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Title Page --------------------------------------------------------------------------  i

Approval --------------------------------------------------------------------------- ii

Certification ----------------------------------------------------------------------- iii

Dedication ------------------------------------------------------------------------- iv

Acknowledgement --------------------------------------------------------------- v

Table of Content ----------------------------------------------------------------- vi

Table of Cases -------------------------------------------------------------------- vii

Table of Status ------------------------------------------------------------------- viii

List of Abbreviation ------------------------------------------------------------- ix

Abstract ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- x




1.                 What is Customary Law Marriage?

1.1           Features of Customary Law Marriage.

1.2           Types of Customary Law Marriage.




2         Bethrothal.

2.1   Capacity of the Parties.

2.2   Consent of the Parties and their Parents.

2.3   Bride Price of Marriage Consideration.

2.4   Solemnization of the Marriage.

2.5   Consummation.




3         Dissolution of Customary Law Marriage.

3.1      Modes of the Dissolution.

3.2      Judicial Divorce.

3.3      Non Judicial Divorce.

3.4      General Ground for Divorce.

3.5      When Marriage is Dissolved.

3.5.1  Return of Bride Price.

3.5.2  Time for Refund.

3.5.3  Responsibility for Repayment.

3.6      Right to Re-Marry.

3.7      Dissolution on Death.




4         Observations.

4.1      Recommendations.

TABLE OF CASES                                                                                                PAGES

1.                 Ared Asham v. Nyokk Abang   -           -           -           -           -           37

2.                 Bank of England v. Vagliano Brothers (1981) A.C 107

pg 144-145            -           -           -           -           -           -           -           -           1

3.                 Balogun v. Oshodi (1929) 10 NLR 36 at page 50            -           -           6

4.                 Eugen Moribe v. Joshua C. Egwu (1976) 3 Sc. 23 at pg             32-     8

5.                 Hyde v. Hyde (1886) L.R.I.P 8, 130, 133    -           -           -          8,10

6.                 Kharie Zedain v. Fatima Khali Mohssen

(1973) All N.L.R. 740 pf 753   -           -           -           -           -           2

7.                 Kidney and Anor v. Military of Gongola State

(1988) 1 NSCC 827         -           -           -           -           -           -           7

8.                 Lewis v. Bankole (1909) 1 N.L.R at pg 101           -           -           -           6

9.                 Mariyama v. Sadiku Ejo (1961) N.R.N.L.R pg 81             -           -           6

10.           Nachimson v. Nachimson (1930) pg 217 -           -           -           11

11.           Ojisua v. Aiye Belelin (2001) F.W.L.R (pt 66) at 719     -           5

12.           Oyewumi v. Ogunesan (1990) 3 N.W.L.R

pt 137 – 182 pg 207       -           -           -           -           -           -           3

13.              Sapara and Anor  v. Adel Sapara (1911) RGCR 605   -    14,16,21

14.           Okaludo v. Omama (1961) N.W.L.R 147    -           -           -           15

15.           Osamawonyi v Osamawonyi (1972) 1 All N.W.L.R 365           -           22








This project work explains the essential element of marriage under the Nigeria Customary Law. The validity of customary law marriage as a result of these elements, how this customary law marriage is being performed or celebrated in the society.

            It also contains the ground in which customary law marriage can be void and voidable including various ways in which marriage under Nigeria Customary Law can be dissolved in Nigeria. However, this project work comprises of four chapters.

            Chapter one of this project contains the introduction and nature of customary law marriage in Nigeria.

            Chapter two deals with the essential elements of marriage under Nigeria Customary Law such as betrothal, capacity of the parties, consent of the parties, bride price or marriage consideration, solemnization of the marriage and consummation of the marriage.

            Chapter three deals with the distinction between void and voidable marriage, dissolution of customary law marriage, return of bride price and the right to re-marry.

            Conclusively, chapter four deals with the conclusion, possible observations or recommendations.








1.0           INTRODUCTION

For a start, it will be a good idea to get acquired with the term “customary law”. According to Emiola, the traditional approach to the study of any subject is to define its features before embarking on the study.

Hence, for easier understanding of the term “customary law” we have to bisect the term to produce “custom and law”. Although it has   been argued that law does not have a generally acceptable definition, Thereby leading different schools to propound their own definition. For example Vinogradoff opines that law is a “set of rules imposed and enforced by a society with regard to the attribution and exercise of power over persons and things” 1 Latham C.J. in Author Yates and co-property Ltd v. the vegetable seed committee 2 defines law where he said “Law is an enforceable rule of conduct prescribed by a law making authority” ………… Sanni sees law as “……… a body of rules designed or formulated to guide human conduct or action which are enforced among the members of a given state” 3

            For the purpose of this subject law is a body of rules designed to regulate human conduct in the society.

Furthermore “custom” can be defined as a body of rules accepted and



1.                   Vinogradoff Comm-sense in law atp. 59 cited in Elias, the Wature of Africa customary Law

pg. 45.

2.                   (1945) 7 C.C.L.R 37.

3.                   Sanni A.O. Introduction to Wigeria Legal System pg. 2 cited in S.O., Tonwe, O. K. fod,

customary Law.

recognized by people of a particular locality which is binding on them and is also applicable in their relationship with one another. Custom was also defined in the case of Okonkwo v. Lucy Okagbue and Ors 4 as : A particular way of behaviour which has been established by a particular group of people for a long period of time can develop and acquire the force of law or right.

The combination of these bisected terms makes up customary law. Customary law is a custom that has been crystallised into law in that every branch attach customary sanction which takes different forms from society to society, sanction includes public ridicule communal ostracism or banishment.  Customary  law  was  judicially  defined  by  Nigeria  Supreme Court in Kharia Zaiden v. Fatima Mohssen 5 as “a system of law not being the common law of England and not being a law enacted by competent legislature in Nigeria but which is binding and enforceable within Nigeria as between the members subject to it” Nigerian Customary Law is defined

“as any rule or body of rules of human conduct regulating the rights and duties of a particular  indigenous  society  in  Nigeria  whether  by  immemorial  custom  usage  or  not  but  which  are  considered  binding  by  such  indigenous  society  in  Nigeria  and  breach  of  which  are  sanctioned  by external  force  particularly  to  such  indigenous  group 6”.


4.                    (1994) 9 NNLR pt. 368, 301 at pg. 345.

5.                   (1973) All N.L.R. 940 at pg. 753.

6.                    Onuj the case for the ro in Statement of customary law in Nigeria at pg. 3cited in  S. O. Tonax

O.K Ed Customary Law in Nigeria Published in Lagos by Renaissance Publishers 2007. Pg. 6.



           Justice Ollenu  observed that  not  every  form  of  social  conducts  fit  into  the  definition  of  customary  law  even  if  it  is  well  established.  Thus,  customary  laws  are  customs  of  a  given  society  which  must  be  obeyed  and  its  violation  tends  to  violate  its  existence.

           Customary law  is  not  just  a  law  but  an  organic  law  of  any  indigenous  society.   This  was  judicially  noticed  in  the  case  of   Oyewumi  v.  Ogunesan 7 by  Obaseki  J.S.C. when  he  said  “customary  law  is  the  organic  law  of  the  indigenous  people  of  Nigeria  regulating  their  lives  and  transactions.  It  is  organic in  that  it  is  not  static.  It  is  regulatory  in  that  it  controls  the  lives  and  transactions  of  the  community  subject  to  it.  It  is  said  that  the  custom  is  a  mirror  of  the  culture  of  the  people.



            The word marriage may be defined or explained in varios ways depending on the culture of a particular society. However, marriage was  generally defined  by  the  supreme  court  of  Nigeria  in  Eugene  Meribe  v.  Joshua  C.  Egwu 8  that  marriage  is  the  union  of  one  man  and  a  woman  thereby  creating  the  status  of  husband  and  wife.  Also  Lord  Penzance  in  Hyde  v. 9  Hyde  defines  marriage  as  a  union  of  one  man  and  one  woman  for  life  to  the  exclusion  of  all  others.


7.                    (1990) 3 N.W.L.R Cpt. 137/ 182 at pg. 209.

8.                   (1976) 3 S.C. 25, at pg. 32.

9.                   (188) L.R.I.P & D 130, at pg. 133.



            Marriage  can  be  seen  as  a  universal  institution  which  is  recognised and  respected  all  over  the  world.  However  “for  African  people”  says  Professor  John  Mbiti 10  “marriage  is  the  focus  of  existence” he  added “marriage  is  a  drama  in  which  everyone  becomes  an  actor   and  an  actress  and  not  just  a  spectator  therefore  marriage  is  a duty or  a  requirement  from  the  corporate  society  and  the  rhyme of  life  in  which  everyone  must  participate …  failure  to  get  married  under  normal  circumstances  means  that  the  person concerned  has  rejected  society  and  the  society  rejected  him  in  return”  thus  in  the  case  of  Okonkwo  v. Lucy  Okagbue  and  Ors 11   (supra) where  Mahammed  J.S.C. (as  he    then  was)  gave  a  graphical  development  of  the  institution  of  marriage  when  he  said  “it  (i.e  marriage)  originated  in  the  form  of  irregular  unions.   There  were  marital  unions  through  capture,  slavery  and  purchase,  may  of  such  primitive  custom  have  generally  given  way  to  the  acceptable  form  of  marriage  agreement”.



            The  features  of  customary  law  helps  to  create  a  better  and  broad  understanding  of  the  term  “customary  law”  these  features  are  divided  into  five  broad  important  features  and  they  are  as  follows:

1.                 The  first  feature  of  customary  law  is  that  it  is  unwritten  in  nature.  Just  as  the  English  common  law.  Hence  it  is  derived  from


10.                Mbiti African Religious & Philosophy (1969) pg. 153 cited in S.O. Tonwe and O.K. Edu

Customary Law in Nigeria pg. 152 published in Lagos by renaissance publishers 2007.

11.                (1994) 9  N.W.L.R (pt. 368) 301 at pg. 346, cited in S.O. Tonwe and O.K. Edu Customary Law

in Nigeria pg. 151.                

the  custom  of  the  people  it  governs,  the  restriction  of  its  application  to  a  group  of  people  or  locality  and  its  flexibility  distinctly  mark  off  Islamic  law  from  customary  law  and  is  appropriately  recognised  by  the  Nigeria  Constitution 12  which  provides  for  distinct  application  of  Islamic  law  and  customary  law  by  separate  system  of  court  respectively.  This  was  statutory  provided  for  in  the  1999  constitution 13  and  by  the  court  in  Ojisua v. Aiye  Belehin 14.

2.                 Secondly  customary  law  is  customary  and  acceptable.  This  is  to  say  it  grows  from  the  custom  and  conduct  of  the  people  and  is  based  on  the  tested  traditions  of  the  society  it  concerns.

The  tradition  or  custom  are  handed  down  from  generation  to  generation  and  are  abandoned  when  whey  have  out  lined  their  usefulness  and  ceased  to  command  the  obedience  they  deserved.  At  a  point  law  loses  its  judicial  foundation  and  is  no  longer  enforceable  that  is  why  it  has  been  described  as  a  “mirror  of  accepted  usage  which  cannot  be  decreed  or  legislated  into  existence” 15   Though  it  is  largely  unwritten,  customary  law  is  ascertainable  by  observing  the  conduct   and  attitude  of  the  people  subject  to  it,  those  responsible  for  its  administration  can  easily  identify  its  acceptability  by  the  people  themselves.




12.                Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.

13.                See 262 (2) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

14.                (2001) F.W.L.R. (pt 66) 910, at pg. 719.

15.                Owoniyi v. Omotosho (1961) I.A.W.L.R 304.

3.        Customary law is by large,  a  moral  law.  This  means  that  it  is  a  law  base  on  the  principle  of  natural  justice  and   equality.  In     the  general  and  widest  sense,  some  of  the  rules  of  customary  law  struck  down  by  the  application  of  the  doctrine  of  repugnancy  can  be  explained   with  reference  to  history  when  the  rules  where  mostly  equitable  by  the  proper  feeling  of  the  time.  In  the  case  of  Mariyama  v.  Sadiku  Ejo 16  when  chastity  was  a  thing  of  value,  it  was  considered  highly  immoral  and  anti-social  for  any  person  to  seduce  the  wife  of  another  man  while  still  legally  married  to  the  husband.  Even  in  highly  developed  English  jurisprudence  few  judges  would  permit  a  person  like  Sadiku  Ejo  to  profit  from  his  wrong  doing.  The  accepted  principle  in  law  is  Exturpi  Egusa  Non  Oritr  Action”  which  means  “an  action  does  not  arise  from  a  cause”.   Therefore,  such  cases  as  were  struck down in  later  years  not because  the  customary  law  applied  in  them  were  inherently  unjust  but  it  was  because  the  society  have  uttered  their  values.


4.        Another  feature  of  customary  law  is  that  it  is  susceptible  to  changes  and  is  therefore  flexible  law  that  has  become  absolute  has  ceased  to  exist  and  soon  abandoned.  In  Balogun  v.  Oshodi  17 Webber.  J.  observed  that  “The  chief  characteristic  feature  of nature  law  is  its  flexibility  Also  in  lewis  v.  Bankole 18  Osborn  C.J  observed  that  “one  of  the  most  striking  features  of  the  West  African  Nature  Custom….  Is  its  flexibility  it  appears  to  have  been


16.                 (1961) N.L.R. pg. 81.

17.                (1929) 10 N.L.R 36 at pg. 50.

18.                (1908) L.N.L.R. 81 at 101.

 always  subject  to  motives  of  expediency  and  it  shows  unquestionable  adaptability  to  altered  circumstances  without  entirely  losing  its  character”.  The  process  of  enactment  and adaptability  is  not  in  all  civilized  societies.  Any  law  will  cease  to  be  a  law  when  it  is  treated  with  disdain  by  the  people  for  whom  it  has  been  made.

5.                 The  fifth  feature  of  customary  law  is  that  it  is  universally  applicable  within  the  area  of  its  acceptability.  That  is,  its  popularity  among  the  people  is  the  main  source  of  its  strength  and  validity.  Custom  must  not  be  restricted  to  a  kindred  group  it  must  be  generally  applicable  in  a  particular  area  or  locality.  In  as  much  as  it  remains  a  moral  law  based  on  what  is  socially acceptable,  it  will  continue to  enjoy  the  support  of  the  people  section 19  of  the  Customary  Court  of  Oyo  State  provides  that  a  customary  court  shall  have  jurisdiction  over  all  Nigerians.


6.                 The  last  feature  is  that  it  must  be in  existence, this  simply  means  that  native  law  and  custom  which  the  court  are  empowered  to  enforce  must  be  existing  and  not  that  of  by  gone  days.



            Two  types  of  marriages  are  recognised  in  Nigeria  which  includes.  The  monogamous  and  polygamous  type  of  marriage.  Marriage  under  customary  law  is  essentially  polygamous  in Africa 20.


19.                Customary Court Law (Oyo State) S. 21 (3).

20.                (1886) L.R.I. P. & D 130, 133.


These  two  types  of  marriage  differ  fundamentally  in  character  and  incident  it  is  important  to  keep  this  dualism  in  view  in  every  consideration  of  the  marriage  law  in  Nigeria  to  avoid  any  confusion  in  every  case  concerning  marriage.  The  step  is  to  determine  the  type  of  marriage  involved  in  order  to  apply  the  appropriate  law.

(a)             Monogamous  marriage

(b)            Polygamous  marriage


(a)           MONOGAMOUS  MARRIAGE:            A  monogamous  marriage  in  Nigeria  is  the  same  thing  as  in  England.  Its  the  marriage  which  Lord  Penance  described  in  Hyde  v.  Hyde  as ….  The  voluntary  union  for  life   of  one  man  and  one  woman  to  the  exclusion  of  all  others”.

This  definition  is  divided  into  three  aspects  they  are :-

i.                    The  marriage  must  be  a  voluntary  union.  Thus  there  must  be 

free  consent  of  both  parties  to  the union.  The  absence  of  genuine  consent  will  violate  the  agreement.

ii.                 The  marriage  should  be  a  union  for  life.  This  does  not  imply 

that  the  union  should  be  for  life  unless  dissolved  not  earlier  by  a  process  prescribed  by  law.  Marriage  which  was  contracted  according  to  the  local  law  could  be  dissolved  by  mutual  consent  or  the  will  of  one  of  the  parties  with  merely  formal  condition of  official  registration  was  infact  a  union         for  life  and  a  monogamous  marriage.

iii.               It  must  be  a  union  of  a  man  and  a  woman  to  the  exclusion 

of  all  others.

The  marriage  must  therefore  be  monogamous  as  it  does  not  admit  of  taking  more  than  one  wife  during  the  subsistence  of  marriage.  However  according  to  the  Interpretation  ACT  1964 21  a  monogamous  marriage  is  “a  marriage  which  is  recognised  by  the  law  of  the  place  where it  is  contracted  as  a  voluntary  union  of  one  man  and  one  woman  to   the  exclusion  of  all  others  during  the  continuance  of  the  marriage.

            The  law  which  governs  the  celebration  of  monogamous  marriage  in  Nigeria  are  found  principally  in  the  Marriage  Act  1914 22  and  the  Matrimonial  Causes  Act  2004 23.

(b)           POLYGAMOUS MARRIAGE:   A  polygamous  marriage  is  a  marriage  in  which  a  man  is  entitled  to  have  more  than  one  wife.  There  is  no  limit  to  the  number  of  wives  a  man can  have  under  customary  law 24  its  essential  characteristic  is  the  capacity  of  a  man  to  take  as  many  wives  as  he  pleases.  But  because  of  the  present  deteriorating  economic  condition  in  Nigeria  and  the  influence  of  the  Christian  religion,  fewer  Nigerians  marry  more  than  one  wife.

The  character  and  incidents  of  this  type  of  marriage  is  governed  by  the  law  prevailing  throughout  Nigeria.  The  fact  that  there  may  be  plurality  of  wives  does  not  affect  the  basic  promise  that  the  polygamous  marriage  is  usually  intended  to  last  for  life.


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This project work explains the essential element of marriage under the Nigeria Customary Law. The validity of customary law marriage as a result of these elements, how this customary law marriage is being performed or celebrated in the society. It also contains the ground in which customary law marriage can be void and voidable including various ways in which marriage under Nigeria Customary Law can be dissolved in Nigeria. However, this project work comprises of four chapters. Chapter one of this project contains the introduction and nature of customary law marriage in Nigeria... law project topics


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