Extravagant weddings and Nigerian society

(By Henry C. Edebeatu)

By and large, every girl’s profound dream is about being a queen on her wedding day.  Agreed that wedding is supposed to be an intriguing affair but should millions of naira be squandered to thrill people some of whom would come bearing expression of deprivation and grief. In many homes where much has been expended for the occasion are relatives, who despite their struggle, have not been able to cross the line of destitution.

SOME social critics believe that our social values are part of what is disturbing our society.  It means that if we feel disenchanted with the economy and political plundering, we should as much be upset with the current social ills and culture.  Reshaping these values may well be the hole we need to block in order to get out of the whole quandary which has wrapped us for years.  Images of extravagant marriages and wedding ceremonies are common and they remind us of several of the areas our society is being screwed.

   Admittedly, marriage is considered as an exceptionally significant institution which dates back centuries ago. Nevertheless, the origin of wedding is not very clear and seemingly, there was no law governing it until societies began to incorporate it in their culture.

   Evidently, what was dominant during the regime of our forefathers is the traditional engagement where the prospective groom and his relations would go to their bride’s home to pay her parents some money, commonly known as the bride price.  The payment is to convince the bride’s parents that the groom is capable of taking care of their daughter.  And once that was done, a day would be secured for escorting the bride to the bridegroom’s house.  Surely, there were associated engagement events but not on the scale we see today.  Currently, the extent of wedding events is truly undefined and wide; usually dependent on cash, influence and families.

   There is no gainsaying that wedding ceremonies as they now happen are one of the eggs laid and hatched by the whitemen during the colonial era. Today, one sees a different pattern which neither agrees with our culture nor the pace and content of our development.

   No doubt, the hope of every man and woman is to one day come to terms with that originally ordained institution by God, nuptial. However, as young teenagers progress in life, the desire grows deeper.  Once a young man has completed his university education and gains employment, the next thing is the cultural pressure to be joined to someone. So as soon as he sees a lady who can possibly pair with him for life, the contemplation and plan for the wedding begins.

   By and large, every girl’s profound dream is about being a queen on her wedding day.  Agreed that wedding is supposed to be an intriguing affair but should millions of naira be squandered to thrill people some of whom would come bearing expression of deprivation and grief. In many homes where much has been expended for the occasion are relatives, who despite their struggle, have not been able to cross the line of destitution.

   Most commonly cited reasons for excessive weddings range from the event being one-time in life and the need to make it memorable to the fact that it is the only way would-be couples could make each other glad. Unfortunately, while many dispose  part of their belongings to foot the bills or defray already borrowed money, others go entreating their close relations and friends to lend them helping hands in order to bring their desire to past.  The only objective being that they would want their wedding to be the talk of the town.

   Invariably, breakdown of expenditure for weddings varies but ranges from dowry, drinks, food, dresses, decoration to rings, jewelry, halls, mobility, cake and bands.  Average wedding in Nigeria could cost as much as N500, 000.

   Abroad, it could be up to $25,000 (N4.2 million).  A wedding which took place in Australia in June 2006 (Nicle Kidman and Keith Urban) cost up to $250,000 (N42 million).  The couples’ guests got take-away clocks which cost about $350 (N60,000) each.  The popular footballer, David Beckham and Victoria Adams spent about $800,000 (N144 million) for their wedding and rings alone cost $200,000 (N36 million) circa.  It is undreamed-of that even Elton John and David Furnish, the popular gay partners who got wedded in 2005, the first week that same-sex civil union was legalised in Britain, spent about $1.5 million (N270 million) for that provocative bash.

   It is understandable when these things happen overseas but not in a land where every family is like a local government council, providing for itself accommodation, light, water, drainages, roads etc. An average person’s need for money in developed countries is less as most of the facilities for life comfort are provided by the government at affordable rates. Therefore, they can afford to spend huge sums of money on weddings and holidays.

   Areas would-be couples spend most vary.  To some, it is wedding gown and coat and to others it is refreshment and cake.  Elsewhere, it could be security and bands. Many would want to see their wedding being fit for the sons and daughters of Kings and Queens or even a Presidential royalty.  Some want their guests to be in hundreds and others a thousand plus.

   While some bridegrooms favour suit directly imported from Paris or America and pairs of shoes from Italy, some brides would want to appear in a flapper-inspire full length white gown, whether or not they understand the essence of the colour, adorned with intricate beads and silver or golden encrusted flower patterned headband attached to the veil.

   The real exhibition usually begins from the procession at the church entrance. Some of the wedding gowns are more than 10 feet from the foot, and the best lady must maintain the expected distance.  Such brides’ steps are calculated and sluggish to ensure everyone takes cognizance of the perceived gorgeous off-the shoulder gown and possibly Jamaican hairdo. Some would-be couples would ensure that the band at the reception is top rate, with a household name. The cake is usually distinguishable by the colour, steps, decoration and height. The chefs must not be the ones patronised by every Tom, Dick and Harry.

   Often, it is the prospective bride, with little or no interference from her parents, who drags the would-be bridegroom into such infinite and insane outlay. Be that as it may, the next couples should pick up a big lesson from the wedding of Liza Minnelli and David Gest which took place a few years back and is believed to be the most luxurious then and perhaps till date. At that wedding, 850 guests attended while the popular late musician, Stephen Wonder featured as one of the entertainers.  Some 500 staff workers were temporarily employed to bring the event to life. Total spending hit $3.5 million (N980 million). And guess what, only a year after, the couple parted.  What an indignity and waste? In Nigeria too, divorce rate within the first five years of marriage is claimed to be up to 50 per cent, so why all the hullabaloo?

     Notably, the essence of marriage is to live together and procreate in fulfillment of God’s declaration.  Prospective couples should focus on life after the wedding and know that the days ahead could mean nothing but thoughtful mystifying encounters and the realities of life instability.

    Critics need to be convinced why Nigerians should not restrict themselves to the old traditional style of marriage whereby the bridegroom would pay the dowry and without elaborate ceremonies take his bride away. It is important that people should appear at our weddings but a few numbers to witness them should suffice.  I have observed weddings overseas where there were no more than 10 in all, inclusive of relations and friends. Priorities are vital. Guests should be few and the things would-be couples already have should be used.  Let us remember that there is countless number of people out there who require help and we cannot continue to lavish money in the name of weddings.

• Edebeatu is a senior consultant, HnH Consulting, Lagos (Tender Management Group).

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