While the controversy generated by government’s introduction of marriage registry tax has not abated, a legal practitioner, Barrister Chukwuma Ezeala, x-rays the contending issue between Statutory and Christian Marriages in the country, in this interview with journalists. Excerpts
What exactly is the bone of contention regarding statutory and Church marriages in Nigeria? Statutory marriage simply put is marriage under the Act as provided by the Marriage Act and the/Matrimonial Causes Act both contained in the Laws of the Federation 2004.
On the other hand, Church marriage is marriage according to the Christian tenets and specifically as it related to the Catholic Church, marriage according to the Canon law.
The Church has always supported the state and the people of God and has always encouraged people to obey the state where it has good policies.
The bone of contention now is that whereas the state made a comprehensive law in 1971 known as the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act both legislations geared to a better celebration of marriage in Nigeria.
Under the said law, the state recognised the authority of any church or mosque to celebrate statutory marriage. The law intended that minor payments may be made by celebrants for the printing of certificates, registration and other minor issues related
to celebration of marriage. This has been the status quo until 2019.
Unfortunately, the present Ministry of Interior decided to impose heavy fees on both the celebrants and the Ministers of the Marriage in the churches contrary to the law.
This mainly affects Christians as they mostly encourage members register the marriages for the statutory flavour. Our constitution seem to give some advantages to Islamic and traditional marriages over that of Christians. Why is this so?
The Constitution view traditional and Islamic marriages as part of personal laws of individuals and accorded recognition to same. It unfortunately views Christianity as being subsumed into customary law but gave independent recognition to Islamic law which is an anomaly and discriminatory.
Some say the contentious issue is only about taxing of Churches. Is this so?
The interpretation by such people may not be far from reality. This is because, its difficult to explain why a Christian Church would have to pay heavy tax to be licensed to conduct marriage in it’s facility. Furthermore, the ministers would have to pay to be licenced to do their normal job.
What effort is the relevant stakeholders like the civil Society, CAN, other doing to remedy this situation?
The relevant stakeholders have been peacefully engaging the Ministry of Interior. This crisis started around July, 2019 and the ministry suspended the circular upon various representations and consultations but have now brought it out again.
The relevant stakeholders are once again working round the clock to see how it can be resolved. Various methods are being used and they are not ruling out any legitimate method to achieve the set objectives.
What should be the role of Catholics at this time to ensure that the voice of Catholics count in this regard?
I suggest that Catholics should pray as well as be ready whenever called upon to assist in any way. The Catholic Church has been liaising with CAN and other stakeholders.
It is important that all Christians, Muslims, members of the civil society especially women and the children should understand that this is a war against the society at large and not just Catholics.
It is said that the Catholic marriage in itself is complete. Kindly explain this?
The Catholic marriage with or without the statutory flavour (whether registered in the state) is valid and complete provided the canonical prescription is followed.
However, the essence of additional protection of the marriage institution by clothing same with the civil statutory flavour is to give additional protection to the children and women usually considered as the weaker members of the society.
What would be your message to Nigerians and the Ministry of Interior concerning the new set of levies it recently introduced?
They should first understand that what they are set to do is not only illegal but its also an abuse of powers and hence ultravirs the Constitution.
They should understand that both the church and the civil society are fighting for their families and not for any selfish or sectional reasons. Families must be protected by the state.
Should the Ministry refuse to comply, what would be your next step of action?
The stakeholders would take the next line of action after accessing the issues. Going to court is also on the table but we think that the ministry would bow to reason and legitimate aspiration of the people being a product of democracy.