With coronavirus, Nigeria’s multibillion naira wedding industry forced to its knees

Ademola Adedigba with his fiancée, Halimah Sulaiman
Ademola Adedigba with his fiancée, Halimah Sulaiman

When Ademola Adedigba proposed to his girlfriend, Halimah Sulaiman, last November, it was only a matter of time for him to claim his bride once they had their wedding in March this year.

Mr Adedigba met his fiancée four years ago at a social gathering of a family friend and almost immediately, they began their love affair.

Two years later, when he felt assured he had found the love of his life, he went down on his knees and popped the question.

Their wedding plans began almost immediately.

But then, the coronavirus pandemic hit, shattering all their plans.

At first, like many Nigerians, Mr Adedigba felt undeterred by the outbreak of the virus which was first recorded in December in faraway China.

But when the index case of COVID-19 was reported in Nigeria, fear began to creep in. It was not until 10 days to his big day that he came to the harsh realisation that his wedding plans were just heading down the drain.

“About 10 days to the wedding date, I started having a feeling that all my efforts were going down the drain. I never saw it coming,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.

Not long after, the Nigerian government placed restrictions on movement in some states and high-density gatherings, to enforce social distancing order—measures seen as stringent to halt the spread of the virus.

Mr Adedigba said it was the final straw that upended his several-month old plans.

Across the globe, the pandemic has plunged many would-be couples as well as the wedding industry into a state of uncertainty with planners and vendors scrambling to figure what to do in a situation that is so unlike any in recent times.

Having to determine whether to postpone or cancel their weddings, many couples who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said they were faced with a series of difficulties overtaking their final decisions.

‘Stuck in limbo, crestfallen’

Having one’s wedding plans toppled upside down is no small thing to deal in the grand scheme of things.

For Mr Adedigba, coming to terms with the harsh reality was enough emotional damage to his soul.

Not only was he heartbroken about the amount of time and resources that had been invested in planning the big day, but he was also crestfallen and could not come up with what to do next.

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“I felt sure nothing was going to stop the day, we had done all the preliminary arrangements of hall reservation, souvenirs and all.

“I was really heartbroken when I saw all that was going to amount to nothing. My wife is yet to recover from it,” he said.

Asked what he did afterward, he said a family consensus suggested the wedding be postponed till the end of the pandemic.

Like Mr Adedigba, it was hard for Gloria Ugbede to accept that her wedding plans would be crushed by a pandemic.

“I had so much faith that my wedding would hold no matter what. Even when people said we should postpone, I said no; it will hold. I just needed my parents and my fiancé’s parents to be available.

“But it’s a pity we had to postpone it,” she said.

For Ms Ugbede, this year had begun on a cheerful and promising note. As most bride-to-be would feel, she had a great time fantasising about marital life that lies ahead of her.

Not only was she preparing for the wedding, she was also receiving marriage lessons.

As the first child in the family, she was preparing for a first-of-its-kind wedding party that would make relatives in the extended family green with envy.

That was before the coronavirus pandemic ruptured societal norms.

But the pandemic lockdown has dampened her energy and now, she’s not sure if she could have her dream wedding after normalcy is restored.

“I don’t how it will feel to start planning again. I may not have my dream wedding again,” she said.

‘Not all gloomy’

As for Maymunah Shuaib who was to be the happiest bride on earth on March 28, it wasn’t all doom that her wedding was postponed as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“I didn’t feel bad, because I know we will still do it,” she said.

The Ilorin-based bride-to-be said she could only thank God for His mercy.

She noted that though some items to be used on one of the days scheduled for her three-day engagement and Nikkah (Muslim wedding) ceremony were laid to waste because the Kwara State government had issued a lockdown order a day before.

“I thank Allah (Alhamdulilah) that we had not started the programme before the enforcement of order took effect. That would have pained me more because everything would have gone into waste.

“But some items were wasted because we had been preparing for the Wolimat Quran before dey announced no movement and gathering,” she said.

‘We forged ahead’

Amid strict order against hosting more than 50 people in a gathering, Lois Ugome married the love of her life, Emmanuel Obiejemba, on March 28.

It was partially a dream come true for Lois who had always wanted a large-scale wedding party.

But the Jos-based bride was happy she saw the end of months of planning her wedding.

Plateau State is one of the states that have not been touched by the pandemic but there are restrictions on movement and mass gathering in the state.

Describing the decision to go ahead with the wedding plans amid the Coronavirus pandemic, she said, “it was tough.”

“I’m a lady who had this dream of a big wedding, but as fate would have it, I had a small one with my friends and family,” she said.

She told PREMIUM TIMES how they stuck to the restriction order to large gatherings.

“Some of my relations and in-laws who came in a week to the wedding were asked to go home on Friday, a day to the wedding because they had to travel back to their homes to avoid being affected if the lockdown happens here in Jos,” she said.

Asked if the pandemic lockdown affected her plans, she related how the venue of the wedding had to be changed from the initial venue (her church) to her husband’s church within a day.

“The changes were rapid as the news came in,” she said.

“It was tough, but I was marrying someone I love. That’s what mattered.”

She said they could not postpone the wedding because of a disease-related circumstance. She said the flame of their love is stronger than any force.

“Well did we have a guarantee when all these will end?: What makes an ideal wedding? Crowd circumstances or the paparazzi? Love conquers all,” she said.

Unlike her, Khadija Omobola, a Lagos resident, wanted her wedding postponed till the world is back in its normal state.

When the index case was reported in Lagos, she had little fear that it might somehow affect her wedding plans.

Then her mounting fears were blown when the first case escalated to over a hundred cases, she knew her wedding plans were hitting rock bottom.

But for both parents’ advice, she threw the idea of postponing her wedding away and went ahead before President Muhammad Buhari declared a total lockdown in Lagos and two other states—Ogun and FCT.

“Though I was disturbed about the development, I wanted it postponed. But our parents advised us, and we lectured ourselves because everything needed was on the ground.

“We had spent lots of money likewise our parents, so there was a reason why things ended up the way they did and we are grateful to Allah despite all odds,” she said.

The couple had a closed wedding graced by only close family members totalling 12 people.

The bride said she wanted a large crowd and had even rented a hall with over 500 capacity but the money had not been refunded.

“I had to cancel a hall reservation at Brainfield in Lagos that amounted ₦270,000. They are yet to refund us the money; actually they refuse to give us back because, according to them, it’s not their fault; the government declared a lockdown.

“I have called my lawyer and we are still on it,” she said.

Crumbling business

The Nigerian wedding industry is worth millions of dollars, according to the market research group, TNS Global.

A Nigerian wedding can cost up to $9,460-$13,515 with guest lists matching the super-sized budget as some weddings in the country cater to an average of 500 guests.

But in the wake of the global pandemic, many industries including the wedding industry—a fast-growing sector in Nigeria— have been forced to their knees.

It was not until March when the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) advised against gatherings of 50 people or more during the pandemic that the coronavirus-driven death knell hit the industry.

The chaotic fallout in business for wedding planners, vendors, DJs, caterers have caused enough pain to bear in the age of pandemic.

“Business has been greatly affected,” Chalya Wuyep, CEO, 601 event, said.

The Abuja-based event planner said there was a serious scramble to cancel or postpone upcoming wedding dates, which in turn has impacted the economic hardship on professionals in the events industry especially the informal workers who are often paid wages daily.

“I have had to postpone or strike out the wedding schedules of my clients these past months. There are growing concerns that clients might be lost to this pandemic.

“But I feel sorry for my clients who have to go through the trauma of postponing weddings, I advise them on what is good for them and anything the government is trying to bring back normalcy is good for them. That’s what I advise them.

“But of course, I’m embittered by the effect it would have more on informal workers in the industry—the vendors, waiters, caterers, DJs and all,” she said.

However, she is optimistic business will boom once the world is restored to its original as she foresees a intense competition to secure venue slots available after the pandemic.

She advised that wedding vendors should not be greedy about the number of businesses that would come in at the time.

Like Chalya, Nelly Wellington, CEO, Wellington events, also believed there were glints at the end of the tunnel.

“Rescheduling will soon be pouring once the society ultimately returns to a significant shade of normal within the few months. We are hopeful,” she said.



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