Proposed Reform Of The Marriage Act of Nigeria

One of the first assignments tackled by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission which was set up in 1979 was a review of the Marriage Act. Its report on this subject which was submitted to the Federal Government in October 1984 consisted of a Draft Bill on a Marriage Act. In view of the importance of the work of the Commission, it is necessary to discuss the highlights of the Draft Bill which up to date has not become law.

The bill defines marriage in the Nigerian context to cover both the monogamous and polygamous systems. Moreover, to make up for the omission of the present Act, the Bill provides a marriageable age which is defined to mean sixteen years for boys and fourteen years in respect to girls. Again, the Bill provides for the validity of marriages celebrated outside Nigeria if such marriages conform with the lex loci celebrationis.

One interesting innovation of the Bill is the creation of a system for the registration of both customary and Islamic marriages. Such registration is voluntary and falls within the responsibilities of the Registrar of Marriages. One or both parties to the marriage intended to be registered may supply the necessary information to the Registrar by completing a form. It is an offence to supply false information.97 Marriages celebrated outside Nigeria are also registrable.

In order to bring together all rules relating to the celebration of marriage under one statute, the Draft Bill includes those provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1970 which relate to void and voidable marriages and prohibited degrees of affinity and consanguinity.99 lb achieve these changes, section 3, 4, S, and 6 of the 1970 Act are lo be repealed. ' This re-arrangement is certainly commendable. Unfortunately, the Bill retains an equivalent of section 33(2) of the Marriage Act-Invalid Marriages—in its section 40. A lot would have been achieved by merging this section with section 7 which deals with void marriages.

In reaction to the non-enforcement of the offence of bigamy as defined in the Marriage Act, the bill abolishes bigamy as an offence bui still retains the principle that an existing monogamous marriage constitutes a bar to a subsequent valid marriage. The proposed new Act also contains a scheme for intestate succession applicable not only to monogamous marriages but also to those whose marriages are registered. An exception is made for marriages under Islamic law except where, at the time of registration, the parties elect in writing that on death intestate of either spouse, distribution wdl be in accordance with the provisions of the new Act.101

Lastly, Pan IX of the Bill provides for the celebration in Nigeria of marriage under foreign law. The requirements however include the giving of notice to the Registrar of Marriages, entry of the notice in the Marriage Notice Book and the need for the Registrar's Certificate. Certainly the draft Bill has gone a long way to meet the major criticisms of the existing Act and would, if made law, create a comprehensive piece of legislation on this important subject. One question which unfortunately slipped the attention of the Law Reform Commission is the need to bring under the proposed Marriage Act the existing provisions on the proof of marriage (section 32 of the Marriage Act and section 86of the Matrimonial Causes Act). Like the issue of imped intents to marriage, proof of marriage is bctler dealt with under a law regulating the celebration of marriages.