As Nigerians spend N18.4 trn per year on ceremonies: COVID-19 saves huge funds in wedding and burial costs


* The new normal is for ceremonies to remain subdued.

By Gladys Nweke

 The lockdown

The lockdown induced by COVID-19 meant that all the hustle and bustle of giving attention to side hustles on weekends have all evaporated. Now most parents spent more time with their kids watching television and playing video games. Others have had to endure multiple weekends of lost revenue; staying indoors meant that their personal finance was still intact. But things would change dramatically soon.

Mr John Noble got a call that he had just lost his aged mother to brief illness. She had been battling with a terminal illness for years, but things seemed to be under control so her death came as a surprise. Even as he grappled with the thought of losing his mother, Noble knew that he had to start making preparations for the expenses that are bound to come with burials in an African setting.

Thanks to the pandemic, and rules that came with it, Noble ended up spending much less than he would have for his mother’s burial with most of the funds going towards mortuary expenses, transport and the direct cost of the actual burial itself.

Noble said: “This COVID-19 is bad but it has saved me millions of naira that I would have spent in this burial.

I wanted to give my mom a befitting burial but these are hard times and I may have borrowed money just to fund this. But with COVID-19 and social distancing in place I did not have to do any of this”, Noble informed our reporter.

Noble’s gains translate to massive losses for a whole chain of service providers in the event management industry. Similar occurrences over the last few months have resulted in the loss of revenue for such businesses.

Events in Nigeria often cost anywhere between N500,000 and N100 million depending on the financial muscle of those spending. Burials, weddings, naming ceremonies and birthday parties, make a burgeoning industry that spans several sectors of the economy.

From mortuaries to casket makers, event planners, event halls rentals, professional mourners, caterers, confectionaries, party rentals, photographers, video editors, tailors, newspapers , etc, it’s an entire value chain of businesses that provide one service or the other for this industry.

Each of these events costs millions of naira to organize as many people as the budget can support. According to a CNN article quoting a report from TNS Global, Nigerians spend as much as $9,460 for a wedding ceremony. The report also indicates the party industry could be worth as high as $17 million based on statistics in 2017.

The math can be easily deducted. Assuming there are 50,000 ceremonies every weekend at an average cost of N1 million, that is a N50 billion per weekend or N2.7 trillion ($6.75 billion) per annum. GDP data from the National Bureau of Statistics indicates sectors that support the ceremonies market in Nigeria include telecoms, transportation, arts and entertainment is worth a combined N18.4 trillion.

Technology ceremonies
Nwaolisa, a partner at a top consulting firm in Nigeria admits that were it not for the pandemic, his wedding could have cost him about N15 million personally and another N20 million spent by family, friends, colleagues and well-wishers. He is in his forties and his wedding had been much anticipated.

He went ahead with his wedding last weekend with less than a dozen people in attendance and over 140 others logging on via Zoom.

He claims while he ended up not spending millions on food, drinks, wedding halls and other logistic costs, he still achieved his goal of getting married.

Necessity they say is the mother of invention. Now, as millions stay locked in homes, merry makers now resort to apps such as Zoom, Instagram Live, Microsoft Teams to hold virtual events. These days Zoom themed parties now have their own rules and conventions.

Friends from all parts of the world log in with each person taking turns to say nice things about the celebrants. Games are conducted to spice up the event and stories told by the celebrant. Music is also played by the Zoom host with participants dancing and having fun.

It is like watching a live movie and also being part of it as the audience. A participant and wedding planner informed Silver News online that whilst one cannot underrate the connection that physical socializing brings, virtual meetings are gradually becoming a lifestyle and that the longer social distancing continues its cultural significance will only continue to increase.

Chimenem Okocha, an event planner of an event management firm confirmed to Silver News that business has really slowed down in the last few months. Even though the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has now given rules to guide weddings and other events, the budget now is way less than it used to be due to the cap on numbers of guests.

Now, most events are kept within the premises of family residences, depriving hall rentals the money they could have made from leasing out their halls. Venue decorators also have much less on their hands to do, as they no longer have to decorate big halls.

According to her, every single business in the chain has been affected, from caterers to ushers.

Now, we even have to convince them to use one or two ushers for their events because they believe they don’t need ushers for 20 or 30 guests. Caterers cannot even cook a half bag of rice now because of the number of guests. This means that they are also paid less for their services, even if they expend the same energy and time she said.

The new normal in this industry means that the things that used to be prioritized are no longer priorities. Hand sanitisers, face masks and hand washing equipment are now compulsories in events, while the hand-shaking, and hugs that would have characterized such weddings

Due to the nature of the industry, a large percentage of the staff are kept on contract basis, so the reduction has not really translated into lay-offs. However, the industry revenue has been badly hit.A sales rep with Gladtidings Events, who preferred anonymity, noted that in the last three months, she has only been called twice for events.

Since this forms a major part of her income, it has caused a major dip in her resources. COVID-19 has brought unwanted hardship to the Nigerian economy with small businesses and workers in the informal sector suffering the most.

A recent World Bank report indicates that the Nigerian economy might contrast by as much as 3 per cent in GDP growth rate this year 2020. This informed government’s latest decision to inject about N2.3 trillion into the economy to spur economic growth.

The funds will be targeted at small businesses through non-collateralized low-interest loans. Whilst all these initiatives are geared towards stimulating the economy, the spending power of Nigerians will remain pivotal and as long as the pandemic persists and ceremonies will remain subdued.