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Celebration of marriage is a good thing, a thing of joy. It is one of the most memorable acts in the lives of some people. You relish the time again and again. You look at the pictures when you are doing tenth, twentieth, diamond, golden anniversaries etc. It is a good thing.

A lot of actions and inactions are done during celebration of marriages which amount to an offence under Marriage Act CAP. M6 L.F.N. 2004. We shall bring to the fore the acts that are most common at marriage registries across the country and which the marriage law criminalizes.

To lie to the Marriage Registrar/Officer under Oath

If you had gone to the marriage registry and for whatever reason you lied about your age, name, address etc.  Just in case you do not know, you are playing the game of police and thief with section 40 of the Marriage Act. Ask yourself, ‘is it worth it?’ you lie about your age and get five years imprisonment.

We have told you here and now but some people will not heed wise counsel. Anyway, if your village people decide to visit your case someday and you go and lie before a marriage officer, written or oral, below is the section of the Marriage Act you are playing Games of Thrones with:

Section 40

Whoever in any affidavit, declaration, certificate, licence, document, or statement by law to be made or issued for the purposes of a marriage, declares, enters, certifies or states any material matter which is false, shall, if he does so without having taken reasonable means to ascertain the truth or falsity of such matter, be liable to imprisonment for one year, or shall, if he does so knowing the that such matter is false, be liable to imprisonment for five years.

Getting Married to a Married Person

To those who want to marry by all means because everyone is getting married and they will do anything to be married and will marry anyone, I have something to tell you. That marriage you are trying to get into recklessly may send you to prison if you marry someone who is married to another person.

Note, we are not talking about the married party who is getting married to a spinster or bachelor. No. We are talking about a spinster or bachelor who knowingly got married someone who is already married. The married party who whilst the first marriage subsists gets married to you has his own prescribed punishment in the cooler.

All I am telling you is that under the Marriage Act, even if you have not been married before but decided to marry a married person, you can go to prison. This is the section you are playing lawn tennis with –

Section 39

Whoever, being unmarried, goes through the ceremony of marriage under this Act with a person whom he or she knows to be married to another person, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.

Refusal to fill in Marriage Certificate

I don’t know why this should be punished. At best, the guy or lady should be liable to breach of contract or at a civil liability of some sort, my opinion. Although, some people deserve to go to prison (mostly men, women are the meeker sex, the best creation of God and are mostly victims). So if a spouse has filled in her part of the certificate and it is your turn to fill in and you fail to do so, the legislators say it is an offence and you could get two years imprisonment.

It is rare that this part of the law is breached (if it will happen at all, it would be marriages celebrated in licensed churches where, once in a while, couples would have to refill in marriage certificates as a result of administrative hiccups). In most cases, the marriage officers in marriage registries other than churches ensure that all documentation is intact before the celebration of the marriage but let us assume for one reason or the other, you (usually the man) have not signed your part after the celebration of the marriage, you are going down for two years should you refuse afterwards to fill in the certificate. Be warned. Think well, before you decide to take that giant step; celebration of a marriage is a big deal. So if you decided to marry and it got to the point of signing the marriage certificate and you suddenly started having cold feet about the marriage, ‘two years in prison’ is your full name. So think well before you get to the part of marriage certificate.  This is the section you are playing play station with-

Section 43

Whoever, being under a duty to fill up the certificate of a marriage celebrated by him, or the counterfoil thereof, or to transmit the same to the registrar of marriages, willfully fails to perform such duty, shall be liable to imprisonment for two years.

Impersonation and deception

Marriage fraudsters, see your section. This is clear enough. See what you want to do and see what you get. I don’t even know why this is not up to ten years. Well, the legislators know better. See the section of the law you are playing chess with –

  1. Whoever personates any other person in the marriage, or marries under a false name or description, with intent to deceive the other party to the marriage, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.

Fore knowledge that marriage is void

See the cousin of section 44 – it is still about deception. You know the marriage has a k-leg and the other party does not know but you celebrated it. You think you have the monopoly of knowledge? You will be with your cousin in section 44. See the section you are playing monopoly with –

Section 45 – Whoever goes through the ceremony of marriage, or any ceremony which he or she represents to be a ceremony of marriage, knowing that the marriage is void on any ground, and that the other person believes it to be valid, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.

Previous customary marriage

Here, it may just border on ignorance and ignorance is not a defence in law. You do customary marriage with A without a customary divorce and you celebrated another marriage with B under the Act. This is the section you are doing acrobatics with –

  1. Whoever contracts a marriage under the provisions of this Act, or any modification or re-enactment thereof, being at the time married in accordance with customary law to any person other than the person with whom such marriage is contracted, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.

Two marriages

Two marriages at the same time? Don’t you have any conscience? You have heard that Lagos State has expunged bigamy from its criminal laws. You have heard that nobody had been convicted of the offence before, right? So you decided to come to Lagos to marry under the Act twice, bigamy is your first name. By the time one of your wives musters enough courage to get a charge preferred against you, you will know that the Marriage Act is a Federal Statute and the Nigeria Police is a federal police. More importantly, you will know that the Police know their job. This is the section you are playing ping pong with –

Section 47 – Whoever, having contracted marriage under this Act, or any modification or re-enactment thereof, or under any enactment repealed by this Act, during the continuance of such marriage contracts a marriage m accordance with customary law, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.

Marrying an underage without requisite consent or assisting the act

You remember the story of that young chap some few years back who eloped with an underage girl from Bayelsa to somewhere in the North; let us assume for a second that the guy tried to marry the girl under the Act without requisite written consent, he could get two years along with every person that assisted him in the venture. It is as simple as that. See the section applicable –

Section 48 – Whoever, knowing that the written consent required by this Act has not been obtained, shall marry or assist or procure any other person to marry a minor under the age of twenty-one years, not being a widow or widower, shall be liable to imprisonment for two years.

So your saving grace would only be if the minor is a widow as regards the above section. Did you see ‘widower’ in that section? You can ignore that word. Women are not in the habit of marrying underage boys. We are guardians of the galaxies. It is men that will be chasing minors up and down.

All the above acts apply to churches that are licensed to celebrate marriages under the Act. And you know lying to your pastor is already a sin so if you do so during the celebration of a marriage, it is double jeopardy. You will have to answer to God and the State.

Now, you know about the offences under the Marriage Act.

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