In Nigeria, there’s never a dull moment. You just need to know what is happening and where it is happening. This is a preview of major Nigerian festivals. Most of them will hold this year so get a calendar and mark the dates.
ARGUNGU FISHING FESTIVAL
Many people go to bars and restaurants to consume a whole fish “comfortably” but a trip to Argungu for the biggest fishing contest in Nigeria presents a daunting challenge. Usually held in February or March (this year’s date has not been announced though), men and women jump into the water in search for the biggest fish that is presented to the Sultan of Sokoto (in exchange for as much as 7,500 US Dollars). Singing, dancing, drinking, canoe racing and more, are some other events that characterize this festival.
Masquerades form a definite part of most Nigerian festivals but top of this notch is the Eyo Festival (might even be regarded as the festival of masquerades). On the Eyo day, a major highway in the heart of Lagos is closed to traffic, allowing for a procession that pays homage to the reigning Oba of Lagos. Eyo Festival is unique to Lagos area, and it is widely believed that Eyo is the forerunner of the modern day carnival in Brazil. The Eyo masquerade is the most iconic image of Lagos state and its festival attracts a wide array of visitors and tourists.
NEW YAM FESTIVAL
“Iwa ji” or “Iri ji ohuru” as the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria would call it, is observed as a public function on certain days of the year (in August). It is a celebration of the harvest season. Yam is a major staple food of this tribe and the first crop to be harvested. The festival features Igbo cultural activities in the form of contemporary shows, masquerade dances, and fashion parades. It is an event often characterized by eating of food delicacies made of yam and a lot of drinking.
The pounded yam dish placed in front of the partakers of the festival was as big as a mountain. People had to eat their way through it all night and it was only during the following day when the pounded yam “mountain” had gone down that people on one side recognized and greeted their family members on the other side of the dish for the first time. – Chinua Achebe (Things Fall Apart – 1958)
Onitsha is famous for the biggest market in West Africa but the Ofala Festival competes for relevance in this region strongly. The Ofala festival is an opportunity for the King to socialize with his people and other nationals. In those early days, Igwe-Onitsha, was always confined to the palace and only made public appearances during the Ofala festival. It is celebrated once in a year, precisely in the month of October. It is similar to the Igue festival celebrated by the Oba of Benin.
OJUDE OBA FESTIVAL
The Yoruba people arguably take the most spot in Nigerian festivals. The Ojude Oba festival is celebrated annually on the third day of Eid el Kabir by people of Ijebu land. Since its inception over 100 years ago, the festival has remained an opportunity for people pray for their beloved town. People are split across groups depending on their age bracket (three years) and every group places a delicate part in the pomp and pageantry that greets this festival. Majorly characterized by horse-riding, music and dance, the festival has over time evolved with an influx of sponsorship by both individuals and corporate bodies.
The Leboku New Yam festival is peculiar to the core Yakạạ speaking communities of Idomi, Ugep, Ekori, Mkpani and Nko and the international version is unanimously celebrated in Ugep once in a year. The three-week festival is the culmination of many events: the beginning of the yam harvest, a time to appease the gods and ancestors, a public parade of engaged maidens and so on. During the Leboku, people keep away from intense farming activities and exchange visits with their families. It even involve the Mr and Miss Leboku contest, male wrestling, football competition and so on. This event takes place between July and August annually and is a major tourist attraction in Cross-River state.
Of all Nigerian festivals, Felabration is arguably the largest on the continent in it’s niche. Felabration is celebrated to commemorate the life and times of Nigeria’s musical legend: Fela Anikulakpo Kuti. Acts like Hugh Masakela, Femi Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Lucky Dube, Asa, Tubaba are some artists from a long roll call, that have graced the stage of the New Africa Shrine (Venue of Felabration). The Felabration Week always runs through the week of October that includes the 15th ensuring that Fela’s posthumous birthday celebrations are part of the Festival. Every year Felabration attracts over 100 artistes both locally and internationally. It is the largest gathering of young people in Nigeria yearly with over 50 artistes on parade annually.