Punishment for Bigamy under Nigerian Law – Bigamy: Offence, Definition, Menace, Consequences, Punishment.
At the cradle of creation, when the man became aware of the woman and both became aware of their power to give life to others like them through the primal power of procreation, marriage propped into the human conversation as a crucial cavalcade of companionship , dignity, posterity and most importantly, life.
It became an imperative inquiry into whether a man could live with a woman, and in the process give life and the art of living to others like them in the long and often arduous itinerary of life.
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The law was always going to recognize and protect by some measures, both stringent and tender, the relationship of marriage, which,arguably, at its basic level, is the most critical of all human relationships.
The law, in its usually flexible foresight, saw that if marriage was left unprotected, and the society unchecked, the many vagaries of life would encroach into the field of marriage and render its contours distorted. This was never going to happen, and when it happened, it was never going to go unpunished.
The Law Guarantees Marriage
In Nigeria, through the agency of two principal provisions which would be the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act,the law guarantees, protects and regulates marriage under the law.
The Marriage Act is “An Act to make provisions for the celebration of marriages.”It provides for how marriages must be delivered to receive validity under the law. It contains in its 54 sections the impediments that automatically render a marriage null, void and of no effect.
The Matrimonial Causes Act is “An Act to make provisions for matrimonial causes.” It contains in its 115 provisions what the law brands “matrimonial reliefs” and the vast provisions for the dissolution of marriage.
But what would happen if in the presence of a valid marriage, one of the parties proceed to contract another marriage?
The law answers this question resoundingly.
The 7th Edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner `s Dictionary, International Student`s Edition, at page 132, defines “Bigamy” thus:
“The crime of marrying somebody when you are still legally married to somebody else.”
The Deluxe Ninth Edition of the Black`s Law Dictionary, at page 184 says of “Bigamy”:
“The act of marrying one person while legally married to another. Bigamy is distinct from adultery. It is a criminal offence if it is committed knowingly. ”
The New International Webster`s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language (Deluxe Encyclopedic Edition) at page 136 defines “Bigamy” thus:
“ The criminal offense of marrying any other person while having a legal spouse living”
Wikepedia describes Bigamy thus:
“In cultures that practice marital monogamy, bigamy is the act of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another .
Bigamy is a crime in most Western countries and when it occurs in this context, neither the first nor the second spouse is aware of the other.”
In societies that recognize monogamy, bigamy is a crime. It is a crime for an obvious reason: to protect the relationship of marriage.
It invariably means that in a society that condones polygamy for religious or cultural reasons, bigamy is not an issue.
However, it is important to keep in mind that most societies, recognizant of the importance of marital relationships, protect marriage by written or unwritten laws.
The Criminal Code Act proscribes bigamy.
Nigeria`s grandest criminal legislation, the Criminal Code Act in Chapter 32, which contains three sections, recognizes “Offences relating to marriage and parental rights and duties.
Section 370 of the Criminal Code Act provides thus:
“Any person who, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for seven years.
This section of the Code does not extend to any person whose marriage with such husband or wife has been dissolved or declared void by a court of competent jurisdiction, nor to any person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband or wife, if such husband or wife, at the time of the subsequent marriage ,shall have been absent from such person for the space of seven years, and shall not have been heard of by such a person as being alive within that time.”
The Criminal Code Act brands bigamy a felony and punishes it with seven years. A felony is a serious crime usually punishable with imprisonment for more than a year.
On its part, the Penal Code Act, which is northern Nigeria`s criminal legislation, in Chapter XXII recognizes offences relating to marriage and incest. In sections 383,384,385 and 386, it criminalizes offences relating to marriage and punishes them.
Section 384 of the Penal Code Act which is on “Marrying again during life-time of husband or wife” provides thus:
“1. Whoever having a husband or wife living marries in a case in which that marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of that husband or wife, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to a fine.
“2. This section shall not extend –
a. To a person whose marriage with the husband or wife has been legally dissolved ; nor
b. To a person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband or wife, if the husband or wife at the time of the subsequent marriage shall have been continually absent from the person for a space of seven years and shall not have been heard of by the person as being alive within that time, provided the person contracting the subsequent marriage shall, before that marriage takes place, inform the person with whom the marriage is contracted of the real state of facts so far as the same are within his or her knowledge.”
Section 385 of the Penal Code Act which is on “Re-marriage with concealment of former marriage” provides thus:
“Whoever commits the offence defined in section 384 of this Penal Code having concealed from the person with whom the subsequent marriage is contracted the fact of the former marriage, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall be liable to fine.”
Section 386 of the Penal Code Act which is on “Marriage ceremony fraudulently gone through without lawful marriage” provides thus:
“ Whoever dishonestly or with a fraudulent intention goes through the ceremony of being married knowing that he is not thereby lawfully married shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.”
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The Penal Code Act also stipulates a 10-year jail term for Bigamy.
The Criminal Code Act, the Penal Code Act,the Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Causes Act work hand in hand to protect marriage and punish offenses against marriage.
This legal synergy aimed at the preservation of the institution of marriage is most critical to the sanity and survival of any serious society.
Bigamy cannot arise in the absence of a marriage recognized as valid under the Marriage Act. Bigamy cannot also arise where a court, acting under the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act had proceeded to dissolve a previous marriage.
However, where a marriage complied with the Marriage Act and has not been imperiled under the provisions of the Matrimonial Causes Act, the felony of bigamy would loom over any subsequent marriage involving over any of the parties to such a marriage.
To underscore its protection of marriage, Section 39 of the Marriage Act provides that “Whoever, being unmarried ,goes through the ceremony of marriage under this Act with a person whom he or she knows to be married to another person, shall be liable to imprisonment for five years.”
The Prosecution of Bigamy in Nigeria
In a traditional and multi-religious society like Nigeria, Bigamy is not often recognized and punished for being a juddering violation of the institution of marriage.
Thus , instances of bigamy rarely find ventilation in courts. However, it is important to always keep in mind that family life is best guaranteed by the institution of marriage and marriage must be protected at all times from the forces which would otherwise rip it of its very soul.
a. Marriage is essentially between one man and one woman.
b. Marriage is the firmest anchor of family life.
c. The law recognizes and punished bigamy as it is one of the gravest assailants of family life
d. Bigamy is a felony punishable with a maximum seven years imprisonment.
e. Bigamy is nigh impossible in the absence of a valid marriage.
a. That as a Nigerian citizen under Sections 25,26 or 27 of the 1999 Constitution, your fundamental rights are guaranteed under Sections 33 to 46 of the same Constitution.
b. That the Constitution guarantees you equal rights, obligations, opportunities and easy accessibility to court under Section 17.
c. That com works with a team of lawyers to inform you of your rights, obligations and opportunities under the law.
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