Sometime before Christmas in 2016, a previously married Nigerian man who had lost his wife to cancer proposed to an Iranian model in Greece. In the space of six months after that, they got engaged in Lagos and tied the knot in London.
It was a lavish wedding of some $6 million. The groom was Folarin Alakija, son of one of Africa’s richest women Folorunsho. Not many Nigerians can pull that off. The Dangotes hosted Bill Gates at a wedding this year but probably did not hit Alakija’s numbers. However, the worth of the table at the wedding remains a sensation. And it was done in Nigeria.
Every other Saturday in a year, the whiff of wedding rice can be perceived at a church hall, event centre or, if you are in some unfortunate part of Lagos, a closed street near you. Bridal trains and cake sizes may differ, but true love is usually so strong in the air that solemnization must end in a shindig or spree.
The Nigerian ‘wedding economy’ is worth millions of dollars these days. It is inspiring start-ups from mobile toilets companies to wedding planning schools. If this wasn’t a good thing, they wouldn’t have made back-to-back hundred million naira films about wedding parties in the last two years (never mind the second of the two was… just there).
Apparently, the boom in wedding business is also a clear banner of Nigeria’s inequality problems. Writing in Stears Business, Fadekemi Abiru sees the glitters of the wedding economy as reflective of the social imbalance in the Nigerian society that should be challenged one way or another.
“The lavish lifestyles of Nigeria’s wealthy population (as evidenced by upscale weddings), while many in the country continue to get poorer, should be a major concern to policymakers” writes Abiru. She sees a solution to the inequality gap exemplified by these boisterous weddings in “proactive policies aimed at redistributing wealth” which “will go further in generating real growth than any trickle down from the next socialite couple to say ‘I do’”.
Moral lesson: Those big weddings cannot be relied on to get people out of the lower class. So people should not have money in obscene amounts to spend on the event.
It is true too many Nigerians live in extreme poverty. It is unfair and must be solved but not by willing that people did not spend so much at weddings. In fact, the current prosperity of the wedding economy should be a bar below which we should not descend.
Nigerians are splashing hard on wines for weddings. In 2013, we were ranked the second highest consumers of Champagne in the world behind France. It means we import a lot, but the volume also means someone had to think of the idea like Drinks.ng to deliver large crates to events like weddings. That idea creates jobs and adds to the tax base. Now, imagine some Nigerian genius finds a way to make palm wine classy enough for wedding parties; would that be a good or bad thing for the economy? Imagine Nigeria begins to properly export palm wine because of a wedding-party inspired invention!
Tara Fela Durotoye and TY Bello began their much revered careers from weddings gigs. Same applies to many other celebrated names of the last decade including Funke Bucknor-Obruthe, a brand as far wedding planning is concerned in Nigeria. When Ebuka Obi-Uchendu broke the internet by wearing an Ugo Monye agbada for the traditional marriage of the Wellingtons, it spurred local designers to flood their Instagram and WhatsApp with their designs. Lavish as they are, something good is coming from Nigerian weddings.
What we should be advocating is not redistribution. What we need is for more people to have access to hone these skills and capabilities that are now integral to the wedding economy: make-up artistry (now a full-time job for many), bespoke suits and gowns designs, photography, and digital marketing with the desire for weddings to trend on social media now par for the course. Don’t forget small chops and food can never be perfect; if you are a better cook than the vendor at my friend’s wedding, you will be considered above him or her for mine. Period.
We should also advocate more mediums that make capable people more visible to clients. They should be designed in ways that project the vendors’ competence, dependability and professionalism. Trust remains the major obstacle in dealing with local vendors. ‘Nigerian factors’ means it may take a while to solve but increase in the supply pool due to technological advances means we are getting there fast. More of such platforms that give a sense of trust and availability to clients are coming up; I am privileged to be on a team working to launch one in the coming weeks. The opportunities to be at the service of a bride or groom are about to become more available than ever.
In case it has to be said, your wedding does not have to be lavish. Abiru’s drift sounds like Nigeria will be a better place if all our weddings could appear on Bellanaija, but we will not all have celebrity weddings. Everyone will have to choose how to celebrate their own big day remembering that life continues in the morning. As I listened to the live band at an uncle’s wedding six years ago, I thought: “At my own wedding, it will be Shania Twain singing ‘You’re Still the One’”. I am not so sure about that anymore; she remains a favorite of mine but Johnny Drille and Simi have been impressive! Whatever happens, a 1000-guest splash or distributing takeaways after a Tuesday morning Mass, I’m looking forward to it being one of the best days of my life, in no comparison to any other person’s.
And, it should be a good day for at least one business owner too.
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform