Crowds besiege FG registry in Lagos for marriage amid COVID-19 fears

•Coronavirus can’t stop our marital journeys, say couples •Registry conducted 1 million weddings in last 10 months

Different strokes for different folks, they say. While local governments-run registries are nearly deserted, Ikoyi Registry, belonging to the Federal Government, is taking the shine, DAYO AYEYEMI, TUNBOSUN OGUNDARE, AKIN ADEWAKUN and SEGUN KASALI report.

On Wednesday, January 7, 2021, Saturday Tribune made a trip to the Ikoyi registry in Lagos State to see if love was still in the air despite the raging coronavirus pandemic, considering the Biblical warning that what God has joined together, let no man (or virus) put asunder.

Before the visit, there had been reports that some intending marriage partners were cancelling their appointments to be joined as husbands and wives at wedding centres in some local government areas of the state due to the pandemic and the attendant lockdown of last year that lasted months.

But it was a different ball game at the Federal Government-owned registry as intending couples besieged the venue in their numbers.

All cautions on COVID-19 guidelines were thrown to the wind as lovers, whose nuptials were listed for the day, crowded the mini entrance gate to the registry while being attended to by men of the Nigeria Security and  Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) manning the gate.

It was also observed that only intending spouses were allowed onto the premises after they must have shown evidence that their wedding appointments were due for the day.

A staff member of the much-sought-after registry who did not want his name in print disclosed that over 100 marriages had been contracted that day between 8.00 a.m. and 1.00 p.m., adding that more weddings would still be conducted before the close of work.

He said there was no difference  in the number of marriages conducted between pre-COVID-19 era and now, noting that couples consistently made the registry their preferred choice five days in a week to formalise their unions.

According to him,  the only difference between then and now is that couples are currently permitted to enter the registry with two witnesses – one person from the wife’s family and one person from the husband’s side.

“All the COVID -19 guidelines are being observed here. Nobody is allowed into the premises without masks. Our men always  check people’s body temperature and sanitise their hands. We also do not allow crowds,” he claimed. He was silent on the rowdy situation at the gate.

On the processes to follow, he disclosed that intending spouses have three months to inform the registry after meeting all the requirements which include collection of application form, provision of four passport photographs, presentation of affidavit of decision to marry, as well as provision of valid e-mail address and phone number. He hinted that applicants could also make use of the registry’s automation sytem to process and submit their application online. According to him, the entire process costs N27,500 and applicants’ validity is for three months.

 

Weddingmania in a lockdown?

According to Saturday Tribune findings, about one million nuptial rituals were conducted at the Ikoyi registry in the last 10 months, indicating an average of 100,000 weddings per month. Considering that the exercise is five days in a week and about 100 couples were joined in matrimony within five hours on the day Saturday Tribune visited, the huge number of weddings conducted within the 10-month period may not be a ruse after all.

It was learnt that the main reason for the huge traffic at the Ikoyi registry is the recognition of marriage certificate from the Federal Government registry by foreign embassies. The preferential consideration by embassies is affecting patronage at state-owned registries in the local government areas of the state where businesses have been further affected by the lockdown and the second wave of the pandemic.

Between March 2020, when the lockdown began, and now, it was gathered that while local government wedding centres were like ghost towns, Ikoyi registry has become a tourist centre for marital activities, though without the fanfare of the past.

During the period under review, couples also visited registries run by local governments to formalise their unions but not in any way comparable to the Ikoyi numbers where lovers defied all restrictions occasioned by COVID-19, including lockdown, to become husbands and wives.

It was gathered  that people also came from other states of the federation, particularly in the South West, to the Ikoyi registry for their marriage ceremony.

Further investigation by Saturday Tribune revealed that while the number of weddings keep increasing at Ikoyi registry, same cannot be said of registries belonging to the state as figures declined tremendously.

While a few registries in Ikeja and  Somolu witnessed reduction in marital rites, it was gathered that there were cancellations of wedding plans at the Igando registry in Ikotun due to the pandemic.

 

‘Corona can’t stop us’

Couples interacted with by Saturday Tribune spoke of their resolve to start their marital journey in the midst of the pandemic.

Within the premises of the Ikoyi registry, Saturday Tribune discovered two big tents overflowing with couples whose weddings were slated for the day. Others, including their witnesses, were waiting under the sun for their turns. There were about five locations within the registry for the ceremonies in order to save time.

Sharing their experience with Saturday Tribune, one of the newlyweds, Mr and Mrs Benjamin, wondered why COVID-19 would stop them from getting married.

The husband said: “With or without the COVID-19 pandemic, we already  proposed to marry in January 2021 and we had been preparing for this day since September 2020. We initially nursed the fear that the second wave of COVID-19 might disrupt the date but the registry’s schedule for us did not change. We have now been pronounced husband and wife with total adherence to COVID quidelines,” he said. The newlyweds showed their marriage certificate and nose masks.

Benjamin, who resides in Ofa in Kwara State, said he had arrived in Lagos three days earlier to join his wife for the wedding.

According to the husband and wife, they were number 63 on the list of couples getting married on the day. Many couples, they said, still queued behind them.

For Charles and his wife, who were billed for wedding at the Ikoyi registry in May 2020 during the peak of the COVID-19 lockdown, they had to postpone the ceremony to October due to  pressure from their parents who wanted an elaborate ceremony and not one performed at the registry.

Unlike them, Charles said many couples took advantage of the pandemic to visit the registry for marriage. He said the registry was a beehive of marital activities during the period.

 

Wedding cancellations

At Igando Marriage Registry in Ikotun, Lagos, reports had it that some cancellations of wedding arrangements took place due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Unlike 2019, when the Igando-Ikotun Local Government Council Development Area (LCDA) recorded no fewer than 170 weddings, it was gathered that 2020 recorded only 95, a drop which was attributed to the pandemic.

One of the clerks at the registry said a lot of intending couples cancelled their engagements shortly after the lockdown was eased. According to the clerk, last week, a guy who ought to have been married since April 2020 came to collect his passport, saying that he was no longer interested.

He added that some did not bother to show up, “even though this is probably the most affordable form of marriage, but as typical Nigerians, some still go overboard with it.”

On why couples were cancelling their appointments with the registry, the clerk described lack of finance as a major reason, pointing out that the COVID-19 lockdown really slowed economic activities down.

According to him,  with the financial difficulty that came with COVID-19, many had to re-evaluate things.

The clerk added that though some people had registered with the registry, unless they show up, it would be difficult to conclude based on those who registered alone.

A sum of N12,000, two passport photographs, birth certificates and a 21-day notice with counselling are the requirements at the Ikotun-Igando registry.

At Agbado/Oke Odo Local Council Development Area, Abule Egba, there was no ban on wedding activities, provided there is strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols, one of the officials disclosed.

A visit to the Local Council Development Area, located on Abeokuta Express Road, Oja Oba, in Abule Egba by Saturday Tribune revealed that no ban existed there. While the secretariat was devoid of the usual hustle and bustle, due to the work-from-home directive, one of the staffers of the registry department of the council, where such activities are prosecuted, asked Saturday Tribune reporter who posed as a prospective bridegroom to go ahead and commence the wedding registration process.

“Nobody banned wedding activities here. What we tell prospective spouses is that they would have to observe all the COVID-19 protocols before we agree to tie the nuptial knot for them.

“For instance, the nose masks must be worn, and their guests must also put these on, too. Besides, we insist on maintenance of social distance inside the hall, and once we know the required number is already inside the hall, we ask others to stay outside,” he said.

The staff member, who did not want his name in print, added that the department was also obeying the state government’s directive by asking some of its staff members to work from home. “But this does not, in any way, affect wedding activities in the registry,” he noted.

Also, the registry department of Somolu Local Government was unusually vacant during a visit by Saturday Tribune. There was a noticeable reduction in the number of people coming to the registry for related purposes.

A member of the department who pleaded for anonymity disclosed that the registry would not be entertaining any activities until January 18, though registration would still be open. The worker explained that the reason for the temporary suspension of activities was the second wave of the pandemic. He added that all necessary safety protocols would be adhered to when the registry reopens for business.

However, it was a different kettle of fish at the Registry Department of Ikeja Local Government as activities were ongoing when Saturday Tribune visited, even as COVID-19 protocols were being observed as advised by medical experts. It was learnt that registry activities usually take place on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

A female staff member explained that the safety protocols informed the decision of the registrar to compel couples not to come with more than just one person each to stand as guarantor for them.

She further explained that visitors were also under compulsion to use their face masks and sanitisers.

Also, an official of the registry department in Ijaiye-Ojokoro Local Council Development Area, situated at Ijaiye-Agbado Crossing Road, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the registry had not stopped joining couples who registered with them in holy matrimony.

She said all that was required was for the couples not to come with crowds but very few relatives so as to be able to observe social\physical distancing and other COVID-19 protocols as stipulated by the government.

The official told Saturday Tribune that “it takes only 21 days from the day of registration and payment of N16,500 for the registry to do the joining and issuing of marriage certificates.”

She explained further that within the period, intending couples would need to attend a mandatory marriage counselling for one day which holds on Tuesdays in the week of the wedding, while the wedding day is usually Thursdays for all couples.

“But while we need only the intending couples to attend counselling section, we also don’t encourage funfare like feasting to take place at the registry on the day of wedding. We must all play our parts, to ensure that COVID-19 is not spread,” the official added.

 

Joyful exploitation?

Saturday Tribune further dug into happenings at the registries and discovered that in the midst of the euphoria that usually comes with wedding, what could pass for subtle exploitation also goes on, involving the staff.

Apart from the requisite fees to be paid, it was learnt that intending spouses are sometimes asked to bring items like malt drink and other stuff or monetise them.

It was learnt that intending spouses sometimes complain when they are given the “list” of items to be provided by officials of registries, because most of the items on the list are illegal.

A celebrity photographer told Saturday Tribune that “everybody working in registries find different ways to make easy money. Some collect money from the intending spouses to do change of name for them. While the actual cost is N3,000, they collect as much as N5,000 from them. They allow intending spouses to rent parents and sponsors. The registry judge who joins the couple forces couples and their relations to part with money sometimes up to N10,000 and if the judge conducts up to 30 weddings in a day, that is close to N300,000.”

The source added: “A registry like Ikoyi registry is a money-spinning institution. Even the security officers working there find ways to make money for themselves. On one occasion when I was the official photographer to a couple getting married at Ikoyi registry, the security officers were manipulating the call-list as they collected bribe from those just coming in, to put their names on top of the list while those who did not ‘settle’ stayed for long, waiting for their turn. On that fateful day, the security officers were calling names of those that ‘settled’ and we were there for about two hours waiting. Then I approached the security guys and gave them N1,000 and within five minutes, we were called. Most of the registries in Lagos encourage corrupt practices.”

According to Wikipedia, there are two types of marriage registries to wit: the Federal Marriage Registry e.g. the Federal Marriage Registry at Ikoyi and the Local Government Marriage Registry located at each local council. The principal laws governing marriages in Nigeria are the Marriage Act of 1914 and Matrimonial Causes Act of 1970.

The marriage conducted in a marriage registry is called the court marriage because once such marriage has been conducted, it can only be dissolved by the State High Court, meaning it is only the High Court that has jurisdiction over such a marriage.

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