The Principal Counsel at Fortress Legal Consult, Barr. Peter Kefas has called on the Federal Ministry of Interior to swiftly probe the widespread corruption at marriage registries in Abuja and beyond.
Barr. Kefas who was reacting to an investigation exposing Abuja marriage registries where officials conduct ghost weddings for a fee and other forms of extortion on Nigerians seeking statutory marriage certificate, made the call during a radio program, PUBLIC CONSCIENCE produced by the Progressive Impact Organization for Community Development, PRIMORG.
The legal practitioner pointed out that systemic corruption was a mountainous challenge in Nigeria’s public service, accusing the Rauf Aregbesola-led Federal Ministry Interior for failing to play oversight function on the registries, and calling for a total reform of the operations at the ministry.
Kefas maintained that the collaboration amongst officials at the registries was responsible for the ongoing corruption in marriage licensing.
He described ghost marriages conducted at the different registries as an infraction of the law, noting that such corrupt acts are thriving because of poor publicity and citizens’ participation.
“The law does not recognize anything like ghost marriage or marriage by proxy, and that’s why the law is very clear, the Marriage Act is very clear. It’s like an affidavit and you cannot swear to an affidavit in absentia, your presence is important.”
Kefas urged Nigerians to go the extra mile in knowing the requirements of the law before parting with their hard-earned money, adding that orientation of citizens and de-emphasizing receipt of cash by the officials will go a long way in curbing the ongoing fraud at marriage registries.
Similarly, investigative journalist , Jennifer Ugwa, who did the report for the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, called for a total overhaul of the current operations at the marriage registries in and outside Abuja, the Nigeria’s capital.
Narrating her ordeal during the investigation, Ugwa revealed that officials at the registries introduced and developed different schemes to extort citizens who are most times excited ahead of solemnization of their marriage. She also said that some Nigerians actually approach the registries for a sham marriage for personal reasons.
She stressed that although the findings from the investigation dented Nigeria’s image globally, it is a wakeup call for the Ministry of Interior to change their mode of operation.
Ugwa noted that data on the number of licensed marriages nationwide remains a major challenge in measuring fraud in the sector. However, based on data obtained from Abuja Municipal Marriage Registry, almost 13,000 marriages from 2015- 2019 have been awarded statutory licenses in the Federal Capital Territory alone.