parties and that the newspaper publication constituted a libel.

On appeal, the learned counsel for the plaintiff/respondent in dealing with the non-payment of bride price contended that the beneficiary of a right or benefit under a marriage contract could waive it completely or partially. Akpata, J.C.A. observed that there was no evidence from the defence on whether bride price could be waived under Kagoro custom. He found that the payment of bride price is an caaeaaial requirement of marriage under customary law of most communities in Nigeria and observed that "where native law and custom forbids a waiver of any eMeatill ingredient of marriage, a waiver of it would render the marriage void". In the cpunon of the learned judge, bride price is an "indispensable consideration' in some parts of the country. Unfortunately he did not reach a final decision on this issue but concluded that "the appellant has not established that the marriage between himself and the respondent was not valid".

The right to the bride price is not only that of a father but also some members of his isnancdiaac family. The interest of this group cannot be readily waived. On the whole, however, complete waiver of bride price is unusual. Some families merely ask the suitor for a token payment rather than grant outright waiver.

Effect Of Payment Of Bride Price

The payment of bride price or part thereof does not per se constitute valid marriage gadef customary law. It creates the status of betrothal and therefore a special relationship between the parties to the intended marriage. In some areas, if a girl in respect of whose's intended marriage bride price has been paid becomes pregnant by another man before the proposed marriage takes place, the suitor is by custom entitled to claim the child — a custom which has been condemned by the superior courts.

Future Of Bride Price

In the wake of incidents of high bride price, the question has been what to do with this fractional institution. Some have called for its outright abolition on the ground that it adds nothing tangible to the institution of marriage. The propone nth of this view point out that in other parts of the world like Europe and America, bride price is not a necessary mgredient of marriage. They, however, leave unanswered the practical problems of outright abolition. One obvious consequence of such action is that communities will continue with the practice irrespective of the abolition. There are instances where this has happened as for example, the statutory abolition of osu system. In that case, there is a wide difference between the law as slated in the statute book and the actual practices of the people. Again it is not advisable to sweep off in one stroke such an important and fundamental aspect of the social and cultural life of the people.

A contrary view contends that rather than outright abolition the best approach is to, control the quantum and incidents of bride price. This line of thinking has been adopted in most governmental actions with respect to bride price, it is not, however, free of problems. Experience has shown that the regulatory provisions of the Limitation of Dowry Law, 1956 are widely disregarded in actual practice. Strict enforcement of the Law is almost non-existent except in cases which have come before the courts. To regulate bride price successfully, the social practices which surround its payment have to be re-examined and re-structured. For instance, high bride price has been influenced by the custom whereby parents give presents to their daughter who has been taken in marriage. Traditionally, such gifts constituted of basic inexpensive household property. But with time, the range was expanded to include expensive electrical household goods, cars, expensive wardrobes and even large sums of money. Parents who are expected to make such gifts in rum demand high bride price in order to be able to meet the obligation. The situation was apdy put by the Imo State Government statement on the Report on Bride Price in Imo State by the National Council of Women:'

On bride's gifts from parents. Government is of the opinion that the practice of parents donating items of household property to the bride should be stopped as this is one of the practices that give encouragement to nigh bride price. For example, consider the case of a man who pays Nl,000.00 to his inlaws and they give him their daughter. The couple decide to 'man y in the church*. On the day of wedding, the parents who received N1000.00 must make gifts to their daughter. These include cookers, sewing machines, bicycle, kitchen equipment, beds, animals and sometimes cash gifts. In the end, the parents spend more than the N100000 they received. Thus, to keep up with the Joneses, parents are forced to spend a lot of money buying items of household property as gifts It) their daughters being given out in marriage Parents who do not do this are ridiculed. Government considers this practice obnoxious as it forces parents to demand high bride price in order to meet up with the costs of the gifts. Government is therefore firm in its decision that no donations of items of household property should be demanded by the husband or ostentatiously displayed by the parents.

The problem outlined above applies not only to statutory or church marriages but also to puiely customary law ones.

Another aspect of the incidence of high bride price relates to the practice of graduating the amount payable according to the educational qualification of the bride-to-be. The more educated she is, the higher the bride price.

To be effective, statutory regulation of bride price must be accompanied by the education of the society on the ills of that practice, co-operation of well placed and enlightened people, community leaders and religious organisation.

(viii) Failure To Pay Bride Price

If a husband fails to pay the bride price in respect of his wife in full or to make other payments when they are due, the family of the wife may recall her and keep her until the husband fulfils his obligation. In some areas the family has an alternative remedy of instituting legal proceedings against the husband to recover such payments.

3. Celebration Of The Customary Marriage

After the customary-law requirements as to capacity and bride-price have been met the marriage itself is contracted. In most systems of customary law in Nigeria, there is no marriage until the bride is led to the house of the bridegroom or bis parents and formally handed over by parent or guardian to a representative of the bridegroom's family.

It has been judicially decided that a valid Yoruba or Ibo marriage is not contracted until the formal handover of the bride takes place. In Ibo custom the ceremony is sometimes known as Iduno. In Osamwonyi v Osamwonyt the Supreme Court held that according to Bini customary law, payment of dowry alone without cohabitation as well does not constitute a valid customary marriage. Customary-law marriage may be contracted by proxy.

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