10 Nigerian Festivals You Should Know About

Nigerians are a celebratory people, and as a result love to put on festivals. Whether it’s to venerate ancient traditions, promote literacy, celebrate the arts, or fishing, there’s a corresponding festival. This roundup of 10 of the best and most fascinating Nigerian festivals will show you a slice of life in Nigeria.

1) World Sango Festival

A celebration of Yoruba culture and indigenous religion, the Sango Festival is named for one of the founding fathers of the ancient Oyo kingdom. Over 100 artists performed traditional music and dance at the first annual festival, which was held in Oyo town (in Oyo state) in August 2013 and proved to be one of the biggest and most vibrant events ever held in Nigeria. A fair number of foreign tourists attended, including many from the African-American community in the United States.

2) Osun-Osogbo Festival

This festival celebrates the culture of the Osogbo people, and serves to honor their deities and ancestors. It consists of a series of ceremonies that take place over a two-week period, including Iwopopo, the traditional cleansing of the town, Ina Olojumerindinlogun, a lamp-lighting ceremony, and Ibroriade, the blessing of the crowns of past rulers. The two-week event is held in August in the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove.

Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka tours the Garden City Book Fair in 2010 (Courtesy of www.backstageph.com)

Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka tours the Port Harcourt Book Festival in 2010 (Courtesy of Backstageph.com)

3) Port Harcourt Book Festival (PHBF)

Formerly the Garden City Literary Festival, the weeklong PHBF draws writers, publishers and book connoisseurs from all over Africa and the world to celebrate the written word at workshops, presentations, awards ceremonies and a book fair. In 2014 it takes place in late October, and will no doubt be extra-popular considering that Port Harcourt was declared the UNESCO World Book Capital for 2014 (Nigeria’s 100th anniversary).

4) Lagos Book and Arts Festival (LABAF)

Dubbed “Africa’s biggest culture picnic,” the LABAF is the biggest book event in Nigeria, in terms of sheer variety of content. Scholars, writers, artists, journalists and culture vultures young and old descend on Lagos for three days in October to attend panel discussions, participate in workshops, see art exhibits, attend music and theater events, and promote literacy. LABAF celebrates its 16th year in 2014 and is held at Freedom Park. 

A performance of 'The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives ' by Lola Shoneyin at the Ake Arts and Book Festival (Courtesy of AABF)

A performance of ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives ‘ by Lola Shoneyin at the Ake Arts and Book Festival (Courtesy of AABF)

5) Ake Arts and Book Festival (AABF)

Nigeria is really big on arts and book festivals, as you may have gathered. The AABF is yet another example of the country’s love of all aspects of reading and the arts. Held in the “rock city” of Abeokuta in Ogun state (southwest Nigeria), this six-day festival features master classes and workshops in various aspects of performance art, visual art, drama, fashion, music, film, dance and writing. Every year award-winning writers and artists from Nigeria, Africa and elsewhere attend.

Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nna Emeka Achebe dancing with his chiefs during the Ofala Festival (Courtesy of nigerianartatoyasaf.blogspot.com)

Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Nna Emeka Achebe dancing with his chiefs during the Ofala Festival (Courtesy of nigerianartatoyasaf.blogspot.com)

6) Ofala Festival

Held over two days in mid-October, the Ofala Festival is an annual celebration of the culture and heritage of the Onitsha people of Anambra State. Dubbed one of Nigeria’s “best kept cultural secrets,” Ofala is a colorful explosion of music, dance and song that is considered one of the most important surviving traditional ceremonies from ancient times. It is regularly attended by local and international VIPs, including Michael Jackson’s brothers in 2010.

Calabar Carnival (Courtesy of Crossriverwatch.com)

Calabar Carnival (Courtesy of Crossriverwatch.com)

7) Calabar Carnival

For two days every December (26th-27th) the streets of Calabar come alive with spectacular parades, floats, costumes, music, dance and drama in “Africa’s Biggest Street Party.” Carnival is part of the 32-day Calabar Festival, which runs from November 30 to New Years Day. Be prepared to share the streets with 50,000 participants and up to 2 million spectators.

Courtesy of Abuja Carnival

Courtesy of Abuja Carnival

8) Abuja Carnival

Second only to Calabar Carnival, Abuja’s carnival is an international event that attracts 250,000 revelers from Nigeria’s 36 states as well as participants from Trinidad, Namibia, Ghana, Egypt and even China! Held in late November, it spans four days and turns the streets of Nigeria’s capital into a massive cultural and artistic display which includes a parade, a boat regatta, a music “fiesta,” and an awe-inspiring display of horsemanship. 

Durbar festival (courtesy of diasporicroots.tumblr.com)

Durbar festival (courtesy of diasporicroots.tumblr.com)

9) Durbar Festival

In the Muslim north of Nigeria, many towns have festivals that celebrate ancient Islamic traditions. In the cities of Kano, Bida and particularly Katsina, the Durbar festival commemorates the importance of horses in combat during the reigns of emirs and sultans from centuries past. Horses and riders adorned in the finest fabrics and jeweled swords gallop through town accompanied by drumming, dancing and singing. The festival takes place around the holidays of Eid- el-Fitr and Eid-el-Kabir, at the end of Ramadan.

Argungu Fishing Festival (courtesy of crviewer.com)

Argungu Fishing Festival (courtesy of crviewer.com)

10) Argungu Fishing Festival

The highlight of this annual festival is a 45-minute fishing frenzy in which over 5,000 men armed with giant nets take to a protected part of the Argungu River and compete to see who can land the largest fish. There’s also canoe racing, wild duck hunting, bare-handed fishing, diving competitions and swimming contests along with nightly revelry, including drinking, singing and dancing. The festival takes place in late Feb/early March in Argungu, a riverside town in Kebbi state.

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