By Tessy Igomu
Love, it is said, is an emotion as ancient as time, with proof of its existence finding expression in exchange of marital vows by those bitten by its bug.
For some, a low-key wedding could suffice, while for many, an elaborate celebration, whether in a church or mosque, with its razzmatazz, memorable colourations and dramas cements a union.
However, the registry comes in handy for a quiet, fast-paced ceremony and seems just ideal for would-be couples faced with a tight budget.
Lagos, the state of aquatic splendour, has registries in all its 57 local governments and local council development areas. All of them issue the same marriage certificate.
However, the Federal Marriage Registry, Ikoyi, Lagos, stands out. It is probably the most sought after, a melting pot for most intending couples ready to celebrate their union. It is one of the two federal marriage registries in Nigeria. Many believe it is the best in sub-Saharan Africa.
Most people have attributed this special preference to a certain belief that the Federal Marriage Registry, popularly known as Ikoyi Marriage Registry, is the only one that issues marriage certificates recognised and accepted outside the country. Many seem to have this impression that any union celebrated at the registry is the only acceptable legal wedding ceremony. This explains why it is usually besieged by some people bent on travelling out of the country in search of greener pastures.
Recently, this reporter spent a day observing activities and proceedings at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry. Expectedly, the day turned up interesting and intriguing developments, ranging from the ostentatious to the mundane.
Located on Plot 17, Alfred Rewane Road, (formerly Kingsway Road), the Federal Marriage Registry, Ikoyi, is tucked behind a wall and thickets that neatly conceal it from motorists and passers-by. From the dual carriageway, the arena appears like every typical compound in the highbrow Ikoyi area. But that facade automatically changes as one takes a walk down the terraced way leading into the facility.
As the reporter inched into the compound housing several mini buildings that Saturday morning, birds of the air were at their game, chirping loudly. The sky was clear blue, the air fresh and humid as the sun shone brightly.
Already, skeletal activities had commenced in the registry, with workers welcoming intending couples. The cleaners were cleaning the doors and window, doing so diligently and only pausing to exchange pleasantries with other workers strutting in for duty.
The reporter was surprised to notice that some intending couples had already made it into the registry. They were waiting in their vehicles, all of which were decorated with ribbons, colourful lining, flowers and “About to Wed” tags pressed to their number plates.
A few wanted to keep it simple, which was evident in their dressing. Even their vehicles pulled up without any glint of decorations.
No fewer than 70 couples, according to findings, exchange marital vows at Ikoyi Marriage Registry every week. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday are designated as the main days. The figure could rise to between 100 and 300 during the peak period. This is usually towards the end of the year. Each ceremony usually lasts between five and 10 minutes.
Despite the show of class and obvious disparity in status, everyone at the registry is treated equally.
At exactly 9am, the blissful and serene ambience of the registry suddenly changed as human and vehicular activities peaked. More intending couples dressed in traditional attire, formal wedding gowns and suits, and some wearing downright plain and almost colourless clothing, poured in, each pair alighting from their vehicles. With time, the registry became a beehive.
The noisy atmosphere was charged with excitement as gaily-dressed relatives and well-wishers took vantage positions, smiling, laughing and exchanging banter. Many also came bearing food and other refreshments in their coolers.
The frenzied atmosphere automatically set the stage for thriving business as traditional musicians with their talking drums, beaded gourds (sekere) and gongs began to make music. They scouted for potential audiences that showed any interest. Also in the business mix were people hawking various colours and sizes of pin-ups and bouquet for bridal consumables.
Also available for rent were suits and wedding gowns of various shapes and sizes as well as cheap wedding rings for sale. Instant photographers, popularly known as wait-and-get, also waited in the wings, scanning the crowd for clients. Food and drink vendors were not left out, as they moved about vending well-packaged edibles. Also on hand were makeup artists and business centre operators. There was also a reception hall inside the registry, which was available for a fee.
The reporter gathered that a wedding gown for rent costs between N10,000 and N15,000, depending on preference and duration of use. Bouquet for rent costs a bride N1,000.
Since the Interpretation Act of the Federation of Nigeria requires parental consent from both families of an intending couple before a legal marriage can be contracted, most people who came without parents did not need to worry for anything. Such service was readily provided at the registry.
Like predator stalking their prey, elderly men and women acting as couples singled out and accosted intending couples, offering to stand in as their parents while the marriage ceremony lasted. This service, it was discovered, didn’t come cheap. An interested couple could rent such ‘parents’ at a rate of between N10,000 and N15,000, depending on their bargaining power.
Touts also took advantage of the occasion to make brisk money selling numbers to couples who wanted to quickly celebrate their union, even though they arrived late.
Amid the noise, the wedding bells chimed intermittently while a female voice came through on the microphone calling on would-be-couples by their number tags to file into a large hall and occupy the first three rows of wooden chairs with their witnesses for the brief marriage rites. This ritual continued with brides and grooms hurrying into the hall to take their seats.
While some couples came unaccompanied, quite a lot came with their bridal trains. Everyone looked resplendent. They all created an ambience of a true wedding ceremony. Since almost every service could be bought, those who came unaccompanied didn’t feel left out, as readily available crowds were also available for rent. The amount paid depended largely on a couple’s bargaining power.
Once the newlyweds were through with the marriage rituals, they danced their way through the exit. The brides proudly waved to show off their wedding rings and certificates amid applause. They were immediately surrounded by a battery of photographers who adopted all gimmicks to gain the couples’ attention. The lucky photographers then jealously guarded their ‘catch’ to a huge billboard with “Federal Registry, Ikoyi,” inscribed on it. The spot was a centre of attraction, which seemed to put a seal of authenticity on the couples’ wedding photographs.
More energy was put into taking pictures, especially by those who had to hold an arranged celebration (arrangee wedding). The young and the old, irrespective of their ages, posed in front of the billboard as evidence of their presence at the Federal Registry, Ikoyi.
Posted on the notice boards of the registry were passport photographs and every other information about the intending couples. The photographs bore their names and addresses, status (single or divorced), and religious affiliations. Everything was conspicuously displayed on the notice board.
Speaking on the information on display, a tout, who seemed to know everything about the goings-on at the registry, explained that it was usually the first step taken to inform the public of the couples’ intention to get married. The information must be displayed for a mandatory 21 working days to allow anyone with objections to the marriage to come forward.
Those willing to wed on weekdays, the reporter learnt, were expected to pay N1,000, while weddings on Saturday, being the busiest day, attracted as much N3,500.
On the average, the total cost of marriage at the Ikoyi Marriage Registry was between N35,000 and N40,000. Those wishing to have a fast-tracked wedding might have to pay an additional N20,000.
When the reporter dashed to the restroom, she was appalled by the sight that confronted her. Despite the facility’s ‘A’ rating and money-yielding status, it didn’t boast of a good restroom. The toilet in particular was filthy. The putrid stench hit one in the nose like a punch from Muhammad Ali; the reporter immediately made a quick escape, gasping for fresh air.
Sadly, some guests found it more convenient to answer nature’s call at every corner close to the registry’s restroom. This further increased the stench that pervaded the whole area. It was simply unbearable.
Aside from the main auditorium and other offices and the hall where wedding celebrations took place, every other place in the registry’s compound had the look of a pigsty. Refuse seemed to be part of the arena.
But someone else thought differently. He was a guest who had an aura of one living abroad. He probably came all the way to Lagos to attend one of the weddings. To him, Ikoyi Marriage Registry was simply beautiful.
“This place is good,” he muttered as he stepped gingerly away from the burgeoning crowd.