Nigerian birthdays are getting bigger, fatter and maybe, indecent.
We all know about Nigerian weddings and burial ceremonies.
But birthdays are optional, and the investments being made into these ceremonies warrant a pause to reflect.
Nigerian billionaire Femi Otedola showed the way in grandiosity when he celebrated his 60th birthday last year. He got his family on the superyacht Christina O, which was once owned by Greek billionaire, Aristotle Onassis.
The price of opulence was $3 million for one week and the prize was for Otedola to be the first African to charter the super-exclusive yacht, which had 38 crew members on board.
It was well covered on social media. The world heard and saw. An affluent Otedola laid the gauntlet. It was a birthday to be beaten.
President Mohammadu Buhari, always on alert to send birthday greetings to citizens, noticed and sent a big, fat congratulations to Mr. Otedola.
While being an Otedola is a rarity, many Nigerians have exactly the same appetite to display splendor and bombast during birthdays.
Other people may not have the wherewithal to command the extravagance surrounding Otedola’s birthday, but many will go the extra mile to make a statement about their birthdays.
I never have been so flooded with birthday invitations as I have been this year, with every single one coming from my Nigerian people.
As my age bracket begins to hit that 60-year landmark, people that I know are lining up grand celebrations of birthday.
The plans vary but they will all hit the pocket hard, except one begins to decline attendance.
Multiple invitations are to luxury cruise travels, while others are either destination or whole weekend events at great distances.
None of the invitations will require an investment of less than one million naira to attend.
Birthdays are getting bigger and bigger, and more expensive.
If I would need to spend upwards of $1,200 to attend a birthday, I should begin to ask, is it really worth it?
Nigerians love social events.
It’s always been part of who we are.
What is strange is that it is only in recent decades that birthdays became embedded in culture, since birthdays are not rooted in any Nigerian tradition or custom
Very few cultures compare when it comes to Nigerian child-naming, house-warming, graduation, wedding or burial ceremonies.
The lavishness, festiveness, deliberateness and flamboyance of Nigerian parties stand out.
On the social media, the richness of the culture is on display for the world to consume. There are endless hours of reels of Nigerian weddings on Instagram and TikTok.
What is strange is that it is only in recent decades that birthdays became embedded in culture, since birthdays are not rooted in any Nigerian tradition or custom.
The celebration of birthday is an inheritance from the colonial past. A culture borrowed has become proudly Nigerian.
The Nigerian birthday celebration has taken the life of many other Nigerian ceremonies in its importance to people and the majestic exhibition of the celebrations.
Since Nigerians enjoy celebrations and festivities as a form of joyous expression, birthdays provide an occasion for individuals to express happiness, share goodwill, and celebrate life.
But birthdays are taking a new meaning as it is no longer a day to just send a greetings card, cut a cake at home and share a little gift.
It is now an important milestone in many Nigerian relationships that you dare not forget or ignore!
It is a moment to mark the passage of time and the beginning of a new personal year.
Celebrating birthdays is so a serious matter it can be seen as a failure to honour and appreciate the individual and their achievements if one fails to go with the flow.
In the Nigerian culture, family and community play a central role, and birthdays are becoming a time to gather and celebrate with loved ones.
Celebrations may involve extended family members, friends, neighbors, work colleagues, religious acquaintances and classmates.
But it is more than that.
For some people, particularly those in higher social or economic strata, birthdays are being used an opportunity to showcase social and economic status.
Elaborate birthday parties with luxurious decorations, entertainment, and food can be seen as a way to display one’s “arrival.”
While it is true that Nigerians have outpaced Westerners in our celebration of birthdays, even where some celebrations are obscene and unethical, we must also recognize that not all Nigerians celebrate birthdays in an elaborate manner, and celebrations can vary widely depending on cultural, social, and individual factors.
I am one of those who will not do a big celebration.
My birthday is not even known to many of my friends and classmates.
Not celebrating doesn’t make me better than anybody else. The attention that is devoted to just another day in one’s life, I have found overwhelming and, at times, too embarrassing.
Are birthdays worth the time, attention and lavish spending? I would not make the call.
Each person has to decide what is acceptable.
However, I have a measure. If the birthday celebration is taking too much of your time and putting your account or of your invitees in the red, it’s not worth it.
Appreciating the goodness of God should not lead to wasting money that could be better spent on productive activities or to lift those around us
Find something worthy to do with your money, such as donating to a religious body, a charity or even helping family members and friends.
An economics professor friend disagrees that birthdays are an economic drag.
Instead, there is a whole lot of spending that goes with such celebrations which have a multiplier economic effect on the society. He’s right but it depends on how each person looks at it.
Regardless, birthdays are becoming obscene among Nigerians.
For a nation with nearly 40% unemployment rate, 22% inflation rate and some of the world’s poorest, those celebrations make little sense.
For those in the diaspora, spending thousands of dollars per head on just a few birthdays in one year must have an impact on financial well-being. We can do better things with the money.
I wrote in reflection over my brother’s birthday this week. Although Segun relishes calling himself a “socialite,” I was surprised he did not break the bank. He celebrated it within his means, with his family, at his house. It was the same for my cousin, Yemi, who kept it low key.
That’s how it used to be. Growing up, birthdays were for children. With time, we started hosting luncheon and night birthday parties as teenagers. This generation has now turned birthdays into social statements to be staged for the world.
Most of the generation that grew up from the 30s to the 60s considered birthdays a sheer luxury.
I consider it a luxury that offers little value when not cut according to one’s resources.
Birthdays need to have real meanings.
Appreciating the goodness of God should not lead to wasting money that could be better spent on productive activities or to lift those around us.
Modest celebrations are sound and welcome; but excessive spending is repugnant to good conscience.