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Bigamy; A criminal offense in Nigeria

Bigamy is the act of getting married to someone when you are still married to another person. If you have been s ...

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Bigamy; A criminal offense in Nigeria

Bigamy is the act of getting married to someone when you are still married to another person. If you have been separated for 5 years without a proper divorce settlement and you decide to get married to someone else, you’ve committed a criminal offense. if you’re no longer in love with your spouse and decide to get married to someone else for “Your sanity”, without legally terminating the previous one, that’s still bigamy and that’s a criminal offence. You are only allowed to marry someone else if you are properly divorced or your spouse is dead.

Bigamy is governed by the criminal code of different southern states in Nigeria and according to section 370 of the criminal code act, it states that “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 7 years”.

Case Analysis;

Engineer Bashorun had been married to his wife, Rhoda for 7 years. They had 2 children and had been living quite comfortably in Abuja, till Engr Bashorun lost his job and was forced to stay home for 2 years. Rhoda, who had always loved the finer things in life, got quite uncomfortable with how reluctant Engr Bashorun was towards getting a new job and found solace in another man, Henry. Engr Bashorun found out and was willing to forgive his wife because of his children but Rhoda insisted on being tired with her marriage with Engr Bashorun and moved in with Henry.

Engr Bashorun managed to pick up his life again and in 3 years, he secured a better job, met a new lady, and got married to her. When Rhoda heard about this, she got mad. Henry had left her, claiming he wasn’t interested in raising 2 kids that aren’t his, and Rhoda had gone from bad to worse. She contacted Engr Bashorun countless times and he ignored her. Getting really frustrated, she resorted to complaining to her friend who is a lawyer and who advised her to sue Engr Bashorun on the grounds that he was still legally married to her when he got married to someone else.

Engr Bashorun found this ridiculous and encouraged her to sue, thinking he was going to have the last laugh. Unfortunately, Engr Bashorun was found guilty. He had not legally terminated his previous marriage before getting married to someone else. Luckily, a lesser punishment was meted out; 2 months imprisonment or a fine of a stipulated amount. The judges explained their rationale behind their decision, stating that;

  • Nigeria is naturally known to be a polygamous society
  • They had been separated for 3 years which was a decision by Rhoda, the plaintiff
  • Many Nigerians are ignorant of the rule of bigamy and form new marital institutions without legally terminating previous ones.

Through the marriage act and the matrimonial clause act, the law guarantees protection and regulates marriage and would not hesitate to punish anyone who goes against the law. It is therefore very important if you’ve been in a previous marriage. which has not been legally terminated, you do everything within your power to ensure that you get a proper divorce, before venturing into a new one. No matter what the case looks like, you’d be found guilty if you get married to someone else, while still married to your partner. 

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