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In Lagos, 'Detty December' Is a Month Filled With Parties, Music, and Traffic

The annual party season is a period of celebration for travellers and locals alike- but it's not without its complications.


It’s been one year since Ese Eboigbe last visited Lagos, Nigeria. This month, the 23-year-old has returned to the city once again, some tens of thousands other travelers do annually, for a holiday season filled with nonstop beach parties, all-day street festivals, and all-night concerts—a period otherwise known as ‘Detty December.’ 

Based in Seattle, Eboigbe was born inBoston to Nigerian immigrant parents, and got to know the country thanks to frequent visits to see her father, who returned toNigeria early in her childhood. Like many Nigerians in the diaspora, Eboigbe’s annual attendance of Detty December is an acknowledgement of close ties to a place she feels at home in. 

“We [the diaspora] kind of have multiple homes,” says Eboigbe. “I don’t really think of home as one concept. That’s my relationship with it [Nigeria], it’s just [another] home.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint Detty December’s origin story. Some argue that it materialized after the inaugural 2004 Calabar Carnival in Cross Rivers in southeastern Nigeria, an event once dubbed by former governor of the state, Ben Ayade, as “Africa’s biggest street party.” Anecdotally, however, an elder Nigerian might point out that the tradition’s roots are older than that—possibly reaching back to the outcome of the country’s economic boom in the 1970s following the Nigerian-Biafra civil war, when citizens had extra money to spend amid the emergence of Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat. Neighboring Ghana, which held its famed ‘Year of Return’ celebrations in 2019, has also adopted Detty December as a term to describe similar festivities during this time of year, mostly taking place inAccra, the nation’s capital.

Whatever its inception, Nigeria transforms into one big celebration every December: International and local musicians, like homegrown artists Tiwa Savage and Fireboy, perform at venues across the country or at festivals like Rhythm Unplugged, which began on December 21; elaborate art and fashion exhibitions, meanwhile, pop against a 24-hour party scene. Nowhere is this more palpable than in Lagos, the country’s cultural capital, where parties rage on long after dawn, and Afro-pop and amapiano can be heard wafting through the streets alongside dancehall, fúji, reggae, R&B, and hip hop—everywhere from Victoria Island, home of Moist Beach Club’s ‘All Black Everything’ on Christmas Day, to Surulere on the mainland.

In fact, Lagos is never busier than it is right now, in large part thanks to the arrival of ‘I Just Got Backs,’ or IJGBs, Nigerians’ loving, if pejorative, term for its temporarily returning descendants. 

When New York City-based and Philadelphia-born DJ Cory Townes visited Nigeria for the first time in 2019 on what he calls a “life-changing” trip,  he was prompted to reflect on his own Americanness and Blackness in ways he didn’t expect. “When you’re from Lagos, when you’re in Nigeria…just from being around the red clay, that clay can kind of stick to your skin,” Townes says. “So when locals look at you, they say, ‘Oh he’s not from here.’”

I’m a reluctant acceptor of the IJGB label myself. Born in Ibadan, I spent my early childhood years in Nigeria before departing the country to live in southern Africa and countries throughout the West. My parents moved to Lagos in the late 2000s after many years of living away from the country, and my most recent Detty December trip was also in 2019. I dipped into fashion shows at the Lekki Events Center and ate my way through the EatDrinkFestival. But I also made a trip to Badagry, a coastal town two hours away from Lagos, to visit the Badagry Heritage Museum and walk the historical trail to the Point of No Return, the site where many enslaved Africans took their last steps on the continent. It was an affecting experience, and I left Nigeria thinking less about the parties and more about our shared history. 

Even now, my relationship to Lagos is that of a place I only experience in fragments; a sentiment that is shared by many other IJGBs. That’s why it’s not surprising to me, then, that as the city swells with visitors each December, perspectives between local Nigerians and those from abroad differ as to who Detty December belongs to.

“In light of #EndSars [the mass movement to end police brutality across the country] and the upcoming election year, being excited to go back [for Detty December] just seems kind of shallow,” Egoibe says. “Understanding we have agency as diasporans, as Nigerians, seems to get lost a lot. But when it comes to having fun or going to concerts, suddenly everyone’s a Nigerian.”

Lagos-based musician and social activist Adé Bantu, meanwhile, believes that the Nigerian diaspora “are not as engaged as they should be” and ought to be more conscientious of the discrepancies between the opulent party season and the reality of everyday life while visiting the country. But he can see the flipside, too. “The [diaspora] have every right to celebrate their youthfulness.”

The disparity of endless partying and wealth set against a backdrop of an overpopulated city struggling with fuel scarcity and high inflation is well captured in Tim Cocks’ recent book Lagos: Supernatural City. Walk out far enough from one of the beach parties and you’ll likely encounter the makeshift shantis that appear across the city. But the population’s ability to survive and thrive, the city’s vibrancy, hustle, and spectacle, is also what defines it. Budding photographer Aghogho Otega, a former Lagos resident who now lives in Delta State, tells me: “When it comes to enjoyment, Nigerians know how to do it well. No matter the kind of economic situation we are facing, we will save money for parties.”  

But then there is the traffic. Already an everyday burden in the city, the Detty December rush places additional pressure on an already inadequate transportation infrastructure, transforming commutes for some of the most vulnerable workers into hours-long “go-slows.”

The Kan Àwa collective, made up of Olayinka Owoseni and Yvette Ogungbe, wants the world to know about the genre.

“Another reason why people are unhappy with the IJGBs returning is the traffic. Every year the traffic is always insane, and all the events are planned because of them,” says Chibuzor Iwobi, a Lagosian whose weekend job consists of planning, hosting, and promoting parties at some of the city’s most sought-after clubs and event spaces, from Moist Beach Club to South Socials. However it’s due to this job that Iwobi has every reason to welcome IJGBs this time of year. “The prices of drinks and bottles will be going up because of them so that means more money for us,” he says. “[Detty December] is its own industry at the moment. If the government officials were smart enough, they would take advantage of it.”

It’s this opportunism that ultimately pervades. Amid the relentless traffic, inflated prices, and as of late, a challenging economic situation, there is a sense that the show—the concerts, the parties, and the people—must go on. 

“How do I put it? If we don’t see an outcome from conversations about how to improve our economic conditions, then we might as well be having a good time while we’re doing that,” Eboigbe says. 

To outsiders, this may sound like a sense of resignation over a much-loved city of contradictions, but to the Nigerian ear it’s an understanding that the struggles of the country are not mitigated by your refusal to join in—whether it be in December or throughout the rest of the year, inflated costs and all. As my people famously like to say: Spend di money, problem no dey finish

Condé Nast Travel

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