Types of marriage in Nigeria
Types Of Marriage In Nigeria, Their Process And Implications

This article on types of marriages and wedding ceremonies in Nigeria will answer some questions that arise when planning a wedding in Nigeria as regard what type of ceremonies to have, their implications and what’s necessary and what’s optional.

Types of Marriage in Nigeria

There are two types of marriages legally recognized in Nigeria.

  • The customary marriage
  • The Civil/statutory marriage

Nigeria Customary marriage

This is where a marriage is done based on the customary law of Nigeria. According to the customary law in Nigeria the payment of the bride price is an essential ingredient of a valid customary law marriage.

A bride price is…

any gift or payment, in money, natural produce, brass rods, cowries or in any other kind of property whatsoever, to a parent or guardian of a female person on account of a marriage of that person which is intended or has taken place.

The law insists on the payment of the bride price in other to have a valid marriage. However it doesn’t insist that the payment must be completed before the marriage can take place. But part payment must be made before a valid marriage can be performed. And in practice this is what happens. For some states and communities the payment of the bride price is in different stages and the man can do one stage and request to come back at a stipulated time or when he can to complete the payment of the bride price. And the woman will be considered married and they are allowed to start their lives as husband and wife.

In most states and communities in Nigeria, the bride price is payable to the father. In the absence of the father it is payable to the male head of his immediate family. In the absence of a male head, it is payable to a guardian.

In practice the customary marriage is referred to as the traditional marriage. The Yorubas call it the engagement.

The process to complete a traditional marriage varies from state to state. However the main ceremonies include:

  • The Introduction
  • The marriage

Generally in Nigeria the process that starts a traditional marriage is when after a man asks a woman to marry him and she says yes, the man goes to her family to seek their consent to marry their daughter. Usually this isn’t the Introduction ceremony. It’s called first ‘door knocking’. For tribes in Nigeria where the parents still arrange husbands for their daughters the door knocking happens before the bride even has the opportunity to get to know the husband.

Door knocking s is simply to personally seek the father and mother’s consent to marry their daughter. And the man doesn’t have to go with more than a few persons, maybe his father/father’s brother and one other person; it could be an uncle or his brother. The bride may have to ask her parents who and what he needs to bring along for the first door knocking. The groom should ask if there are certain elders in the family he’s required to personally seek consent from too.

It is after the first door knocking that an Introduction, a formal meeting of both families is scheduled. The bride’s family bares the expenses of cooking to welcome their guests, the groom’s family.

Is the Introduction ceremony compulsory?

Yes. It is compulsory because:

  • There both families are introduced, for many of the family members they’d be meeting for the first time. This is necessary to allow them get to know the type of people they are marrying their daughter off to.
  • The bride price is discussed and a bridal list is issued.

Some even discuss wedding dates during the Introduction because that’s the only ceremony before the marriage where both immediate and some extended family members will be available in one place to decide a time convenient for the family to have the marriage.

Though the introduction is compulsory, but how large you make it is a personal decision. Traditionally it’s supposed to be a meeting strictly for family members, immediate and some extended. But some end up turning it into a party of its own. For a couple who want to save on wedding cost, they can keep it traditional and make it strictly a family affair and an indoor ceremony.

The Traditional marriage

The traditional marriage is part of the customary marriage. The formal traditional ceremony is where the groom brings all that he’s been asked to bring in the bridal list he was given. And the elders of the bride’s family conduct the ceremony and accept the bride price. After which there’s a lot of eating and drinking. Although some couples now do this privately and without the eating and drinking to avoid having two parties for the wedding and therefore save cost.

The traditional marriage is compulsory. The paying of the bride price to marry a Nigerian woman is the oldest ceremony for having a valid marriage in Nigeria. In Nigeria and as a Nigerian, without it, the society doesn’t consider you married even if you go to court to register your marriage and get a marriage certificate.

The cooking and drinking doesn’t make the marriage. The ceremony, that is the paying of the bride price makes a valid marriage. So even when you’re the brokest couple, you have no reason not to do a traditional marriage. If the things on the list are too much, you can negotiate it on the introduction day and have them cut it down. The bride can talk to her parents before hand to make sure the elders don’t make unnecessary demands of her future husband.

Without the party, a traditional marriage is done within few minutes. Recently I witnessed my best friend’s traditional marriage and everything was concluded within 30 minutes. An elder of the family simply held the bridal list and confirm one after the other if everything required was brought and once confirmed my friend was handed over to the man as his wife.

Nigeria Civil marriage

Nigerian civil marriage also known as statutory marriage and popularly known as court wedding in Nigeria is where the couple registers their marriage under the Marriage Act of Nigeria. And obtain a marriage certificate. Whatever state you are in Nigeria you’ll find a marriage registry to register your marriage.

A civil marriage is compulsory because it offers security to the woman and her unborn children. The wife has rights under the law as legally married to her husband.

The civil ceremony doesn’t involve much and it takes very little time. You can get married within an hour and on any day of the week. All you’ll need are two witnesses, one for the bride and one for the groom.

Other marriage ceremonies

Religious marriage – AKA White wedding

Religious marriage ceremony is simply to bless the marriage. For some doctrines however it is more than that. It’s especially to make the couple aware of the seriousness of the commitment they are making and remind them of the guidelines for a successful marriage as offered in the holy book, the bible. Marriage after all is a divine institution. And there’s a standard set forth in the Holy Scriptures for its success. So it makes sense to have a religious marriage. It helps the couple keep in mind their God given roles as they start their new lives together.

For bible scriptures about the beginning of marriage and all the questions that arise, read the article on bible verses about marriage.

The religious marriage is optional. Many couples are doing without it.

The white wedding is supposed to be a combination of the religious marriage ceremony and the wedding reception party. But some are now having a white wedding without the religious ceremony but instead have the court wedding and after have a reception party.

For a religious marriage to be legal it must be licensed and recognized by the state. Usually churches that conduct weddings need to get approval from the state. This way, a person having a religious wedding doesn’t have to go to the court to register and collect a marriage certificate; this is made available to them through the church.

See help with the requirements of a religious marriage/Church wedding, see the article on Christian weddings.

The implications of the different types of marriage under Nigerian Law

The theories and the realities

In theory the traditional marriage under law is considered to be potentially polygamous. Meaning the man while still married to one woman can marry another woman under the customary law and even have a statutory marriage without been penalized under law.

A traditional marriage is a legally recognized ceremony. You can have just the traditional marriage and be considered married. However, the traditional marriage though essential doesn’t offer any security to the wife and her unborn children especially in the case of the death of her husband or divorce.

Traditionally the man’s possessions automatically go to his wife in the event of his death. But in the case of a divorce nothing is offered to the woman and her children. The man can decide to send the wife and her children out of their matrimonial home without giving her a dime and you won’t see anyone holding him accountable; especially not the law. And in some states or some of their communities, when the man dies his extended families come in to claim everything he had, leaving his surviving wife and children on the street.

It could be that in the theory of a Nigeria customary marriage, the wife has some rights having been married under the customary law. But in practice today, I’m yet to hear of someone suing a spouse under the customary law.

To get a divorce from a customary marriage theoretically, you have to go to a customary court. But in reality, to get a divorce the woman’s family simply returns the bride price paid on the woman’s head. But often many don’t even bother with this. Both parties simply move on and even get married to other people without getting divorced first.

A statutory marriage however is considered monogamous. Meaning a statutory marriage supports one man one wife. He can’t marry another until he’s legally divorced from the first one. He can’t have a statutory marriage because he will be refused a marriage certificate. And if he decides to marry a second wife under the customary law, the new wife will have no right under law. Moreover, a man who marries another woman without divorcing the first one will be charged of bigamy.

The man has responsibility to his legally married wife and legitimate children whether or not he remains married to the woman. A statutory marriage provides security for the wife and her unborn children.

Which of the marriages should you have?

I’ll say all of them. If you must leave one out it should be the religious marriage.

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