The big con­tract

Nige­ria’s wed­ding plan­ners

The Africa Report - - CONTENTS - By Eromo Eg­be­jule in La­gos

Decked in a three-piece, snow white ag­bada with fila to match and a leather purse tucked un­der his left arm, a ‘big man’ steps out of his car. To his side his wife or a fe­male com­pan­ion, primed as arm candy, is in a brightly coloured aso ebi with a gele ex­tend­ing sky­wards, the big­ger the bet­ter. Two or three women dash to him, dan­gling bun­dles of crisp 100-naira and 200-naira notes. They are the mon­ey­chang­ers who will take his for­eign cur­rency or 1,000-naira and 500-naira notes and ex­change them – for a fee – for lower de­nom­i­na­tions to lengthen the time he will ‘spray’ the cou­ple dur­ing their first dance. The cul­ture of spray­ing – dex­ter­ously flick­ing off naira notes in one hand with the thumb of the other to rest mo­men­tar­ily on the bride, be­fore slith­er­ing to the floor – is an op­por­tu­nity for mon­ey­bags and so­cial climbers to draw at­ten­tion to them­selves un­der the pre­text of be­ing a sup­port­ive friend. “It’s an op­por­tu­nity for many peo­ple to show off their sta­tus and fine dresses,” says Ali­cia Odemwingie, who got mar­ried in a lav­ish wed­ding last Septem­ber in Benin City. “But also for the cou­ple to re­coup money spent on the wed­ding. My hus­band de­cided to po­si­tion one or two peo­ple at the en­trance to help them change money for a to­ken.” Only a few years ago those want­ing to spray would have vis­ited the bank the day be­fore or re­stricted their spend­ing to just a few notes. But money-chang­ers are one in a long line of jobs that have come to be thanks to the evo­lu­tion of the Nige­rian wed­ding. Big wed­dings can be as ex­pen­sive as you like. Some bud­gets can come in at N2m ($6,500), while those that want to pull out all the stops can spend as much as N30m.

“Peo­ple are us­ing he­li­copters to leave the church wed­ding and ar­rive at the re­cep­tion,” says Tolu­lope Ba­lo­gun, a ra­dio pre­sen­ter at 99.3 Nige­ria Info. “It’s a new trend. My friend last year wanted to do it but she couldn’t be­cause there was nowhere for the he­li­copter to land at the church.” “It is no joke,” she adds. “Par­tic­u­larly in La­gos. A laser-cut iro and buba from [fash­ion de­signer] De­ola Sa­goe can eas­ily run over a mil­lion naira alone.” Ev­ery true party-goer in La­gos knows that as im­por­tant as pre­dict­ing the traf­fic sit­u­a­tion and turn­ing up in flam­boy­ant out­fits is the abil­ity to find a se­cure park­ing space. It is to touts and park­ing at­ten­dants like Ji­moh Olai­tan that they turn to for in­struc­tions. The fa­ther-oftwo leads a three-per­son crew who eke out a liv­ing park­ing ve­hi­cles around visa-ap­pli­ca­tion cen­tres on week­days and event halls on week­ends, in Lekki, a sub­urb in the city’s is­land district. By the end of the night, each car owner will have given them tips of N200-N500 each.

MOVERS AND SHAK­ERS

Nige­rian wed­dings are the hall­marks of high so­ci­ety, a glassy show­case of op­u­lence crammed into one day while guests en­joy the ‘movers and shak­ers of Nige­rian so­ci­ety paint­ing the city red’, as tabloids are wont to de­scribe the day. The cer­e­monies come in a se­quence: the in­tro­duc­tion of the groom to the bride’s fam­ily af­ter the en­gage­ment, then na­tive law and cus­tom, fol­lowed by the church wed­ding and a grand re­cep­tion. For re­cently mar­ried Odemwingie, af­ter ini­tially set­tling for 400 guests, her par­ents and in-laws dou­bled the list, so their bud­get in­creased ac­cord­ingly. “My mother told me that ev­ery­one she knew had to be at the wed­ding. She looked at me point blank and said: ‘Don’t you know this is is also my wed­ding?’” And as ev­ery Satur­day is party o’clock across Nige­ria, for reg­u­lar gate­crash­ers find­ing a wed­ding re­cep­tion is only a mat­ter of pa­tience. It is the party that mat­ters: food and drinks are usu­ally over­flow­ing as the par­ents of both groom and bride fall over each other to im­press the at­ten­dees and etch their names in the an­nals of glam­orous his­tory. With plenty guests come great ex­pec­ta­tions. The task of en­sur­ing first im­pres­sions are well taken care of, and that the who’s who of town are all present, falls to the wed­ding plan­ner. It’s an ar­du­ous job as much as it is a sat­is­fy­ing one, says La­gos-based plan­ner Ngozi Rume Otog­bolu. Once she got a brief where the fam­ily of the bride specif­i­cally in­structed that the guests should not be al­lowed to in­ter­fere with the run­ning of the day. As a re­sult she was the tar­get of eye­balling and rude com­ments as her staff bat­ted away friends and rel­a­tives of both fam­i­lies who wanted to ex­ert un­due in­flu­ence to get food early. Once the mer­ry­mak­ers are seated, they have to stay alert for when the true spice of ev­ery modern Nige­rian party – fin­ger foods or ‘small chops’ – passes by be­fore the main din­ner is served. Some­times wed­ding plan­ners have to work with as many as 10 to 20 dif­fer­ent ser­vice-providers, Otog­bolu says. “Ev­ery wed­ding is dif­fer­ent. We have to hire ush­ers, DJS, live band, food ven­dors, drinks ven­dors, dé­cor and con­fetti peo­ple, bounc­ers and, in some cases, even light­ing and spe­cial-ef­fects ven­dors ac­cord­ing to the bud­get and pref­er­ences of the bride and her fam­ily. Some clients also let you han­dle cin­e­matog­ra­phy book­ings.” In the past even wed­ding plan­ners were not a big deal. “Ten years ago, there were plan­ners al­ready,” Otog­bolu says. “But the mar­ket wasn’t as big and we were not as ap­pre­ci­ated as we are to­day.” Plan­ners some­times also get the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pick­ing the life of the party – the wed­ding MC. He is the one who trans­forms a wed­ding from a ner­vous and bor­ing choral af­fair to a full-on party with jokes bursting with in­nu­en­dos and re­pur­posed clichés. In the past, the job of wed­ding com­pere was usu­ally a favour done by a friend of the cou­ple, but as in-de­mand wed­ding MC Tomiwa Kukoyi has found out, the role has ac­quired a life of its own.

“A lot has changed for this gen­er­a­tion,” the 29-year-old, who is also an ac­tor, points out. “Kids born in 1994 are now get­ting mar­ried. The game has im­proved tremen­dously so MCS earn bet­ter, are more en­gaged and con­stantly in de­mand.” Com­peres can earn any­thing from N250,000 to N2m per wed­ding, plus lo­gis­tics costs if the wed­ding is out­side La­gos. Kukoyi has had to turn down many wed­dings for clash­ing with his booked sched­ules. The same higher stakes have buoyed the ca­reers of an­other band of cre­atives : pho­tog­ra­phers and cin­e­matog­ra­phers. “Peo­ple love wed­ding mem­o­ries just like they did years ago,” says Ipinayo Ade Ak­ing­boye, a La­gos-based pho­tog­ra­pher who gets called to doc­u­ment hap­pi­ness at least once a month. “But a lot more peo­ple now care about how they look on their wed­ding day and so­cial me­dia has helped in in­creas­ing our au­di­ence.”

CALL­ING THE SHOTS

Her cam­era gear is in­sured and the cost of that is re­flected in the go­ing price. All event long, she will comb the venue tak­ing shots from ev­ery imag­in­able an­gle with an as­sis­tant, then pro­duce pho­to­books and framed pic­tures af­ter­wards. But long be­fore rev­ellers be­gin to pre­pare to wine, dine and cheer, she is al­ready at the ma­ter­nal home of the bride to take Bella Naija-wor­thy pho­tos of the day’s belle. Self-ac­claimed as Africa’s top wed­ding web­site, Bella Naija Wed­dings has el­e­vated wed­dings from rou­tine cer­e­monies to awe-in­spir­ing art sta­tus. In cer­tain cir­cles, a wed­ding is not con­sid­ered up to stan­dard if it does not make the Bella Naija blog or Instagram ac­count – which has over two mil­lion fol­low­ers, even though most of the fea­tures are paid ads. The de­sire of the bride to look good enough ‘for the gram’ has driven up the de­mand for make-up artists, so much so that some like Kaka Eve-of­fiah shut­tle across the coun­try to do ‘face beats’, earn­ing as much as N200,000 per event. Other celebrity make-up artists are known to charge closer to N1m. “The process of trans­form­ing peo­ple is emo­tional”, Eve-of­fiah states mat­ter-of-factly. “It even shows in their car­riage af­ter­wards […] their con­fi­dence level is boosted and gen­er­ally their day be­comes bet­ter.” The job of de­tect­ing con­fi­dence lev­els at the cer­e­mony and es­ti­mat­ing their per­sonal worth falls to the praise singers – called alaga in Yoruba – who sing and drum till they get money gifts. For those like the big man de­scribed above who are dressed to kill, they swarm around like an army of lo­custs till they are sated. In the dis­tance, the touts who helped them se­cure a good park­ing space will hang around their cars, wait­ing pa­tiently for their re­turn. “This is our own of­fice,” says park­ing at­ten­dant Olai­tan of his in­for­mal hus­tle in a smat­ter­ing of Yoruba and pid­gin English. “I make up to ten thou­sand naira ev­ery day and share with my boys. It is our share of the na­tional cake.”

A Yoruba bride dances dur­ing the tra­di­tional in­tro­duc­tion to the groom’s fam­ily

Clock­wise from right: Ex­trav­a­gant cock­tails match­ing the bridal party’s colours add to the fes­tive at­mos­phere; pro­fes­sional wed­ding MCS are in high de­mand to en­ter­tain guests and get them up on the dance floor; pro­fes­sional make-up is es­sen­tial, for close-ups will be dis­played for all to see on Instagram

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