The COVID-19 pandemic which has shutdown operations in affected countries, has in turn led to restriction of movement. Therefore, people have sort for alternative means of executing previously set plans before the lockdown.
One of the areas affected, were marriage plans. The social distancing practice has prohibited the gathering of individuals for events such as burials, marriages, religious gatherings, parties, etc.
Individuals who planned to wed before the lockdown have sought for other legal means to do so. Some of them may have found themselves in different cities or countries away from their potential partners during this lockdown period and have entertained thoughts of online marriage and marriage by proxy.
The Country Director for Development Alternative Inc (DAI), Dr. Joe Abah has thrown open these thoughts of online marriage or marriage by proxy, to the public for contributions from legal practitioners.
He asked via his Twitter handle:
“Dear @DrCOmole and @InibeheEffiong, under our current laws, can you get married remotely? I mean groom in one location, bride in another location and officiating registrar in a third location. Is it conceivable under our laws? Must the couple appear in person before a registrar?”
The question was directed at Dr Charles Omole, a lawyer who is the Director-General, Institute for Police and Security Policy Research (IPSPR) and Inibehe Effiong, who is a lawyer as well and National Legal Adviser of the African Action Congress (AAC).
They both gave their views of the subject matter.
Inibehe Effiong, stated that such marriage is unlawful.
Making reference to statutory marriage (Marriage under the Act or English marriage), he stated there are laid down procedures for celebration of marriages.
“Marriage can only be celebrated at:
- A license public place of worship;
- Marriage Registry; or
- Nigerian diplomatic or consular offices abroad and must be officiated by a Nigerian diplomatic or consular officer of the rank of Secretary or above.
Virtual or online marriage does not fit into any of these. Also, every statutory marriage must be evidenced by a certificate.
He further explained:
“It should also be noted that there are preliminaries to marriage like giving Notice which gives allowance for anyone that intends to object to the celebration of the marriage to file a Caveat at the registry.
“These preliminary requirements do not envisage online marriage.
“For customary or traditional marriage, I’m not aware of any Nigerian community whose custom recognises online marriage.
“Also, payment of Bride Price is mandatory in most communities in Nigeria. Bride price is usually paid in cash in the presence of families of intending couples.
“For Islamic marriage, I can’t speak authoritatively on it. But my impression is that it is not possible to celebrate Islamic marriage online. However, my opinion is subject to the opinion of Islamic law experts.
“In summary, online marriage is not possible in Nigeria.
“Please note that marriage by proxy is illegal and against public policy. Those who want to marry must be physically present together at any of the above three places.
“A man cannot stay in Nigeria and marry a woman who is in China. There is no provision for that under the law.”
Dr Charles Omole in affirmation of Effiong’s views stated that a virtual or online marriage where the partners are physically in different locations is unlawful in Nigeria unless there is a change in the law to expressly allow it.
See below his full contribution on the subject matter.