CUSTOMARY AND STATUTORY MARRIAGE | NIGERIAN PERSPECTIVE

Before writing this, I intentionally decided to seek people’s view on how much is appropriate for a minimum budget for a wedding! Well, the answers I got was very scary and I noted a young man who said “Mehn, I now understand why guys elope with ladies!” If you aren’t African or at least Nigerian, you may not understand the craze people go through in wedding planning!

In Nigeria and some African countries, Christians are usually made to have two type of wedding, one is traditional wedding and another one is white wedding! If you are wedding in unlicensed Churches, we would be mandated to do the third wedding which is “registry wedding”.

This is a compromise they’ve reached to satisfy both the traditional practices, civil practices and Christian religious practices! Some Churches want you to believe that you are committing sexual immorality when you live with your customarily wedded wife who isn’t yet “churchously” wedded. As a result, people spend for their traditional wedding and also spend for their white wedding which usually happen after the former!

Some Churches will even not wed you until you’ve wedded traditionally. The implication is that many people take advantage of this to suck you dry! The family of the wife can leverage on the customary laws to demand outrageous things from you with what they call “marriage list!” Maybe, this is why getting married in Africa is such a big deal while in the western world people get married much more easier.

However, is this how the case should be? Is this how marriage is designed to start? In Nigeria, there are two types of marriage recognized by the constitution.

Customary marriage is a kind based on customary laws which is usually called “traditional marriage.” While this seem to be imposed on people, it lacks security especially for the wife! The man under this law can marry as many wives as he wants, he can also discard his wife anytime he wants without a proper resolution!

One truth people don’t know about customary marriage is that it is not compulsory, it is usually imposed on people who want to please customs and adherent of customs! If you aren’t an adherent to customary laws, you technically aren’t supposed to do customary marriage.

In so many communities in Nigeria, you may never ever be able to fight the pressure of avoiding it though because you’ll never be regarded as married if you do not satisfy the obligations the family of the woman will demand. Islamic marriage also falls under customary marriage and this is necessary for a country where there is freedom of worship as it will be bad imposing on people to marry against their beliefs as a people.

Customary marriage although baptized in many places to stand on the secular ground is highly linked and attached to the traditional-religious belief system of a locality before the advent of Christianity. There are so many things hidden in customary marriage including child marriage, polygamy and even adultery from the men’s side!

Customarily, a man does not cheat, he can bring in any woman he wants as a wife or concubine! But it is wrong for a woman to have extramarital affair, in fact it is an abomination! Customary marriage is also arguably the most expensive way to get married in some parts of Africa although some understanding families would accept that you just pay bride price and do a little in-house ceremony.

STATUTORY MARRIAGE is entirely another kind of marriage which means that one can only be married according to customs or according to statutory laws. For example, when you are married customarily but decided to go ahead and do statutory marriage, the customary marriage has been overwritten and stands to no effect!

While many people think there is something like “white wedding” or “Christian wedding”, they all fall under statutory marriage in this regard but also have some attachments of religious obligations when done in Church.

Churches are only licensed by the marriage registry to perform weddings which means any church without such license can’t perform any legalized wedding. This kind of marriage does not need any proof of traditional marriage and it doesn’t recognize the demands traditions make in marriage! Whether you are getting married in Church or in the marriage registry, you have a legal backing and you are fully married at the end!

Unfortunately, some Churches demand proof of customary wedding before ever considering wedding you. But know that the moment you are issued marriage certificate from the marriage registry, you must adhere to the marriage acts in which unfaithfulness and extra-marital affairs can be viewed as a criminal offence unlike in customary marriage where the man can marry another woman.

The big advantage of statutory marriage is that it recognizes just one man, one woman! You can challenge any ill treatment and unfaithfulness if you deem it fit and best for your relationship! There is more accountability from both couples in statutory marriage than there is in the customary law. According to customary laws, this world is men’s world but according to statutory law it is the world of both men and women.

Although some do this to satisfy family and relatives, there is no need doing customary marriage if you’d be going for statutory marriage except of course where there is unavoidable pressure to satisfy the relatives of the woman. What we usually call “Church wedding” is either “Church blessing” which is very important or “party”. If you are a member of any Church, it is important to seek the blessing of the Church and to allow them be part of the witnessing of your joining together but you must also understand that it isn’t “Church wedding” that get God identify with your marriage. You will understand why I am saying this later.

If your Church organisation isn’t licensed to wed couples, any wedding done there isn’t recognized by the government and it is important you know this. As much as you must be sure the Church organisation is licensed to perform a wedding, you must also be sure the official is licensed to perform the wedding.

Although it is a norm for people to fulfill customary laws in most part of Nigeria even when they plan having a statutory marriage, it is not a legal demand and it is not necessary. In fact, so many people if not 90% of the people aren’t aware of this truth! If you aren’t an adherent of traditions, you need not fulfill customary obligations because it will be like reaching a destination and turning back to follow another route to still reach same destination.

There is more security in a marriage based on the marriage act than that based on customary obligations. You cannot for example be recognized internationally as married based on customary marriage but same can’t be said of statutory marriage.

One huge benefit of statutory marriage is that it is cheap, simple and straight forward if you want it to be. Receptions and parties are what you decide to do and not an obligation!

However, a big question pops up! What is God’s idea of marriage? When do God recognize that two persons have been united as one?

Some argue that God only recognizes marriage when the bride price is paid while some also argue that God recognizes it when a Pastor unites the couples! Many are of the opinion that “court marriage” (which doesn’t exist anyway) is for atheists and has no spiritual significance.

I want to explain what why statutory marriage is different from customary marriage and why the later is important. We are in transition to civilization, while we may say we are civilized, there are still a lot of things we are still holding on to from the past which sometimes isn’t very human!

In the past we didn’t exist as countries, we existed in smaller units across ethnic divides, developing our own laws and ways of life which may not be consistent with another people’s way of life! But it is civilization that has brought people together to form countries and for there to be common laws and understanding, constitution is developed! Customary laws are treated as legal but limited to communities because those laws have become an intrinsic part of a community however a critical look at some customary laws shows that in some ways they pose threats of illegality.

The constitution overrides customary laws and customary laws don’t apply outside a community. One can decide to waive off customary practices and hold on to the constitution. This is why customary marriage becomes invalid the moment one who was married customaryy decides to do statutory marriage.

In this part of the world where you may be unavoidably pressured to first of all show your allegiance to customs of your ethnicity before threading the part of civilization, it is important you still head to the registry after all said and done in other to ensure that there is security in your marriage.

On the next article, we’ll be looking at the big question “WHEN DOES GOD RECOGNIZE MARRIAGE? AFTER CUSTOMARY WEDDING OR CHURCH WEDDING?

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