You want to marry two or more wives? You can relocate to Lagos State to fulfil your heart's desire as bigamy is no longer a criminal offence there. There is no chance that you would be jailed again.
THISDAY can report today that the state House of Assembly has silently amended the Lagos State Criminal Code and expunged bigamy from its statutes.
When next the clerk tells you at the Marriage Registry that you risk seven years in jail if you get married to someone else, you can smile and tell her she's behind the news.
The old Criminal Code of Lagos State Cap C17, section 370 stated: "Any person who having a husband or a wife leaving, 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 does not extend to any person whose marriage with such husband or wife has been dissolved or declared void by court of competent jurisdiction, nor to any person who contracts a marriage during the life of a former husband of 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 person as being alive within that time."
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeola Ipaye, confirmed the development, saying the old law was no longer useful.
Ipaye said it became necessary to remove bigamy because the state government found out that there was no need to criminalise the offence.
He nevertheless said bigamy would now be treated as a civil offence and such a marriage would simply be dissolved without any criminal proceedings being instituted against the offender.
Ipaye did not however say under what law such marriage would be dissolved since bigamy, technically, no longer exists and there is no prescription for remedy.
"Yes, bigamy was expunged from the amended criminal code. It was necessitated by the need to decriminalise it. What this means is that it is no longer a criminal offence when a man or woman who is legally married to contract another marriage. Instead, the marriage remains null and void," he said.
But speaking to THISDAY last night, a legal practitioner and Chairperson, Women Empowerment & Legal Aid, Mrs Funmi Falana, said the organisation was already in court to challenge the decriminalisation of bigamy.
"In any case, bigamy is still in the federal law. So if Lagos fails to prosecute you, the Federal Government can take it up," she told THISDAY on phone.
Prof. Konyinsola Ajayi (SAN) said it became necessary for the state to remove bigamy from the criminal code because in the last 40 years, nobody had been charged with the offence.
He said what the lawmakers simply did by removing the act from the law books is to decriminalise the act.
Human rights lawyer Ebun Adegboruwa said if it was true that the state House of Assembly had expunged bigamy from the state criminal code, it was long overdue.
Adegboruwa noted that for over 10 years now, there had been pressure on the state government to expunge the act because it was not enforceable because of the peculiar nature of the Nigerian society.
Bigamy was introduced into the Nigerian law books by the British during the colonisation of the country and Nigeria is not ripe to fully practise the act, he said.
Adegboruwa said: "These days, because of the cost implication of prosecuting divorce and the time it takes, couples prefer to quietly go their separate ways and remarry and this weakened the law and made it ineffective and unenforceable."
Also, Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN) commended the state lawmakers for expunging the act from the state criminal code, saying that since 1914 when the law came into force, it had not recorded any conviction.
He argued that since the law is inconsistent with the country's values, the best thing to do is to discard it.
Nwobike said though the act is no longer a crime, it is an offence under the Marriage Act which is one of the laws of the federation, but wondered where the offender would be the prosecuted.
Though some Lagos lawmakers chose not to comment on the issue, but a member of the House representing Eti Osa 1 constituency, Hon. Yishawu Gholahan, told THISDAY that "bigamy, to be frank with you, is a way of life among Muslims. There is nothing government can do about it. We should just let it be."
Nevertheless, bigamy only applied to those who married under the Marriage Act. Those who choose to marry under customary and religious laws are excluded from prosecution.