In one of my earlier articles in this column, I wrote about London Nigerians in London who spend their hard earned cash to throw parties that they cannot afford and those who spend their last pennies on the essential Aso Ebi for someone else’s Owambe party.

But it seems like nowadays, our people are using their weddings and birthdays as a means to milk and scam their so called friends and make as much cash as they can from them.

The practice of Aso Ebi is a long standing Yoruba tradition dating back to the days of our ancestors. Market women and villagers will don similar outfits for celebrations and gatherings in the village square. Often, different groups will be in the same attire to differentiate them from other groups.

Families on special days will also appear in the same outfits or materials made into different styles for uniformity. I remember growing up in Nigeria as a young girl. During the Ileya festival, my parents would buy the same new lace material for us the kids to be worn to Yidi and my grand parents bought the same material for all the grandchildren to be sown and worn to Ojude Oba. Many families practiced this tradition and many still do today.

This practice is what has evolved into the modern day Aso Ebi but in the beginning, it was simply a practice meant for close friends and family of the celebrant and not many people would be in the Aso Ebi of the day. Nowadays, the tradition has been known to be practiced by both extended friends and even folks unknown to the celebrants who simply want to be a part of the crowd.

The Aso Ebi culture particularly among folks here in London has turned into a massive con and money making practice. Many folks celebrating birthdays or weddings seem to be raising cash for their events solely from the sale of Aso Ebi and gele.

I have seen people buy ankara from Naija at the rate of N2,000 (£8 even at the rate of N250) for 6 yards and sell them on to their friends” for £40. Now assuming 200 “friends” buy the Aso Ebi, just mentally calculate how much profit they are making. And of course the Sego gele that comes at £5 for a pair in a pack, is sold at £10 each!!! And some cheap China lace that cost £25 pounds is sold at £100!!

The painful thing is that in London, tailors charge an average of £40 for a skirt and blouse style and £20 for Iro & Buba – which is a massive additional expense.

But rather than count the cost and stay well away from this unnecessary expense, many ladies will still insist on wanting to belong and put their necks in “serious igbese” (debt) because of Aso Ebi. Some have become Aso Ebi junkies seen at different Owanbe parties every single weekend from Abbey Wood to Barking to Tottenham  – unfailingly rocking the Aso Ebi of the day – accessories and all!

Many fights have broken out because ladies have turned up at parties done up to the teeth with professional make up and false eyelashes with the expensively tailored Aso Ebi that they are yet to pay for.

Other sad gist surrounding London parties are those that are broke, jobless and knowing they simply can’t afford to throw a party, going ahead and having one anyway.

Many borrow from friends to throw their 40th or 50th birthday parties. Others max out their credit cards and take on additional loans to throw their “Hollywood style” party. We hear of cases like a recent Big 40th Oscar style bash in London with very expensive décor, a top band performing with an equally top DJ. Food flowed and drinks flowed more.The lady who calls herself a Nigerian celebrity and model had about 3 outfit changes in the course of the party that lasted all night in one of the city’s exclusive banquet halls.

What her guests who must have felt ever so “privileged” to be invited did not know, is that none of the vendors including food caterers were paid before her big event.

Many of the people she owes, three weeks after the party are crying foul because she has had them all blocked from facebook and their calls are not being picked again. Just after the party, even I was blocked as she assumed I would read comments people were leaving on her wall and blog about her. Obviously, that did not work!!

The culture of “I must belong” is fast becoming a cancer in our community. People are putting themselves into great debt just to fit in. I have been to a number of house or garden parties where the guests have been wined and dined to their hearts content. The £2 -£3,000 that they save on the cost of the venue hire goes towards more important things like guest satisfaction.

Many people who have parties of course can afford them and they must have been planning for ages but you constantly hear of people who have no real jobs coming up with lavish parties. Its only after the event you hear that nothing’s been paid for!

One of my cake bakers refused to deliver a wedding cake because the bride failed to pay before the wedding day as agreed.

As a decorator, I also see some horrors of some clients who knowing fully well that they’ve invited the whole of London to their party but will order enough venue seatings, food and drinks for just 100 leaving many of their guests with nowhere to seat, no drinks and people having to beg for food.

Others will just hire the tiniest and cheapest hall they can find and squeeze hundreds of guests into it.

I almost fainted one day, when a client who was still owing me for venue décor told me before the event that she was relying on the money coming from the $1 notes that she will be sprayed to pay with!!

*A typical Nigerian Events setting

Some clients will visit and beg you, and just stop short of weeping when the are trying to book their venue decoration. Give them a price of say £750 but they will price it down to £300. Now many of us in this field have resolved to simply give clients what they pay for, which is fair. But they will come up to you on the day of the event and complain “it is not what I was expecting” They expect their £300 to get them 300 capacity seating, posh table setting, carpet from end to end, chandelier centre pieces and every posh accessory!! Forgetting that they were already told what they were getting, which was not a high end, up scale décor they were expecting on their tiny budget.

In the 80s and early 90s, we had parties at home. Modest but high fun events where you spent less that £1000 in total but your friends still managed to have a great evening. But the evolution or modernisation of the event’s industry brought with it a new and more expensive ways of doing things.

And many are killing themselves to be a part of it, planning big bucks events that leaves them out of pocket and unable to feed for months after comparing themselves to folks who really have the money (even the source of some folks income is highly questionable) and can easily splash up to £15,000 or more on their big event where everyone is paid and all the guests are properly seated, wined and dined!

But that, my friends, is London living for you.

Copyrright Jummy Ariyo

October 2015

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