The institution of marriage is a fundamental aspect of Nigerian society, and it is crucial to make sure that the rights and obligations of both husbands and wives are effectively safeguarded. The rights and obligations of spouses are regulated by various laws and legal principles in Nigeria and in order to support women's equality and marital empowerment, Nigerian laws have undergone considerable changes.
These laws aim to protect the rights of both parties, promote equality, and provide a framework for the functionality of marriages and family units.
The rights of Spouses as recognized under the Nigeria law include:
- The Right to Enter into Marriage:
Article 12 of the Human Rights Act guarantees men and women of marriageable age the right to marry and establish a family.
Every individual in Nigeria possesses the fundamental right to enter into a marriage contract based on their free and full consent. The need for mutual consent is also recognized by Nigerian law, which ensures that neither party is forced or coerced into marriage.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) forms the foundation of all laws in the country, including those relating to marriage and family. Under the Constitution, every individual, regardless of gender, is entitled to fundamental rights and freedoms, which include the right to life, dignity, personal liberty, and freedom from discrimination.
- Equality in Marriage:
The principle of equality between spouses is a crucial aspect of Nigerian family law. The Matrimonial Causes Act and the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act incorporate equality in marriage.
Under the Marriage Act 2004, spouses are regarded as equal partners in marriage. This means that husbands and wives enjoy equal rights and responsibilities within the marital union, including decision-making, financial matters, and child-rearing.
The Nigerian Constitution also guarantees equality before the law for both spouses. Neither spouse should be discriminated against based on gender.
Spouses should have equal rights to property, assets, and resources acquired during the marriage. The Matrimonial Causes Act acknowledges the equal contributions of both spouses to the acquisition and management of marital property.
- The Right to Personal Security and Safety:
Nigerian law recognizes the rights of both husbands and wives to be free from violence and abuse within the marriage. Domestic violence, whether physical, emotional, or sexual, is a serious concern that affects many marriages and is strictly prohibited. The Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act of 2015 provides comprehensive legal protection against all forms of domestic violence, including physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse allowing victims to seek redress and obtain restraining orders against their perpetrators.
- Inheritance Rights:
Nigerian law has made significant strides in ensuring gender equality in inheritance rights. Equal rights regarding inheritance are granted to husbands and wives under different states' succession laws in Nigeria, such as the Lagos State Law of Inheritance (2004). This implies that upon the death of either spouse, both spouses, regardless of gender, are entitled to an inheritance from their spouse's estate.
For example, Section 46 of the Administration of Estates Law of Lagos State, 2015, governs the mode of distribution of the residuary estate of a deceased person who died intestate.
- Right to the dissolution of Marriage:
Section 15 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 2009 provides for the ground for the grant of a decree of dissolution of marriage. This means that either spouse can file for divorce on various grounds such as adultery, cruelty, desertion, or irreconcilable differences. The law also allows for separation orders and judicial interventions to promote reconciliation.
- Right, to own property in Nigeria:
Property rights within a marriage depend on the type of marriage. Under statutory marriages, the Matrimonial Causes Act governs the distribution of property in the event of divorce or separation.
Customary law, on the other hand, often reflects the patrilineal nature of inheritance, which may affect the property rights of wives. However, recent legal reforms have sought to address gender imbalances by promoting equal property rights for women. The case of Mojekwu v. Mojekwu (1997) the landmark case on equal property right for women in Nigeria, Supreme Court held that women have a right to inherit property from their fathers. The court emphasized that the customary law that denied female children the right to inheritance was discriminatory and inconsistent with the principles of the Nigerian Constitution. This verdict upended long-standing practices and established a precedent for women's equal property rights.
The constitution also recognizes the right of citizens to own property in Nigeria. Section 44(1) of the Constitution explicitly states that no person shall be compulsorily deprived of his or her property, except in the interest of public necessity and subject to the payment of just and adequate compensation.
- Right to Maintenance and Support:
During the marriage, Spouses are legally obligated to provide financial maintenance and support to each other. The Marriage Act of 2004 acknowledges couples' obligation to contribute to each other's well-being, including financial assistance for basic necessities, healthcare, and education. This provision ensures the well-being and stability of the marital relationship.
In conclusion, it is important for spouses to be aware of their rights under the Marriage Act to ensure that their union is based on mutual respect, equality, and understanding. Legal counsel and advice should be sought when dealing with specific issues related to marriage rights to ensure compliance with the applicable laws and regulations.
1 Matrimonial Causes Act, Cap M7, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2009
2 The Marriage Act Cap M6, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
3 The 1999 Constitution Of The Federal Republic Of Nigeria (as amended).
4 Mojekwu v mojekwu (1997) 7 N.W.L.R 283
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