FAITH umbrella group the Christian Association of Nigeria (Can) has vowed to oppose federal government recommendations that places of worship must obtain licences from the Federal Ministry of Interior before conducting weddings under the Marriage Act.
As part of a plan to regulate Nigeria’s booming faith industry, government ministers have introduced guidelines, insisting that before a church or mosque is allowed to conduct marriages, it must be officially registered. This is to ensure that any legal issues which rose from such marriages, such as divorce are covered by the law.
However, Can has said it is bitterly opposed to the new measures, pointing out that the federal government had an ulterior motive for insisting that churches must obtain licences from the interior ministry. Can’s legal adviser, Samuel Kwamkur, argued that churches had been contracting marriages without any issues, noting that the new directive looked suspicious.
Mr Kwamkur said: “In any case, the registration by churches is done once and it is done by their headquarters, so, the issue of going to renew their licences to contract marriages is very strange, I don’t think it is something the church can accept.
“As a Church, we cannot be bound by what they are saying as we have our registration, guidelines and records as churches and we operate independently, so no government can coerce us. The validity of marriage should be beyond the validity of certificate.”
Last week, Georgina Ehuriah, the permanent secretary in the ministry of interior, had at a stakeholders’ conference said that only 314 worship centres in the country were licensed to contract statutory weddings. She added that arrangements were ongoing to give couples whose certificates were not issued in line with the Marriage Act the opportunity to bring them in line with the law.
Ms Ehuriah said: “Presently, only about 4,689 licensed places of worship in Nigeria have updated their records with the ministry of interior, of which only 314 have renewed their licences to conduct statutory marriages. The implication of this is that marriages conducted in unlicensed places of worship are not in line with the Marriage Act and cannot serve legal purposes when the need arises and such unlicensed places of worship are operating contrary to Section 6(1) of the Marriage Act.”
Apparently, worship centres in Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Ekiti, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara states did not have the legal authority to conduct weddings under the Marriage Act. Also, no mosque was among the worship centres licensed by the ministry to conduct weddings.
Interior ministry spokesman, Mohammed Manga, explained that no mosque was on the list of worship centres that had licences to conduct weddings because the monogamous marriage, which is statutory, is regulated by the Marriage Act, 2004, while polygamous marriage preferred by Muslims falls under the Customary and Islamic Laws. He added that statutory marriage is an item under the exclusive list of the federal government, therefore no state House of Assembly can legislate on marriage except those contracted under the Customary Law or Islamic Law.
Mr Manga also said a licence obtained by the headquarters of a church was not applicable to its branches nationwide, explaining that the approval given to a place of worship does not cover its branches. He added that all branches must obtain their licences on merit but on the recommendations of their headquarters.