Friday, January 24, 2014

Want to create jobs? throw that "Owambe" 

Nigerians are fun loving and enjoy a good party. We usually go the extra mile regardless of our economic status to ensure our guests are well-entertained and our event is remembered- even if we have to borrow. A Nigerian may not help get on your feet financially but would willingly contribute to your party. I also know people who are unable to pay school fees yet buy Aso-ebi (a common fabric/cloth invitees are expected  buy and wear for a ceremony, not buying is translated to being stingy, and not holding the celebrant in high esteem). I remember a movie released years ago “died wretched, buried in 3.2 million casket”; that movie captured our “owambe” (it is rocking there) nature in the midst of poverty. This nature has created an industry that is thriving and affordable for all pockets. Parties in Nigeria have progressed from blocking the roads and streets, renting tents, tables and chairs (some still do) to renting halls, decorating chairs with sashes and importing décor items; from alases (women who cook usually at the host’s house and are paid) to caterers who charge per plate and bring their own waiters..  
It is no longer fashionable to plan your event yourself, professional planners can plan your baby’s naming ceremony, your one-year old’s birthday to your great grandmother’s  funeral. I submit that this industry has contributed to the emerging nouveau-riche middle class in Nigeria.
A regular party must have a venue, food, drinks, decor, music and MC. Nice additions are souvenirs, bouncers (who add the feeling of exclusivity), aso-ebi, small chops (hors d’oeuvres/ finger foods) and desserts. An average party (read birthday/ small wedding) costs about 1 million ($6250)  to 2.5 million (15,625). Venues cost between 300,000($1900) to 2.5 million for a venue. Your event may last for 10-15 hours and your cash flow can reduced in the range of thousands to millions. Businesspersons have replaced family members as servers, ushers and waiters.  The sector has service boys, washers, tailors dedicated to sewing decor materials- sashes etc, flower importers, lightings and effects, bouncers, more tailors ( who would sew the express aso-ebis), make-up artists, Music bands, Alagas( women who coordinate the traditional ceremonies)  ushers and image consultants. Real Estate has also grown as people build event centers instead of houses ( it is more lucrative )
This is good because it has(and still) generates employment for people and showcases our enterprising nature. It is not unusual to hear someone who has been unable to get a 9-5 job tell you they now sew or make hats, or do party decorations. It also creates minimum-paying jobs for lowly-skilled people because on average to execute a professional planned party you would need about 40-80 people. This industry also exhibits the human fear for lack and capitalist tendencies with no trickle down effects   are high. For instance, a caterer's profit from an event may be 300,000 but what she would pay the staff who worked with her on that event (say 10 service boys and 6 Alases) may be 50,000. At the end of the day she grows but they don't. Thereby, the circle of poverty would persist for those people even though they have new sources of income. The upside for these people is that they can work with different people i.e. freelance and also learn skills they would need to run their own businesses. 
This being said, party planners, tailors, etc. need to imbibe excellence and professionalism. At a party some people may be served whilst others are ignored. The need to make profits should not promote the use of inferior items.

In conclusion, it is good to see people flourishing, being creative and refusing to be limited by the lack of formal jobs. Over-time, there would be more structure and standards-setting in the industry. For instance party planners now have an association, soon we may see one for tailors and caterers and the lower skilled staff too may form a union demanding for better pay! Who knows?


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