By Emeka Ugwuonye
A lawyer has advised women on ways to protect their marriages. He said “If you did not marry under the Act (Court marriage), be informed today that your marriage is governed by the customs or the customary law. That may be the worst thing to happen to you in your life, unless you are absolutely lucky.
Customary law will not give you any of those rights you need, if you are a woman. On the other hand, customary law gives your husband the right to own you as his slave, if he wishes.
Under the customary law system, the man can ask the woman to leave their matrimonial home because under the costmary law, the woman is nothing. She doesn’t exist. She does not have direct or independent rights. Under the custom, a woman’s right is always derivative right – i.e., right derived from a man nearest to her depending of circumstances, which could be her father, her husband or her son.
Those are the three men through whom you could derive a right under the customary law, particularly the customary law of the Igbo people. Your eyes must be focused on those men. If your father is poor or retired, that means that rights flowing through him are retired and poor rights. If your sons are too young, that means that rights flowing through them are future rights and may not be useful to you. If your husband is a mean or selfish man, that means that no right will flow from him. So, in such situation, you have no rights. So, whatever you do, try to ensure that it is not customs that is governing your rights. Otherwise, you have to surrender to God and pray 10 times every day.
It is unfortunate. You really don’t want the custom to govern your marriage. A woman is a slave under the Igbo customs, for instance. So, don’t allow the custom to be the law that governs your marriage in 2017. Insist that you must have a marriage certificate issued by the High Court. Please don’t wait until you are pregnant to ask for this. Once you are pregnant, the man will sense that your bargaining power is weak and he will refuse to take you for the court registry marriage.
When a man refuses to get a court marriage with you, it means that he has a wife he has not told you about or that he is a wicked man that wants to enslave you down the line. Know that there is no legitimate reason why a man would refuse to get a court marriage. There is no good reason. So, if you don’t have it, you should be worried.”
Ugwuonye is a legal practitioner.
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