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The Show Must Go On – What does the recession mean for Nigerian weddings?

As the recession bites will we continue to see such glamorous weddings in Bella Naija and on Instagram? How will those planning their weddings in 2017 be affected?  When previously engaged couples and their families spared no expense on the “big day”, now surely they are asking doubtfully, what price to say “I do”.

Wedding season actually begins in February, when, on Valentine’s Day a significant number of proposals are made and then there is a rush to book venue dates for those all-important Christmas weddings.

Recently the film The Wedding Party officially became the biggest Nollywood movie of all time, an obvious indication of the significance of weddings in the Nigerian society. It seems certain  that the culture of Nigerian weddings can be compared to no other.

But as our obsession with lavish weddings grows and we pledge more and more money to being sent off in style is there are darker side to the wedding phenomenon?  Can our love of extravagant weddings truly be justified in this economic climate and what does it say about our society when we are willing to risk everything just to put on the best show?

There’s a scene in The Wedding Party where the reception is underway at a swanky hotel. The guests are eating, the music is playing, the bride and groom are all smiles. The flower arrangements are perfect, the chandeliers sparkling and then the party planner approaches the father of the bride and whispers that the cake makers are refusing to release the cake without payment. The father starts sweating profusely and going to the back of the hall, begs and harangues down the phone for them to release the cake – that he will satisfy the debt soon. It’s clear that all is not as it seems. The proceedings are hanging by a delicate thread and he is in his own private hell, trying to finance this spectacle of smiles.

Art imitating life?

“I think there is an element of “I want the biggest wedding and I also want everyone to see it.” says Tosin Otudeko, writer of The Wedding Party, the film that has taken over 400 million Naira and counting at the box office.

Much has been made of the national penchant for big extravagant weddings. Extravagant is relative but we all trying to do more than we can really afford it seems. Back in 2014 Forbes Magazine caused waves when it reported how the elite spend over six hundred million Naira  ($2million) on the wedding of their dreams. Compared to the UK, which bequeathed us the ‘white wedding’ trend started by Queen Victoria in the 1840s,  the average wedding costs eight million Naira (£12,000) and even the very wealthy British favor more low-key weddings, intimate affairs with family and close friends, a country home or castle. Two hundred guests really is pushing the boat out. In Nigeria it’s not unusual to throw two or even three weddings, by the time you’ve done the ancestral home, the Lagos trad and then the overseas white in Marbella, Cape Town or Paris. According to Newton and David wedding planners talking to Forbes, a wedding of over 2 million dollars is somewhat normal for them.

In 2015, The Daily Mail Online British publication reported “Super rich Nigerian couples, who spent £150,000 on Bubbly, £100,000 on a dress and £6000 on favours.” In the article, the CEO of Prive Luxury Events Ruth Asien explains, “It is not unusual to spend a million. One of the weddings I planned spent £50,000 on just flowers.”

We spoke to a number of wedding industry experts for their views on how our spending has changed since that Forbes article. The reality seems to be that even though we are in the grip of a recession and political uncertainty,  our attitudes to weddings have barely changed, if at all.

“Weddings in Nigeria are recession proof because weddings are very emotional and it happens only once.” said elite wedding photographer, Wani Olatunde who routinely photographs weddings and pre-or post-wedding shoots. “If anything maybe people are getting a little stricter on the amount of people they invite but brides want what they want and they’re willing to pay for it so they see it as an investment that’s probably going to happen only once,” explains Olatunde.  “Maybe it would be a little bit quiet on what they’re spending and it wouldn’t be on social media but there are still definitely a lot of extravagant weddings especially towards the end of last year. The recession hasn’t slowed anybody down.”

But for seems people still want to outdo their peers in throwing their weddings but perhaps don’t want to attract negative outside attention.

When Zara Buhari prepared her wedding to the son of billionaire Mohammed Indimi, media attention was sparked by the arrival of 30 Louis Vuitton suitcases as a gift to the bride from her groom.  Attempts were hastily made to play down the obvious extravagance of the looming wedding.

The Wedding Party, written by Otudeko and directed by Kemi Adetiba gives viewers a somewhat realistic insight into some aspects of Nigerian weddings in the 21st century. The film provides different scenarios, which can easily be analysed and compared to real life scenarios being experienced at Nigerian weddings. There’s the competition and rivalry between the two families, the battle of unwanted and surplus guests, the acknowledgement of money overspent and of course the shift of focus from the couple to other social matters on ground. Otudeko explains the idea of weddings being used as “entertainment”, perhaps this idea is represented in the huge break in the Nigerian box office. She talks further about the film being a representation of real life as Otudeko explains, “I think there is an element of “I want the biggest wedding and I also want everyone to see it.” …You have weddings where one family is more affluent than the other and one of them feels they have to show off, there is that kind of competition… there will always be a cross-section of Nigerians who want their name mentioned in the papers or want their sons being mentioned as big boys.”

And what is driving the competition? Could it be Instagram?

“With social media, the trends are seen immediately and someone else wants the wedding another person had…People want to be remembered as having the best wedding…Next week someone else can be the new king or queen.”- Funke Bucknor, wedding planner.

 

The problem with the extravagance is that it puts undue pressure on the families involved but does it enhance the romance or the significance of the day for the couple or even the guests?

Have you ever found yourself at a wedding when you have absolutely no connection to bride and groom? Spent a ridiculous amount of money buying aso ebi just to fit into the grand festivities or have you become a serial wedding goer due to the endless social prospects?

While people are not so keen to come forward to discuss the downsides of the extravagance, the evidence of people impacted by the pressure is online for all to see.  The following makes painful reading.

“About three years ago, I used most of my savings to pay for my daughter’s marriage. She’s the only girl though we have two other male children. Shortly after she got married, I lost a lot of money through the crash of the stock market. I’m trying to find my feet financially, though it’s not been easy. My wife has a bit of an income and that helps. You can then imagine how I felt when my daughter announced recently that the marriage was over. I couldn’t believe it. Neither could my wife. Understandably, she should leave a marriage she’s unhappy in, but I’m really angry that I’m left almost destitute, thanks to a wedding that means nothing now. She doesn’t know how much I spent on the wedding and how much money I have lost, but sometimes I feel like telling her, so she’s aware. Thank goodness she has a son to show for the charade, but why let us spend that much money?”

Another commentator.

“Many Nigerians spend stupidly and lavishly for their weddings then when its time to provide for their homes, they are now broke… Sooner or later you’ll start regretting spending too much on a days ceremony and subconsciously start hating your

spouse for it.”

And even aside from the expense, there’s the stress of planning.

A recent anonymous bride who tied the knot in January complains, “The most stressful part of planning my wedding even with a wedding planner was having to deal with all the vendors, you have to make sure that they get it right.”

However how much worse would the Nigerian economy be  without people spending on weddings like they do?

The most positive outcome of commoditised weddings in Nigeria is the variety of steady job opportunities it offers to many Nigerians looking to grow and upgrade their businesses. The wedding industry has truly evolved as renowned wedding planner Funke Bucknor explains:

“Before there were just a few people but now the wedding industry is booming with so many people, we would do events in our backyards but now we are having them in venues and different locations.”

Due to the regular nature of our weddings, you can be absolutely sure of cashing out if you’re in the business of bringing lavish Nigerian weddings to life, particularly if you excel at it. Celebrity makeup artist and educator Maero of Swish Signature speaks about the importance of weddings for her business. She explains, “It is where we get to show off the best of our work, they pay the most…we even have makeup artists for guests who come to the studio before the weddings.”

Besides the makeup artist, there’s other vendors such as the food, décor and lighting, photographers, waiters, bouncers… the list goes on.

In the end it is clear that regardless of your gender, age, class and religion, wedding practices in our society have always been of great importance, and will continue to be for decades to come.  The wedding is still our way of communicating that.

“Our culture is a celebratory culture,” concludes Bucknor.  “We celebrate everything. When you are celebrating something you must tell everybody about it.”

There’s a scene in The Wedding Party where the reception is underway at a swanky hotel. The guests are eating, the music is playing, the bride and groom are all smiles. The flower arrangements are perfect, the chandeliers sparkling and then the party planner approaches the father of the bride and whispers that the cake makers are refusing to release the cake without payment. The father starts sweating profusely and going to the back of the hall, begs and harangues down the phone for them to release the cake – that he will satisfy the debt soon. It’s clear that all is not as it seems. The proceedings are hanging by a delicate thread and he is in his own private hell, trying to finance this spectacle of smiles.

Art imitating life?

“I think there is an element of “I want the biggest wedding and I also want everyone to see it.” says Tosin Otudeko, writer of The Wedding Party, the film that has taken over 400 million Naira and counting at the box office.

Much has been made of the national penchant for big extravagant weddings. Extravagant is relative but we all trying to do more than we can really afford it seems. Back in 2014 Forbes Magazine caused waves when it reported how the elite spend over six hundred million Naira  ($2million) on the wedding of their dreams. Compared to the UK, which bequeathed us the ‘white wedding’ trend started by Queen Victoria in the 1840s,  the average wedding costs eight million Naira (£12,000) and even the very wealthy British favor more low-key weddings, intimate affairs with family and close friends, a country home or castle. Two hundred guests really is pushing the boat out. In Nigeria it’s not unusual to throw two or even three weddings, by the time you’ve done the ancestral home, the Lagos trad and then the overseas white in Marbella, Cape Town or Paris. According to Newton and David wedding planners talking to Forbes, a wedding of over 2 million dollars is somewhat normal for them.

In 2015, The Daily Mail Online British publication reported “Super rich Nigerian couples, who spent £150,000 on Bubbly, £100,000 on a dress and £6000 on favours.” In the article, the CEO of Prive Luxury Events Ruth Asien explains, “It is not unusual to spend a million. One of the weddings I planned spent £50,000 on just flowers.”

We spoke to a number of wedding industry experts for their views on how our spending has changed since that Forbes article. The reality seems to be that even though we are in the grip of a recession and political uncertainty,  our attitudes to weddings have barely changed, if at all.

 

“Weddings in Nigeria are recession proof because weddings are very emotional and it happens only once.” said elite wedding photographer, Wani Olatunde who routinely photographs weddings and pre-or post-wedding shoots. “If anything maybe people are getting a little stricter on the amount of people they invite but brides want what they want and they’re willing to pay for it so they see it as an investment that’s probably going to happen only once,” explains Olatunde.  “Maybe it would be a little bit quiet on what they’re spending and it wouldn’t be on social media but there are still definitely a lot of extravagant weddings especially towards the end of last year. The recession hasn’t slowed anybody down.”

But for seems people still want to outdo their peers in throwing their weddings but perhaps don’t want to attract negative outside attention.

When Zara Buhari prepared her wedding to the son of billionaire Mohammed Indimi, media attention was sparked by the arrival of 30 Louis Vuitton suitcases as a gift to the bride from her groom.  Attempts were hastily made to play down the obvious extravagance of the looming wedding.

The Wedding Party, written by Otudeko and directed by Kemi Adetiba gives viewers a somewhat realistic insight into some aspects of Nigerian weddings in the 21st century. The film provides different scenarios, which can easily be analysed and compared to real life scenarios being experienced at Nigerian weddings. There’s the competition and rivalry between the two families, the battle of unwanted and surplus guests, the acknowledgement of money overspent and of course the shift of focus from the couple to other social matters on ground. Otudeko explains the idea of weddings being used as “entertainment”, perhaps this idea is represented in the huge break in the Nigerian box office. She talks further about the film being a representation of real life as Otudeko explains, “I think there is an element of “I want the biggest wedding and I also want everyone to see it.” …You have weddings where one family is more affluent than the other and one of them feels they have to show off, there is that kind of competition… there will always be a cross-section of Nigerians who want their name mentioned in the papers or want their sons being mentioned as big boys.”

And what is driving the competition? Could it be Instagram?

“With social media, the trends are seen immediately and someone else wants the wedding another person had…People want to be remembered as having the best wedding…Next week someone else can be the new king or queen.”- Funke Bucknor, wedding planner.

 

The problem with the extravagance is that it puts undue pressure on the families involved but does it enhance the romance or the significance of the day for the couple or even the guests?

Have you ever found yourself at a wedding when you have absolutely no connection to bride and groom? Spent a ridiculous amount of money buying aso ebi just to fit into the grand festivities or have you become a serial wedding goer due to the endless social prospects?

While people are not so keen to come forward to discuss the downsides of the extravagance, the evidence of people impacted by the pressure is online for all to see.  The following makes painful reading.

“About three years ago, I used most of my savings to pay for my daughter’s marriage. She’s the only girl though we have two other male children. Shortly after she got married, I lost a lot of money through the crash of the stock market. I’m trying to find my feet financially, though it’s not been easy. My wife has a bit of an income and that helps. You can then imagine how I felt when my daughter announced recently that the marriage was over. I couldn’t believe it. Neither could my wife. Understandably, she should leave a marriage she’s unhappy in, but I’m really angry that I’m left almost destitute, thanks to a wedding that means nothing now. She doesn’t know how much I spent on the wedding and how much money I have lost, but sometimes I feel like telling her, so she’s aware. Thank goodness she has a son to show for the charade, but why let us spend that much money?”

Another commentator.

“Many Nigerians spend stupidly and lavishly for their weddings then when its time to provide for their homes, they are now broke… Sooner or later you’ll start regretting spending too much on a days ceremony and subconsciously start hating your

spouse for it.”

And even aside from the expense, there’s the stress of planning.

A recent anonymous bride who tied the knot in January complains, “The most stressful part of planning my wedding even with a wedding planner was having to deal with all the vendors, you have to make sure that they get it right.”

However how much worse would the Nigerian economy be  without people spending on weddings like they do?

The most positive outcome of commoditised weddings in Nigeria is the variety of steady job opportunities it offers to many Nigerians looking to grow and upgrade their businesses. The wedding industry has truly evolved as renowned wedding planner Funke Bucknor explains:

“Before there were just a few people but now the wedding industry is booming with so many people, we would do events in our backyards but now we are having them in venues and different locations.”

Due to the regular nature of our weddings, you can be absolutely sure of cashing out if you’re in the business of bringing lavish Nigerian weddings to life, particularly if you excel at it. Celebrity makeup artist and educator Maero of Swish Signature speaks about the importance of weddings for her business. She explains, “It is where we get to show off the best of our work, they pay the most…we even have makeup artists for guests who come to the studio before the weddings.”

Besides the makeup artist, there’s other vendors such as the food, décor and lighting, photographers, waiters, bouncers… the list goes on.

In the end it is clear that regardless of your gender, age, class and religion, wedding practices in our society have always been of great importance, and will continue to be for decades to come.  The wedding is still our way of communicating that.

“Our culture is a celebratory culture,” concludes Bucknor.  “We celebrate everything. When you are celebrating something you must tell everybody about it.”

 


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