Alero’s mum is excitedly making plans for the Traditional marriage ceremony (commonly referred to as Engagement) of Alero, dotting the I’s and crossing the t’s, when Alero walks in with a smile on her face, hugs her mother and gives her a kiss on the cheek. After the usual pleasantries between mum and her first daughter, Alero’s mum inquires as to whether the date for the Registry wedding has been fixed but her inquiries are met with a nonchalant “NO mum. Both Jemine and myself are of the opinion that after the traditional engagement, we only need to tie the knot in his church – before God, with men as witnesses”. As Alero’s mum is about to speak, in bounces Alero’s boisterous first cousin – Omejero. Omejero swaggers in and with her usual high five, comments “Hi baby coz, I see that the wedding plans are in top gear and mummy A is at what she does best…planning”, she says with a mischievous wink at mama Alero. Mama Alero responds with “welcome Omejero, you walked in just in time to talk some sense into your younger cousin. I have been trying to convince her about the need for a registry marriage but she keeps rebuffing the advice”.
Omejero grabs a handful of the roasted groundnuts in a bowl in front of her aunt and after throwing some into her mouth, she faces Alero saying “Come on Alero, doing a quiet registry marriage a few days before the church event “white wedding” is a given, unless of course Jemine’s church is duly licensed by the Ministry of the Interior to conduct a marriage. Otherwise, the ceremony to be conducted is nothing other than a church blessing and is not recognised under our laws as a marriage”. She shifts into her professional gear – “Incidentally the Traditional marriage, which we often refer to as engagement because it is often followed by a registry or licensed church marriage, is recognised as a valid marriage under our Customary Laws. However, because most indigenous Africans are polygynous societies, marriage under Customary law allows for polygyny – other wives to be similarly married concurrently. It therefore follows that you cannot rely on your church blessing as evidence of your marriage and if you fall back on the Traditional marriage, everything related to that marriage will be subject to the dictates of Customary law e.g., Polygyny, Succession and Inheritance. I suggest you put your foot down and insist on the registry marriage to enable you to have a valid marriage certificate. You know, he may be coming from a place of ignorance”. Mama Alero interjects saying “Or he may have some tricks up his sleeves like Omejero’s dad”.
Omejero continues with a snicker “When my mother (your aunt) agreed with dad, who as you know is a lawyer, to do a traditional wedding and forgo any subsequent formalisation in the registry or licensed place of worship, she did not realise she was giving him the green light to have other wives. Subsequently, he took on a second wife and mom kicked against it. He simply returned the dowry to her family as required for the dissolution of the marriage (divorce) under customary law. Thereafter, wife number 2 was wise to insist on a registry marriage, thus becoming the legal wife entitled to all the benefits of a legal wife”.
Just then, Alero’s friend Zainab waddles in with her seven-month-old pregnancy which is responsible for her unsteady gait. As she plonks herself onto a chair, mama Alero recounts Alero’s decision to her and she immediately advises her friend “Alero, please don’t go that route o. Before my Nikkai which you witnessed, we went to the marriage registry to ensure we had a valid marriage licence. You know Islam makes it easy to divorce a wife by uttering “Talaq” on three occasions. I couldn’t afford to take that risk. By the way, the meaning of Talaq is I renounce you”.
Alero finally finds her voice and asks “Big coz, what of all these fancy destination weddings on ships and exotic locations? Are they valid”?
Omejero replies “It is the responsibility of intending couples to find out the Marriage Laws applicable at the locations where they intend to get married as their marriage will be guided by the laws applicable there. Such marriages can also only be dissolved according to the Laws of such locations. The norm however is to have done a quiet registry marriage back at home before heading for the exotic location for the “razzmatazz.”
Havilah cautions brides to properly navigate their marriage options so that they do not get caught unawares. They need to be guided and counseled on the appropriate type of marriage that agrees with their personality taking due cognisance of the validity and/or implications of their choice.
Nikkai – Islamic marriage contract
Razzmatazz – A flamboyant display meant to draw attention.
Talaq -Islamic word for undoing the knot (divorce)