The purpose of this article which would come in series is basically to put some of these wrong notions at bay. There are three types of marriages in Nigeria:

Statutory/Civil marriage,

Customary marriage and

Islamic marriage.

All of these types are legal marriages and all are equal in legal character with none superior to the other. Both Islamic and customary marriages are polygamous in nature (one man, many wives) while statutory marriage is monogamous in nature (one man, one wife). 

The laws regulating marriages in Nigeria are the Marriage Act which provides only for Statutory and Customary marriages and Shariah law which provides for Islamic marriages. 

A statutory marriage is a marriage between one man and one woman and lasts till the death of either the husband or wife or the legal dissolution of the marriage, whichever comes first. As mentioned earlier, it is monogamous in nature and if either the husband or wife contracts a marriage with another person while the first marriage is still on-going, such person would be liable for the offence of bigamy, an offence punishable with 5 years imprisonment. This type of marriage is what is commonly referred to in Nigeria as “Registry Marriage”. 

The essentials for a statutory marriage are: 

Both parties must voluntarily consent to the marriage. This consent must be given without fraud or force else the marriage would be void.

Each party must be of age, at least 18 years old according to the Child Right’s Act, and if less than 21 years, the parents must give their consent to the marriage.

The marriage must be between a man and a woman. Under the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, same sex marriages are expressly prohibited in Nigeria and attract a jail term of up to 14 years.

Neither of the parties must be in an existing marriage regardless of the type of marriage. The only exception to this is when the same parties who have previously conducted a customary/Islamic marriage, now decide to conduct a statutory marriage. This second marriage only serves to ratify the first.

The marriage must not be between parties related by blood or marriage. The law expressly provides a list of those who fall into these prohibited categories.

The marriage of a man is prohibited if the woman is or has been his:


Wife’s mother


Wife’s grandmother


Wife’s daughter

Father’s sister

Wife’s son’s daughter

Wife’s daughter’s daughter

Mother’s sister

Brother’s daughter

Father’s wife

Sister’s daughter

Grandfather’s wife

Son’s wife

Son’s son’s wife

Daughter’s Son’s wife

The marriage of a woman is prohibited if the man is or has been her:


Husband’s Father


Husband’s Grandfather


Husband’s son

Father Brother

Husband’s son’s son

Mother’s Brother

Husband’s Daughter’s Son

Brother son

Mother’s Husband

Sister’s Son

Grandmother’s Husband

Daughter’s Husband

Son’s Daughter’s Husband

Daughter’s Daughter’s Husband

You might wonder why there has been no mention of Church marriage. There really is no such thing as a Church marriage in Nigeria. For a marriage done in a church to be legal, it must be done in consonance with the provisions of the Marriage Act or it is no marriage at all. This brings us to the place of marriage.

A statutory marriage must be celebrated in the Registrar’s office and the licensed place of worship i.e. a church. The licenses for churches to conduct marriages are obtained from the Ministry of Interior to enable it conduct statutory marriages after the fulfillment of certain requirements. Some of these requirements include the following:

The church must be built of concrete on its permanent site.

It should have adequate ventilation and water closets and also, clean surroundings.

Fire extinguishers should be installed in case of a fire outbreak

It should have a safe for the preservation of important documents including marriage certificates etc

An ordained minister who would officiate over the wedding/

For the marriage to be valid, it would have to take place between 8:00am to 6:00pm and have two witnesses apart from the officiating minister. It is important for the doors of the church to be open at all times during the ceremony.

Customary marriages are marriages performed under the different native law and customs of the different ethnic groups in the country. Some things to note when preparing for a customary marriage:

The prohibition of marriage between people related by blood or marriage also exists under customary marriages but to varying degrees in different communities or ethnicities. These prohibitions are basically to prevent situations of incest.

A non-Nigerian does not have the capacity to conduct a valid customary marriage with a Nigerian that will be recognised under the law. This rule has limited application in the Northern parts of Nigeria where only non-Africans are disqualified from conducting valid customary law marriages with indigenes of Nigeria

Consent of the parties and their parents is required before a customary marriage can be conducted. The consent of the parties to the marriage should be given freely and without force. Where it is not, such marriage is voidable on the instance of any of the parties.

The marriage symbol commonly called “bride price” has to be negotiated and paid by the groom and his family to the bride’s family.

The parties to the marriage must be of marriageable age. Although no custom expressly states any age for marriage, the Child’s Right Act provides that 18years is the minimum age for any marriage.

Customary marriages are polygamous in nature and as such a man can take as many wives as he pleases and each wife is a “legal” wife with neither having more or less benefits than the other.

An Islamic marriage also known as Nikkah/Nikkai is performed by a Muslim Cleric in the presence of family members of both parties and witnesses. The Quran permits the multiplicity of wives (a man can marry up to 4 wives) hence the polygamous nature of this type of marriage. However, if the couple go ahead to conduct a statutory marriage, polygamy would be totally out of the question as the husband is prevented by law from marrying another wife irrespective of his religious beliefs and would liable for the offence of bigamy should he go ahead to do so.

In subsequent series, we shall explore other areas of marriage.

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