Change of Names in Nigeria: A Review of the Decision of the Supreme Court in PDP vs. Degi-Eremienyo

BusinessLegal

  • Author Felicity Enyinnia
  • Published May 8, 2022
  • Word count 2,484

CHANGE OF NAMES IN NIGERIA: A REVIEW OF THE DECISION OF THE SUPREME COURT IN PDP VS. DEGI-EREMIENYO.

Felicity Enyinnia

Legal Associate

(Osborne Law Practice)

INTRODUCTION

A person’s name is his identity. Names are generally given to people from birth. However, bearing a particular name is not immutable. It is subject to change by occurrence of certain event(s). For instance, it is the practice in Nigeria and in most commonwealth countries for women to change their surnames to that of their husbands upon marriage. There may be instances where husbands change their names to that of their wives.

Some people also change their names when they experience a change in their faith. Some change their names upon the discovery of the true state of their paternity, upon divorce, upon a decree of jactitation of marriage or by mere adoption. In some cases, people change their names for no reason at all. In the case of NMCN vs. Adesina , the Court of Appeal affirmed the right of the Respondent to change her name as she pleases, when it held as follows:

“The Appellant never challenged the deposition that her change of name was consequent upon becoming a Christian…it is pursuant to her constitutional right of freedom to change her religious belief that the Respondent became a Christian with the consequent change of name,.. Names are meant not only to identity. In Nigeria, names are borne for a variety of reasons some for ethnic, religious reasons as well as circumstances of birth. In the instant case where the reasons advanced for the change of the names are religious and marital, the names are interwoven with the fundamental rights to practice religion of her choice and not to be discriminated against on that account.. Section 42 (1) of the 1999 Constitution.”

From the above decision, it is settled beyond any disputation that a Nigerian is at liberty to change his/her name as he/she pleases. Also, change of name is not a contemporary phenomenon. In the book of Genesis 17:5, God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Saul’s name was also changed to Paul (Romans 13:9). The foregoing shows that change of name is not a recent phenomenon but has been the practice from time immemorial.

Name is to identity as air is to life. Names are so important that the re-arrangement of it may disentitle a person of the benefit of it. For instance, if the official arrangement of my name is in this sequence: Okoro, Tessy Muna, the re-arrangement of my name to Tessy Muna Okoro in another document may create an insinuation of a different person in the mind of the receiver of that document. The Supreme Court, in the case of Esenowo vs. Ukpong , while elucidating on the importance of order in which names are written held to wit:

“There is a world of difference between “J.E. Esenowo” and “E.J. Esenowo” for the purpose of registering a name in a professional register sanctioned by law. A person cannot at random re-arrange his initials or the order in which his names are written for the purpose of registering a name in a professional register sanctioned by law.”

To this effect, for an individual to properly lay claim to a name as his identity, he must proffer, not just proof of usage of the name but that, the name is arranged in the manner as contained in the official document allocating the said name to him.

CHANGE OF NAME: THE EXTANT POSITION IN NIGERIA

Having given the above background with respect to the jurisprudence of names in Nigeria, it is now important to state that the purpose of this write-up is to examine the issues arising from the judgment of the Supreme Court in the case of P.D.P. vs. Degi-Eremienyo , on the procedural steps and implications of change of name in Nigeria.

In that case, the Appellants, pursuant to Section 31 (5) of the Electoral Act, 2010, commenced an action at the Federal High Court, claiming that the information supplied by the 1st Respondent in INEC Form CF001 was false, and prayed the Court to disqualify the 1st Respondent (consequently, the 2nd Respondent) from contesting in the Bayelsa State Gubernatorial Election. The Appellants predicated their action on the fact that, in his sworn INEC Form CF001, the 1st Respondent attached several educational certificates containing various names other than his name. To reconcile the nuances in the names contained in the several educational certificates, the 1st Respondent deposed to sworn affidavits of ‘correction and confirmation of name’, ‘regularisation of name’ and ‘addition of name’. However, the names contained in the said sworn affidavits were at variance, and as such, not sufficient to show that the 1st Respondent is the holder of the educational certificates which he claimed to have obtained from different educational institutions. It was on the basis of the irreconcilable differences in the educational certificates vis-à-vis the 1st Respondent’s name and those contained in the sworn affidavits that, the Appellants moved the Court to invoke the provisions of Section 31 (5) of the Electoral Act, and declare that the 1st Respondent gave false information, by the fact of his multiplicity of names, to INEC.

In its decision, the trial court held that, the 1st Respondent gave false information in his INEC FORM CF001, and accordingly, disqualified the 1st Respondent from contesting in the election. Peeved, the Respondents appealed to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was allowed and the decision of the trial court was set aside. Aggrieved by the decision of the Court of Appeal, the Appellants appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court, in its judgment, affirming the decision of the trial Court held thus:

The trial court also correctly stated the procedure for regularisation and correction. Its statement at pages 575 and 576 “that affidavit of change, correction and confirmation of name has to be by deed poll and not mere deposition.”

By extension, the Supreme Court further held:

“In the instant case, the trial court was right that it is only by a Deed Poll, and not by mere deposition, that a change in a name on an official certificate can be effected and further that since the procedure necessarily affects official record and archives of the nation, it is after the Deed Poll that the deponent approaches the Nigerian Civil Registry to have the change published in the official gazette.”

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in the instant case, it has been the procedure for any person intending to have a change of his name to simply depose to an Affidavit of Change of Name, before any of the designated authorities, and thereafter, cause an advertorial of the change of name to be placed in a National Newspaper of wide circulation. In this case, where an Affidavit of Change of Name is properly deposed to, presentation of the said affidavit, simpliciter, suffices as prove of change of name. However, the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the referenced case has set out the legal and acceptable procedure for change of name in Nigeria.

Therefore, in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision in the above referred case, the recognised procedure for change, correction and confirmation of name in Nigeria is, by Deed Poll, properly executed by the party; thereafter, the party is expected to lodge the Deed Poll with the Nigerian Civil Registry, a department of the National Population Commission (presumably), to have the change of name published in the official gazette.

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Deed Poll is a legal document made and executed by only one party. A deed poll, strictly speaking, is not a contract because it binds only one party and expresses an intention instead of a promise. Therefore, a Deed Poll of Change of Name is a legal document whereby the party executing same expresses an intention to relinquish his old name and use a new name for all purposes. A Deed Poll of Change of Name is binding on the party upon execution.

The outcome of the decision of the Supreme Court in the reference case is that, Affidavit of Change of Name is no longer a recognised instrument for change of name in Nigeria. To this end, persons who have hitherto this judgment, purportedly changed their names by Affidavit of change of Name are advised to, in line with the Court’s decision, execute a Deed Poll and thereafter, lodge same at Nigerian Civil Registry for publication in the official gazette. This is to regularize the purported change of name and to prevent eventualities that may surface to deprive one from taking benefit of rights accruing to him in his name.

The reasoning of the Supreme Court that, executed Deeds of Change of Name should be lodged at Nigerian Civil Registry for publication and record purpose is rational. The names of Nigerian citizens are kept as part of the official records of Nigeria, and where alterations are made in the registered names, such alternations shall, for the purpose of rectifying the records, be brought to the knowledge of Nigerian Civil Registry. In Nigeria, parents and/or guardians are mandated, pursuant to Section 7 of Births, Death, Etc (Compulsory Registration) Act, 1992, to register the birth of every child born in Nigeria with the registrar of births and deaths for the area in which the child was born by entering in a register kept for that area such particulars concerning the birth as may be prescribed………..”. The particulars required for the said registration of births are provided for in Regulation 9 of Births, Deaths, Marriage, Etc, Regulations made pursuant to Births, Deaths, Etc (Compulsory Registration) Act, 1992. It provides to wit:

(1) A person required by law to register a birth shall provide the following information concerning the birth of the child, that is‐

(a) in respect of the child‐

(i) its name, if any; (ii) its date of birth; (iii) the place where the birth occurred; and (iv) the type of birth;

By the provisions of the Sections of the Act mentioned in the preceding paragraph, it is correct to say that the official name of every Nigerian citizen is that as registered in the register of births with the National Population Commission and contained in the birth certificate issued by the said Commission.

On the strength of the forgoing, where the name the applicant seeks to change already forms a data of the Nigerian Civil Registry, he/she must register the Deed Poll with the authority so that the database of same may be rectified. Also, where the old name forms part of any public record in Nigeria, it is mandatory that the new name be published in the official gazette of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

THE PRACTICE IN ENGLAND

In England and Wales, any adult person may legally change his or her name by simple assumption and usage so long as the intention in so doing is not fraudulent. Change by usage and reputation is the only way in which a name can be changed. There is no legal requirement or procedure which needs to be adopted, save in the case of children. Change of name by Deed Poll and by various other recognized methods are merely ways of evidencing and advertising the change. Where it is intended to change a child’s name by deed poll, the form differs depending on whether the child is aged under 16 or over 16. In the case of a child aged under 16, provided the parents agree, or one of them is dead or cannot be found, the change of name can be evidenced in the same way as by an adult executing a deed poll, but the deed is executed by the parent on behalf of the child. Where the child is aged over 16, the child may execute the deed on his or her own behalf subject to the consent of the child’s parents; or the deed may be executed by the parents on behalf of the child, but it must be endorsed with the Child’s consent.

In England, there is no legal provision which requires that a deed poll of change of name must be enrolled. An application to enrol is entirely discretionary. The enrolment of a deed poll does not make the change of name any more legally effective than the execution of the deed itself. The purpose and advantages of enrolling the deed are that it provides certainty and safe custody; copies are available when required; and the change of name is advertised in the London Gazette. A change of name which has been evidenced by a deed poll may be changed again by another deed. Also, a deed which has been enrolled may be cancelled .

MY POLEMICS

While I commend the Supreme Court for enumerating the proper procedure for change, correction and regularization of name in Nigeria, it is my humble opinion that, the decision of the Supreme Court in P.D.P. vs. Degi-Eremienyo (supra) was not predicated on any known law in Nigeria. In its decision, the Supreme Court failed to proffer the extant law that provides that, change or correction of name must be effected by Deed Poll. Neither did the Court refer to the Enabling Act that establishes and empowers the Nigerian Civil Registry to oversee publication of change and correction of name in Nigeria. The judgment of the Supreme Court in the instant case, with respect, can best be described as scanty.

Having gone through the decision, it is my candid opinion that, the decision of the Court herein is not justifiable in the light of the known practice in Nigeria.

On a second thought, could it be that the Court in its decision imported the procedure as it is applicable in England and other common law countries? As above stated, Deed Poll is the most common formal method of change of name in England. The use of Deed Poll (Deed of Change of Name) as instrument of change of name originated from the United Kingdom in the case of Re Parrott, Cox vs. Parrott .

Nigerian Courts are empowered by applicable laws and Rules of Court to import rules and/or procedures applicable in England and other common law countries where there are lacunas in our laws. English law forms a fraction of the Nigerian legal system, so, it is presumable that, the Supreme Court intended and imported the procedure as it is applicable in England in this case. Although, the Supreme Court was not explicit on this point, it is implicit from the circumstances of this case, and in the light of the applicable procedure in England.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that, the Supreme Court as the highest court of the land, should strive to be explicit in its holdings, and cover all grounds in its decisions, leaving no room for confusion and speculations in the minds of the public.

Feliicty Enyinnia is an astute Nigerian lawyer, who derives pleasure in writing legal briefs and agreements. She has an interest in maritime law, oil and gas, intellectual property and corporate commercial practice.

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