Many Nigerians were shocked when it was revealed during a conversation between a lady and the founder of Due Process Advocates International (DPA), Attorney Emeka Ugwuonye, that under the Nigerian law, cousins can marry each other.
This shocking revelation might sound very ridiculous because some Nigerians culturally considers such act as an abomination–incest, but in the eyes of the law, it appears not to be so.
Though, in some parts of Igbo land like Abia and Ebonyi, there are clear cases of cousins marrying each other. This also brings to the fore the dynamism of culture. What one may consider evil in one’s culture, could be generally accepted elsewhere.
Moreover, in the conversation that ensued between the woman and founder of Due Process Advocates, Ugwuonye, she recounted how his brother absconded to another city with a female cousin and had children with her despite repeated warnings from family members that the both of them are related.
When the brother after the family might have gotten hint of their secret romance made an attempt to marry the said cousin, the family of the woman vehemently rejected and broke the wine he came with.
The family after rejecting the brother’s marriage proposal, the lady narrated, summoned and informed the both of them again that they cannot get married. They were also instructed not to return to the village until their official separation.
But the two love birds who refused to yield to family pressure, went ahead and signed a marriage certificate in one of the local government, therefore, making their cohabitation legally.
The lady further disclosed that the brother petitioned her at the human rights commission. And to her greatest surprise, on the day she visited the commission to answer the issues raised in the petition, the person presiding over the case categorically told her that cousins can marry each other under the Nigerian law.
Part of the conversation reads, “I’m a registered member: I have an issue which relate to the teaching of Void or Voidable marriage but would want your advice.
“I have a brother who was in a relationship with my cousin, everyone warned the both of them that they’re siblings, so they’re fully aware.
“My brother changed city and we didn’t know he arranged with the lady. They started having kids and when the family discovered, I personally called him to query but he denied saying he has not seen the lady for over a year. He made every attempt to go and marry that my cousin but our in-law asked him if he didn’t know that the lady is his sister.
“Our in-law eventually broke the wine he came with. The family summoned them and told them they cannot marry but they went and signed a marriage certificate in one of the local governments around.
“The kindred has asked them to stay clear of the village until they go apart.
“He petitioned me at the human rights commission and the woman there said that cousins can marry and I demanded that they put it in writing but to no avail.
“Pls, what is the faith of this marriage because I’m worried. Thanks”
However, Harvard trained attorney, Emeka Ugwuonye, while responding to the woman’s query from the legal standpoint, alluded to the fact that cousins indeed can marry each other under the Nigerian law.
While quoting the position of the law, Ugwuonye stated clearly that the Marriage Act of Nigeria specified the prohibited degree of consanquinity. That is: the level of closeness by blood within which marriage is not allowed.
For instance, child and parent, brother and sister, uncle and niece, nephew and aunt are considered too close in bloodline to be married to each other.
He also warned that if one should harass a married couple because they are cousins, the person could be arrested for that.
Ugwuonye also added that as long as the both of them married under the Act, customs will not be taken into consideration when the police will come to arrest the person for harassment.
Emeka said, “Cousins can marry under Nigerian law. They have the right to marry. You need to educate your village people. And if you have been among those harassing them, you may face serious sanctions under the law.
“You must learn that the law of the country is greater than your people’s customs. Also, out of respect for English language, stop calling them siblings. Cousins are not siblings. It seems you’re the one gingering the village against this innocent couple. They can sue you for serious damages so you can leave them alone and mind your business.
“The Marriage Act of Nigeria clearly specified the prohibited degree of consanquinity. That is: the level of closeness by blood within which marriage is not allowed. For instance child and parent, brother and sister, uncle and niece, nephew and aunt are considered too close in bloodline to be married to each other. But cousins are not considered too close to marry under the Nigerian law.
“But really, everywhere else in the world, cousins can marry each other. In Igbo land, like in my place, it is considered abomination. But what I’m telling you is that it is allowed by law. If you harass a married couple because they are cousins, you could get arrested for that. Just bear that in mind. As long as they married under the Act, your village beliefs will not be taken into consideration when they come to arrest you.”
Written by Kalu Nwokoro Idika.
First published by News Band Newspaper.