“Self-help is a primitive remedy capable of causing a breach of the peace…the magnitude of which no one may conjecture…” -Per Nwokedi JSC[i]


Sade’ POV: “After everything I did for Kunle! (in tears) We had even done our introduction Solape! Wedding plans had started! Kunle betrayed me! He followed Tinu because she is fair- complexioned! Men are scum!” I will never love any other man! I will teach Kunle and his family a lesson!

Femi’ POV: “My friend! Fear that other gender o! Because I am broke, Tobi got pregnant for my best-friend Timilehin, just because he is tall, dark and handsome and I am not. I fear who no fear, woman!” Do you even know that I had already paid for the hall for the wedding? I will arrange boys to deal with her and that Timilehin”

Are you Femi or Sade? Do you know someone like Femi or Sade? I want you to know that under the Law, you have rights and reliefs. Let us discuss them below.


To fully appreciate this article, it is necessary to define some words such as Marriage, Contract, Promise, Breach, Plaintiff, Defendant, Damages etc., for better understanding.

In Amobi v. Nzeogwu[ii], the Supreme Court per Ariwoola, JSC defined marriage thus: “Marriage under the Marriage Act generally means the legal union of a couple as spouses. In other words, it is “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.” From the foregoing, it can be safely concluded that marriage is a contract.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines a contract as “1. An agreement between two or more parties creating obligations that are enforceable or otherwise recognizable at law…2. The Writing that sets forth such an agreement…3. A promise or set of promises by a party to a transaction, enforceable or otherwise recognizable at law”. Marriage is voluntary. It is material to note that, unlike the reliefs that can be sought and granted in other forms of contracts, the courts will never grant an order for specific performance where it comes to matrimonial-related issues i.e. the courts will never force people to get married to each other. 

Black’s Law Dictionary[iii] defines a promise as “the manifestation of an intention to act or refrain from acting in a specified manner conveyed in such a way that another is justified in understanding that a commitment has been made; a person’s assurance that a person will or will not do something.” Deductively, a promise to marry would mean the manifestation of an intention to marry conveyed in such a way that another is justified in understanding that a commitment has been made.

Breach of promise, according to Black’s Law Dictionary[iv] then, is “the violation of one’s word or undertaking, especially a promise to marry. Under English common law, an engagement to marry had the nature of a commercial contract, so if one party broke the engagement without justification, the innocent party was entitled to damages.”

A Plaintiff is a person who brings a case against another in a court of law.

A Defendant is a person against whom a criminal or civil action is brought.

Damages refer to monetary compensation for loss or injury caused by the wrongful act of another


As ancient as the concept of a lawsuit in respect of a breach of promise to marry seems, the prevalence of the repudiation of a contract to marry and the wanton acts of the jilted spouses is a cause for concern. Some people, when jilted, retaliate with extreme acts such as killing the estranged spouse or a close relative, some conceive the idea of committing suicide and carry it out, and some readily conform their minds to never date or fall in love with those who are now typically referred to as “Machalas”. Some become serial heartbreakers or commercialise the concept of dating.  Only a few victims of this act genuinely move on with no hatred or bitter feelings.

The following points are instructive to note before an action for breach of promise to marry is brought:

  • The relationship must have gone beyond the level of mere affection.
  • The spouses or partners must have had a mutual exchange of promises to marry. This exchange may be oral or written, express or implied
  • The court can award damages against a third party (e.g) someone who instigates a breach of promise to marry.

Breach of Promise to marry can be categorised into 2, namely:

  1. Non-performance/ Actual breach: This occurs when parties fix a date for marriage, and one of the parties does not show up.
  • Anticipatory/ Speculative breach occurs when before the date fixed by the parties, one of the parties does something that suggests that the marriage will not hold. Examples include eloping with someone else, impregnating someone else and performing marital rites.

Under any of these headings, the aggrieved party can sue for damages.


To qualify for an action for breach of promise to marry, the Plaintiff must prove that:

  1. There was an actual promise to marry and such promises had been exchanged between parties. The court will not deem a promise to marry from mere romantic talks or discussions about the parties’ future.
  • The promise to marry has been breached by one of the parties.

In the case of Ezeanah V. Atta[v], the Supreme Court per Tobi JSC (as he then was) held that:

Two elements are necessary to constitute a breach of agreement or promise of marriage. First, the party jilted must prove to the satisfaction of the court that there was in fact a promise of marriage under the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1990, or under Islamic Law or under Customary Law, on the part of the other sex. Second, the party reneging has really, and as a matter of fact, failed or refused to keep to the agreement of marriage. Marriage is regarded as a very sacred institution both in our jurisprudence and in our sociology. Accordingly, an agreement to enter into a marriage should leave nobody in doubt as to the real intention of the parties to enter into a marriage. A mere convivial or romantic relationship without more is not enough for a court to found an agreement to marry.” 


  1. GENERAL DEFENCES: A defendant may put in general defences that are usually used in the world of contracts. Some of the general defences include Fraud, Mistake, Misrepresentation, and Duress e.g. He might state misrepresentation as his defence i.e. The only means of communication all throughout the relationship was via the internet, and he had no idea that the lady was a minor. The lady misrepresented facts in this instance.
  • SPECIAL DEFENCES: A Defendant may also state more specific reasons for the refusal to marry after the promise to marry. For example, the Defence could be that the Plaintiff will not make a good parent for the children of the marriage, and this was discovered after the promise had been made. (Morally unfit)


Damages: In any action for breach of promise to marry, the most obtained relief is that of general or special damages.

Note that the Court will never make an order that parties should marry each other, but the Court can award monetary damages as compensation for the time wasted and the trauma of a failed relationship.

Conclusively, before you decide to show Kunle shege, or you decide to shoot Tobi with a gun, the law does not support violence, and you will be prosecuted for your criminal acts. Know this and know peace! Self-help is not known to the law!

[i] AGBAI & ORS V. OKOGBUE (1991) LPELR- 255 SC PG. 30 PARAS C-D

[ii] (2013) LPELR 21863 (SC) at page 61

[iii] Tenth Edition at page 1406

[iv] Tenth Edition at page 226

[v] (2004) LPELR – 1198 (SC) 19

Written by Oluwafemi Faniyi for The Trusted Advisors

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