Concerts, parties and weddings booked to coincide with annual homecoming of overseas Nigerians
For several weeks this summer, Agnes Olowogboye was simultaneously monitoring flight tickets to Lagos from her home in London and checking the news for updates on Nigeria’s coronavirus restrictions. Unable to visit Nigeria last year because of the pandemic, she was giddy with excitement at the prospect of being reuniting with family and friends – and partying.
“Ticket prices were going up every single day and within a few minutes of checking, the cost went up by another £100,” says the 27-year-old financial regulations consultant, who finally booked her flight in early September. “This is my chance to do Detty December, enjoy the nightlife and go for parties with all of my friends.”
In Birmingham, the digital media strategist Bolu Ayeye was doing a similarly rigorous flight search. “It’s almost the same way English people love their summers,” says Ayeye. “December in Nigeria is a compressed festival period. Being around Nigerian food, Nigerian entertainment and friends … I’ve discovered that I like my family much more than I realise.”
Thousands of Nigerians from around the globe make a triumphant return home every December not just to reunite with relatives and friends, but also to participate in one of the world’s biggest Christmas extravaganzas. They have been nicknamed IJGBs – a reference to the phrase “I Just Got Back”, which peppers conversations. In recent years, this seasonal hedonism has been christened “Detty [a corruption of dirty] December”.
Beyond the cities and towns, some Nigerians also reunite in their villages. But the effect is felt most in Lagos, the lifeblood of an entertainment industry projected to be worth $10.5bn (£7.9bn) by 2023, and a hub of the Yoruba ethnic group, for whom the art of partying or faaji is a cardinal element of life. According to the World Bank, remittance inflows accounted for 4% of Nigeria’s GDP last year; that purchasing power comes to the fore when the diaspora arrives.
All of these factors combine to turbo-charge the already frenetic pace in this megacity of an estimated 18 million people with more than enough energy to overshadow its infamous power cuts and security concerns. Traffic jams intensify, obliging drivers and their passengers to take in the flamboyant decor and lighting that pops up at roundabouts and along main roads.
The celebrations take place at house parties, street carnivals, beach hangouts and nightclubs spanning the mainland and island districts of Lagos. It is soundtracked by Afro-pop, which donated at least two of the world’s most popular anthems this summer – WizKid’s Essence and CKay’s Love Nwantiti – and other genres from fuji to highlife and the alté sound.
Jokes resurface about relationships being invaded by free-spending, accent-toting dating prospects. Multinationals and the state government struggle to outdo each other with boisterous end-of-year concerts graced by superstars, laid on for free. From mid-December, promoters also make a killing from concerts that are pricey by local standards but relatively affordable compared with shows by the same artists in Europe and the US.
Fireboy DML, one of the breakout artists of the last couple of years, says these homecoming gigs allow performers to engage with their fans and spread positive energy. “I wanted something totally intimate and chill, but with the energy I’m getting since I announced the show, it’s gonna be a rave,” says the musician, whose first headline show in Lagos this December will be sandwiched between tours of the US.
“It’s the time when the city fully comes to life and everyone’s in high spirits. The hustle continues, but we also love to have fun so, despite the restraints of Covid-19, we still find ways to enjoy ourselves.”
The Afrobeats star Davido told CNN in a recent interview that playing Lagos in December was like performing at “our own Super Bowl”.
The party season is also a boon for the city’s hospitality and tourism sector.
Oluwatoyosi Adegunle, a representative for Xenia Lifestyle, a Lagos hospitality brand which launched a flat-rental service last March, says that December has been the busiest month for reservations.
“We have noticed a 55% increase in extended-stay bookings (four nights or more),” she says.
“The recent happenings around Covid-19 and the Omicron variant seemed like a major blocker, but with the restrictions being lifted we are primed to be fully booked for the rest of the year.”
Returnees are also lured by weddings, which are often scheduled to coincide with friends and families converging for Christmas, and are routinely all-day affairs with after-parties.
Some have had to cancel their trips this year due to unforeseen challenges, such as the recent decision by Emirates to suspend flights to Lagos against the backdrop of a quiet diplomatic row between Nigeria and the UAE.
Others, optimistic about travel restrictions lifting and the health situation improving, have jetted in or are preparing to do so.
For returnees like Olowogboye, early preparation was worth the stress, and she cannot wait to – among other things – dance uninhibited to biripo, the folk music of her home town, Ondo, in south-western Nigeria.
“When I was planning this trip, I actually checked YouTube because lots of people vlog their Detty December journey, concerts to go to, hotspots, what to avoid,” she says.