Culture

20 most popular festivals in Nigeria, their significance and dates

Festivals in Nigeria are cultural, traditional and social events celebrated by various cultural, social, religious and traditional settings.

Most of these cultural festivals are celebrated in honour of gods and deities of the respective tribes that celebrate them. Others are celebrate to fulfil certain cultural and religious rites.

Societies and cultures with the same beliefs and traditions share several festivals together. The timeline for festivals is usually constant, with most festivals celebrated annually at exactly the same time each year. Other festivals are marked by natural happenings like moon appearances, first/last rain of the year, etcetera.

Nigeria, with its 36 states (Including its federal capital territory), is blessed with various tribes and ethnic groups, with their respective languages, cultures and traditions. Each of these tribes have their various festivals celebrated at different times of the year and for various reasons.

Some of these tribes share some festivals among themselves, while other festivals are solely for a particular tribe. These festivals are usually very colourful and entertaining, with the rich cultural heritage of the people showcased through masquerade displays, colourful cultural dances, observation of religious rites, and the display of the various delicacies of the tribe(s).

Aside from the various cultural festivals held in Nigeria, there are also some festivals held to celebrate and promote Nigeria art, especially in the music and Film industry.

Here in this article, we will provide you with a list of some of the most popular festivals celebrated in Nigeria.

20 Most popular festivals in Nigeria

1. Eyo festival

Standing out as arguably the most popular festival in Nigeria, the Eyo festival is celebrated in Lagos, Nigeria, by the indigenes, who are also known as Isale Eko.

It is usually celebrated in the month of May, and features a colourful traditional masquerade display and various manifestations of the local dance arts.

The masquerades, which are one of the major attractions of the festival, emerge from the Iga – or palace – of the Oba or any of his cabinet chiefs.

The colourful nature of the festival, and the rich display of the culture and tradition of the Yoruba community make this festival a major tourist attraction in the city of Lagos. When next you’re in the city around May, do stick around a while for the Eyo festival. It’s sure to be a thrill.

2. The Calabar Carnival

Rightly termed the biggest street party in Africa, as well as the most anticipated carnival/festival in Nigeria, the Calabar carnival showcases why Cross River state is regarded as one of the major tourist hubs in the country.

The carnival is a state-wide event usually celebrated in early December and features various rich cultural and traditional displays of the people of Calabar and Nigeria as a whole. The various masquerade displays, cultural dances, colourful customs, and local delicacies make this carnival a standout in Nigeria.

3. Osun-Osogbo festival

Celebrated in the month of August in Osun state, Nigeria, the Osun-Osogbo festival is a two-week long event showcasing the rich cultural heritage of the Osun people.

Celebrated at the sacred Osun Groove, the festival is one of those festivals celebrated to honour a diety, as it is celebrated to honour the Osun river goddess.

Aside from the sacrifices and traditional rites performed at this illustrious event, the rich cultural displays showcased make this festival worthwhile.

4. The new yam festival 

Celebrated by the people of the southern and eastern part of Nigeria, as well as by the Idoma people in the North Central, the new yam festival is a sort of unification festival, bringing together the various tribes that celebrate it, especially the Igbo people.

Celebrated at the end of the raining season in August, the new yarn festival features certain rituals performed to thank the various deities of the various tribes that celebrate it for a successful farming year, and to kick off another farming year.

Also featured are masquerade displays, cultural dances, and various delicacies which would feature the yam produce from the just concluded farming year.

5. The Argungu fishing festival

Celebrated in February, in the North-Western Kebbi state, The Argungu fishing festival is a fun fiesta that features fishermen from across the state coming together in a competition to catch the biggest fishes.

The fishing competition is done using only traditional nets.

The fun nature of the festival and the various religious rites carried out by the Kebbi people are what add colour to this wonderful event and make it a standout.

6. Ofala festival

Celebrated to mark the end of the thirteenth month of the Igbo calendar and the beginning of a new Igbo year (Igu Aro), as well as to honour the authority and wisdom of the traditional ruler in the land to rule and guide the people, the Ofala festival is one of the oldest festivals among the Igbo people.

The name Ofala festival comes from two Igbo words -Ofo, which means authority, and Ala, which means land. The festival features various traditional, cultural, and religious rights, and also features the bestowing of chieftaincy titles on deserving individuals by the traditional ruler. It is usually celebrated at the end of every year.

7. Ojude Oba festival 

In 1982, Oba Adesumbo Tunwase of IJebu land sighed a treaty of relationship with the British Queen, as well as allowing British missionaries preach Christianity in Ijebu, giving out a land for the building of the first church in the region – St. Saviours, Italupe – and even allowing some of his children to be converted and baptised.

He would also give the Muslims a land to build their Central Mosque. This then birthed the Ojude Oba – which in Yoruba means “Festival in the King’s court.”

The festival is an occasion to pay homage to the traditional ruler for his benevolence towards the people, and is usually celebrated on the third day of the Ileya Festival (Eid-el-Kabir). Various traditional displays, parades, dances and songs are featured during the festival.

Related: The Oba of Benin Kingdom; Biography, Education, Investments and Ideologies

8. Lagos carnival

One of the most popular and highly anticipated festivals/carnivals in Nigeria, and indeed, across Africa, the Lagos carnival is held during the black heritage festival, and is a celebration of the rich cultural heritage of various cultures from Nigeria, down to Liberia and even Brazil.

Usually held on the Lagos Island, the Lagos carnival – which is over a hundred years old – started out as a celebration by slave returnees who came from various cultures across Brazil, Cuba, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

These various cultures all converged in Lagos, and thus, the Lagos carnival was born. Today, the carnival features various colourful displays of culture and tradition from across the various cultures it represents. It is usually held in the month of May.

9. Carniriv

Held in the exciting city of Port-Harcourt, The Carniriv is a thrilling cultural event that features a number of colourful cultural displays that include an aquatic fiesta, a beauty pageant, several heritage displays, a praise jam, and a number of street parties which features performances from a number of local and international acts.

The event, which combines two carnivals – a purely cultural carnival and a contemporary Caribbean style carnival – is a seven-day long celebration and starts just a few weeks before Christmas.

The colourful and exciting nature of this event makes it one you should not miss whenever you’re in or around the city of Port-Harcourt.

10. The Durbar festival

The durbar festival – also called Hawan Sallah or Hawan Daushe – is one of the most colourful festivals in the northern part of Nigeria.

It features a royal parade of thousands of men adorned with various colourful atires riding on horses. Usually celebrated at the end of the Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha celebrations, the festival kicks off with prayers, and then, is followed by a colourful musical parade of the Emir and his horses.

The parade ends at the Emirs palace, and then the festival is continued with various competitions and colourful displays. There is also a wonderful rendition of African music from the Northern part of the country.

11. The Egungun festival

The Egungun festival is a festival which is celebrated to mark the death of important personalities in the Yoruba kingdom.

The festival is a part of the Yoruba traditional religion and is celebrated by the Egbas, Egbados, The people of Oyo, and other tribes in the Southwestern part of Nigeria. Egungun, from which the festival is named, refers to all Yoruba masquerades which are connected to the ancestors as one unified collective force. As such, the festival features various masquerade displays, as well as singing and dancing.

The masquerades are believed to be possessed by the spirit of the ancestors and perform various cleansing rites throughout the community. The festival is held between November and April, when there are no rains, with the general belief being that the spirit of the ancestors should not suffer in the rain.

12. Lagos theatre festival

The Lagos theatre festival is a week-long art festival held in the city of Lagos that features over 600 local and international artistes from across Nigeria, Africa, The United Kingdom, and The USA all performing at various venues in and around the city.

The festival also features theatre performances, film, dance, music, poetry, comedy, cabaret, etcetera. This event is definitely a must for lover’s of art.

13. Eko International Film Festival (Ekiff)

Another major event in the city of Lagos, the Eko International Film Festival (EKIFF) features film makers and movie personalities from across Nigeria, Africa, Europe and America, all converging in the city of Lagos to promote the culture and talent of the Nigerian film industry.

The festival features film screenings, screenplays, scores, workshops and discussions, all along the lines of movie and film making.

14. Felabration

Held to celebrate the iconic Fela Kuti, Felabration features a dazzling display of African and Nigerian music, especially in the Afrobeat genre, a genre Fela pioneered.

With a viewership of over 1 million people worldwide, and with over 30,000 in attendance for the event at the New Afrika Shrine, Felabration is definitely one of the biggest festivals in Nigeria.

15. National festival of arts (Nafest)

Celebrated to display and promote Nigerian art, and to foster peace, unity and national development through it, the National Festival of Arts is an event that features art displays from across the country.

Music, dance, drama, poetry, sculptings, paintings, etcetera, are among the many colourful displays that make this event a thrill. It is held at different selected states in the country.

16. The Abuja carnival

With an attendance of over 2 million people, the Abuja carnival is definitely among one of the most popular and most anticipated events of the year in Nigeria.

Held towards the end of November, the Abuja carnival is organised by the Carnival Roadshow company, and features various art and cultural displays including magic shows, music, dance, etcetera. It is definitely one to attend whenever you’re in or around the city of Abuja.

17. Mmanwu festival

Held in Enugu state in Nigeria, the Mmanwu festival majorly features entertaining masquerade displays, as well as other interesting cultural activities.

The masquerades each represent a village’s ancestors or gods, and as such, only chosen members of a community may wear it.

As usual, those who adorn the masquerade masks are believed to be possessed by the spirits of the respective ancestors. The cultural and religious value of this celebration are what makes it significant.

18. Lagos international jazz festival

The Lagos international jazz festival, or the Lagos jazz fest, is an event that celebrates the aesthetic value of Jazz music as a form of art.

It features various local and international Jazz acts, as well as Jazz workshops, lectures, concerts and exhibitions.

19. Social media week Lagos

Social media week Lagos is a week-long convention held in the city of Lagos, and is definitely a must-attend for those in the digital marketing, media, and tech space.

The event features lectures and insights on the current trends in the global business and tech space.

20. Sango festival

The sango festival is a popular festival among the Yoruba people in the Western part of Nigeria. Celebrated to honour the Yoruba god, Sango, the festival is held annually and sees Yoruba people from across Nigeria and the world return to honour the deity. It features various colourful cultural displays, which showcase the rich heritage of the Yoruba people.

Conclusion

Nigeria’s cultural diversity and heritage means there are quite a number of colourful cultural and traditional festivals held within the country that showcase the rich history of its people.

Aside from cultural celebrations, there are also a number of festival and events that showcase and promote Nigerian art.

These festivals make Nigeria an exciting destination for tourists. Whenever you’re in or around one of these cities during any of these festivals, do attend and thank us later. We hope this article has been helpful. Let us know.

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Adams Victor

Adams Victor is a Content Developer at InfoGuideNigeria.com. InfoGuide Nigeria is a team of Resource Persons and Consultants led by Ifiokobong Ibanga. Page maintained by Ifiokobong Ibanga. If you need a personal assistance on this topic, kindly contact us.

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