The Ikoyi marriage registry is often preferred by intending couples above the others of its type in Lagos, probably due to its reputation. But here, marriages are not just contracted; a lot of business deals go on as well. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports.
THAT the Ikoyi marriage registry is the most popular and most patronised in Lagos and probably in Nigeria is a fact that will be difficult to dispute. It is one of the two federal marriage registries in Nigeria, and serves not just residents of Lagos, but also the South-South, South-East and the whole of the South-West geo-political zone. But it is also a place where different types of business thrive and where one can learn lessons from various unusual experiences.
Except on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday when marriages are usually contracted, someone who is not familiar with the registry may not know that such a thing exists there. The building looks like any other building. On marriage days, however, it is a different story. From a distance, a crowd, comprising drummers and many other people transacting one form of business or the other make the place come alive. And this affects traffic as well, as vehicles brought by couples and their friends and family members fill the place.
On a normal day, anyone entering the Ikoyi registry premises will first have to ‘pay homage’ to the retired military personnel manning the gate, then contend with registry touts who render all forms of services, both usual and unusual, for a fee.
On wedding days, these touts collect a lot of money to register couples and get them early numbers to reduce the waiting period as, usually, there are about 30 intending couples fixed for each wedding day. On wedding days, people start trooping into the registry compound from 6:00 a.m. – even before the arrival of registry staff.
Different people rendering diverse services are already settling down in the compound by 7 a.m., and by the time the staff resume, the registry is already crowded with many people doing various businesses.
The first thing that will be noticed is the manner of arrival of intending couples. Some arrive well dressed in exotic cars with their families. The couples are also often noticeably well dressed; but that is not in all the cases. Some just walk in as if they are going about their daily activities – no adornments, no fanfare.
People sit on the wooden chairs and benches provided in the events hall of the registry, in different groups, awaiting their turns to be called upon to sign the dotted lines. Sometime too, it is not as smooth an operation, as there is usually confusion, especially in the selection of numbers.
The usual practice is for intending couples to register on the first-come, first-served basis; but in some cases, some would have paid touts to get numbers for them while some pay touts at the venue.
By the time registry officials arrive, the prepared list usually gets rearranged, as touts and couples that know how to influence things get themselves sorted out faster. Someone that should be on number five can end up on 30, or even as far as 45! This usually results in a lot of tantrums, which make the place noisy – especially given the little space and the large crowd competing for it.
Adding to the noise and confusion are itinerant traditional drummers and photographers who take delight in exploiting people, while those that sell mint currencies are also always on ground. It is not unusual for couples to wait for six hours without being called, and while the waiting is on, they are entertained by the drummers.
The appearance of some couples is even a study in the diversity of human nature. While some are well dressed, others just appear in normal daily clothes. ‘Some of these couples change into their wedding dresses as they enter the hall. Some of the wedding gowns are ill-fitted and look awkward on the brides, making them shapeless, or sometimes even dusty.
This is not peculiar to the brides. Some grooms who left home in jeans wears enter the hall wearing suits of different types and sizes.
But the looks of those dresses notwithstanding, Saturday Tribune investigations revealed that many of these gowns are rented for between N6,000 and N10,000, while the average men’s suit goes for between N5000 and N6000 – just for the few minutes the wedding will last.
A man who rents out clothes told Saturday Tribune there is nothing to it: “Why should anyone condemn those that rent gowns for a ceremony for few hours? There is no need to sew a wedding gown for huge amount of money for a ceremony that will last hours, especially when most of these weddings are not real but are contracted just for the sake of travelling out.
“It would be a waste and quite unnecessary. We even rent out flowers for between N500 and N1,500, depending on how beautiful the bouquet is. And everyone is happy; that is our business here.”
This is, however, not the only business that goes on at the registry. Couples can rent surrogate family members, especially parents and witnesses. Saturday Tribune investigations revealed that the same set of ‘parents’ sign for different couples daily. These rentable ‘parents’ and ‘family members’ are usually well clad in traditional dresses and they hang around looking for potential clients – couples that need their services.
One of them who spoke to Saturday Tribune on condition of anonymity said that since most people just consider the registry wedding as a civic ceremony that needs not involve many people, when they get to the registry, they can rent ready-made parents or family members, just to legalise the event.
One of the ‘rentable’ parents told the Saturday Tribune that they charge for their services based on how deep the pockets of the intending couples are.
“The least that we charge is N5,000 to stand as parents to intending couples. If the couples are rich, we charge them N15,000 and if we see that they are planning to use the wedding to obtain visa in order to travel abroad, we charge between N20,000 and N25,000,” the ‘parent’ said.
One of the ‘witnesses for rent’, who simply identified himself as Lekan, said he had been doing that business at the Ikoyi registry for over four years, and stressed that he believed he was not doing anything illegal.
“We have been doing this for a while. We believe we are rendering help to those that need it. It is a clean business,” he said.
He said believed they were only helping people cut the cost of transporting their people from far and wide, as it is compulsory for couples to, at least, bring witnesses.
On the fee they charge for standing as witnesses, Lekan said that it is not fixed and is usually determined by a number of issues.
“It depends on who you approach and the negotiating power of the client. Most often, we give rates based on our assessment of how wealthy the couple is, or when we find out that the wedding is being contracted for a purpose.”
Saturday Tribune also discovered that people do not need to disturb themselves carting refreshments from home to the registry, as there are catering businesses in sheds at one side of the registry. Different kinds of drinks and food are available for sale to couples for entertaining their guests. In front of the registry premises, there are fast food and drink vendors as well.
Investigations by Saturday Tribune also revealed that many of the wedding ceremonies consummated at the Ikoyi registry are usually based on other factors, aside love. Every ‘wedding’ looks genuine, but a keen observer would always detect the fake from the genuine unions usually from the way the couple behave after the wedding had been sealed.
In most ‘arrangee’ weddings, it is easily observed that more than usual attention is paid to the photo session. The newlyweds, after signing the dotted lines, put so much more energy into taking pictures than they put into the solemnisation of the union itself. Getting the right location and posture becomes a science. Most of them are particular about taking the photographs in front of the giant billboard placed at the entrance of the hall, with special focus on letting the words on the billboard – the Federal Marriage Registry, Ministry of the Interior, Ikoyi, Lagos – show in the picture as background.
People have attributed this to the fact that the Federal Registry, Ikoyi, is believed to be the only registry with authentic and recognised marriage certificate outside the country. This makes the registry a target for people intending to travel out of the country at all cost.
It is, therefore, a normal occurrence to see strange bed fellows ‘getting married’ to each other, some with over 30-year age gap between them! The wife, more often than not, is the older partner, and most often, is a European.
Some also reduce their age while many are friends and family who merely get married in order to perfect papers that will allow them travel abroad. In some cases, though, the ages of the brides arouse suspicions, as many of them look younger than the age they claim; while some are much older than the figure they put down.
In some cases too, many do not even hide the fact that they came to the registry to wed only to get a certificate to present at the embassy.
“I don’t know why there’s this much stress. If not for embassy that demanded certificate, I would not be here. I came from Ilorin, Kwara State, to get married here just because the embassy demanded for wedding certificate, and I have found out that they respect only Ikoyi certificate. That is the major reason many people take pictures with that billboard. You need to convince the White man o,” a groom told Saturday Tribune on a condition of anonymity, while waiting for his number to be called.
The environment of the registry, however, does not complement the reputation and the fame it has. The colour of the building is faded and no one seems to be bothered. With the incessant rain of the past few days, the compound had become a mini-pool as the drainage on the main street outside had been blocked and rain water flowed freely into the compound, messing up the floor.
Aside this, there is no obvious rest room for people that need to ease themselves, and the benches in the hall where the marriage ceremony is conducted are not very conducive for comfortable sitting.
However, it is not only outsiders that make cool money here. Even the registry staff rake in their own share, as most of the intending couples told Saturday Tribune that they paid some amounts that were unregistered, and no receipts issued.
As the clerk calls on couples to move into the hall to sign the dotted lines, well wishers as well as the couple are coerced to drop money for different kinds of prayers and thanksgiving. These sum of money vary with the mood and time on the hands of the registry staff.
“To register, you have to pay a lot of money, many of which are not recorded. After paying the usual fees, I still had to pay N1000 ‘decoration’ money and money for cleaners and servers. We also paid a lot of money as ‘goodwill’ money and for drummers.
“As if that was not enough, after everything, I was asked to pay N5,000 before we could collect our wedding certificate, and the guy had the guts to tell me that it was not negotiable! We went through lots of stress before he released it for N2000. There is pure extortion in this place, and you cannot complain,” a groom who identified himself simply as Matthew stated.
He added that the photographers were the worst as they charged exorbitant fees. And if they felt that a customer was negotiating too much, they threatened to delete his picture – and they can do so, since they know the (couples’) options are limited.
The registry also makes its money from rent as there is a hall for entertainment of guests. For this, couples pay N5000. These activities go on for days a week and the crowd is the same whether it is weekday or weekend.