Under the Nigerian Law, “A gift inter vivos must be made openly. There must be evidence of actual handing over of the land and acceptance thereof in the presence of witnesses under native law and custom. In Madam Alice Orido v. Theophilus Akinlolu, Iyizoba JCA held as follows: “Customary law requires no writing for the transfer of land whether upon sale or by way of gift. In lieu of writing, however, there must be actual handing over of the land to the donee in the presence of witnesses and the acceptance by him of the gift. Acceptance is as much as customary law as the delivery of possession in the presence of witnesses; without it the gift is invalid, such acceptance must be made with as much publicity as possible…Actual delivery is not mere evidence of the gift but is part of the gift itself.”
Another question asked the most in these times is the question surrounding engagement rings. Should an engagement ring be a conditional gift or an unconditional gift? Is an engagement ring a conditional or an unconditional ring under the Nigerian Law? We would take these questions one after the other.
Should an engagement ring be a conditional gift or an unconditional gift?
Generally, there’s no one size fits all rule to answer this question. However, there have been various theories surrounding it, which have been used, even to pass foreign judgements. Such as;
- TREATING ENGAGEMENT RINGS AS COMPENSATION
There have been foreign cases where a ring qualified as compensation, as long as both parties understood that fact. For example, a woman gave her boyfriend money and labour to improve his business. In exchange, he gave her a valuable diamond ring and proposed marriage. The relationship ended in a broken engagement. A judge awarded the diamond ring to the woman because the diamond ring was given to her as compensation.
- TREATING ENGAGEMENT RINGS AS CONDITIONAL GIFTS
Many foreign courts classify engagement rings as a conditional gift and award the engagement ring to the giver in broken engagement cases. The receiver of the ring may argue that saying yes to the proposal was the condition required and that condition was met. This doesn’t usually work. Courts typically reject the idea that the gift’s condition is the engagement and hold instead that the condition to be met is the marriage.
When the court decides the ring is a conditional gift, it usually takes a no-fault approach. It doesn’t matter which party is responsible for the broken engagement. If the condition (marriage) was not met for whatever reason, then the gift must be returne
- THE FAULT-BASED APPROACH
Some foreign courts hold that it isn’t fair for the person who caused the broken engagement to keep the engagement ring. In a “fault-based” approach, if the receiver caused the broken engagement, the engagement ring is awarded to the giver.
In Pavlicic v. Vogtsberger, a couple was engaged. The man bought her house, two cars, and a diamond ring in anticipation of marriage. He also lent her $5,000 to buy her own business. The woman disappeared, only to resurface later having married another man and spent the funds to buy a business in another city. The court ordered all the gifts revoked. The engagement ring that the man had given to her had to be given back to him.
- THE NO-FAULT APPROACH
A fault-based approach may treat a broken engagement transaction like a broken contract. The parties couldn’t fulfill the elements of the contract, even if only one party was responsible for breaking the contract. As is typical in breach of contract cases, the most likely remedy is to restore the parties to their previous position.
Is an engagement ring a conditional or an unconditional ring under the Nigerian Law?
There is no strictly codified law as to gifts in Nigeria. However, there are trite principles, court judgements and dictums that have guided the lawyers and students over the years.
A gift as a promise of marriage, such as a ring, can be revoked where the donee refuses to marry the donor; that is to say where a contract to marry exists between the donor and donee, a claim for revocation of gifts given under that promise or contract to marry can be entertained under general law.
Furthermore, such contract must be with respect to statutory marriage under the Marriage Act, not customary law marriage; and such contract to marry will only be valid between persons of single status. It is therefore necessary for a donor of such gift to protect the transaction by expressing the conditions of the gift, in writing or advisably in the presence of witnesses. The idea of a prenuptial agreement is usually faulted as being morally incompatible, yet the law is not sentimental or moral; if prospective spouses fail to protect their interests, they should not expect a remedy under the law.
In the case of Ezeanah V. Atta Tobi, JSC clearly stated that “Premarital gifts in order to qualify as gifts in furtherance of an agreement to marry, must be clearly and unequivocally traceable to an agreement on the part of the parties to marry”
Thus, we can agree that engagement rings are usually given only on the grounds of promise to marry, therefore, engagement rings are conditional gifts that can be revoked upon the non-fulfilment of the condition of marriage.