12 most popular festivals in Nigeria, their locations and importance

12 most popular festivals in Nigeria, their locations and importance

Nigeria is renowned for many things, one of them being its diverse culture. The West African country has more than 200 million citizens divided into more than 300 tribes. This diversity makes Nigeria the perfect place for traditional, religious, social, and cultural festivals. Societies, groups, and communities sharing similar beliefs often partake in festivals together. What are the most popular festivals in Nigeria, where are they held, and when do they take place?

Nigerian festivals and holidays
Revelers taking part in a festival. Photo: pexels.com, @Wendy Wei
Source: UGC

Like in other countries, some of the Nigerian festivals and holidays take place at predetermined times each year. Other types of festivals in Nigeria are dependent on other occurrences, such as the sighting of the moon, rainfall, and harvests.

What are the major festivals in Nigeria?

Here is a look at the best-known festivals in Nigeria and their locations.

1. Argungu Fishing Festival

festivals in Nigeria and their locations
Fishermen rush into the river to catch fishes during the final of the revived Argungu fishing and cultural event at Argungu Town, Kebbi State. Photo: Pius Utomi
Source: Getty Images

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The Argungu Fishing Festival, also known as the Argungu Dance Festival, is held annually in Kebbi State. It is one of the most popular Hausa festivals in Nigeria and takes place in February, often coinciding with the beginning of the fishing season and the end of the farming season.

The Argungu Fishing Festival is a four-day event and was designed to promote unity and natural conservation. The celebration first took place in 1934 to mark the end of decades of hostility between the Kebbi Kingdom and the Sokoto Caliphate.

The event is marked by water sports displays, fishing competitions in the Mata Fadan River, traditional Kebbawa rituals, and an agricultural-themed show.

2. Calabar Festival

The Calabar Festival is usually touted as 'Africa's Biggest Street Party.' It is an annual festival held every December in Cross River State. The event was founded by Donald Duke, who intended it as an early celebration of Christmas.

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The event used to be a month-long affair until Benedict Ayade reduced it to two weeks. Today, the celebration is used to market Cross River State as a tourism hub. It is marked by traditional dances, beauty pageants, fashion shows, and the hugely popular Calabar Carnival.

3. Carniriv (Carnivore Rivers)

Carniriv is an annual seven-day celebration that starts a few weeks before Christmas. It is widely regarded as one of the top music festivals in Nigeria. Carniriv takes place in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The event combines a contemporary Caribbean-style carnival and a purely cultural carnival. It features numerous events of cultural and sacred significance.

Some of the highlight features of the Carniriv include musical performances by local and international artists, tourism attraction displays, and dancing competitions.

The Rivers State government considers the event as one of its main tourism marketing platforms.

4. Durbar Festival

Hausa festivals in Nigeria
A Hausa man riding a decorated horse at a Durbar Festival in Katsina, Katsina State, Nigeria. Photo: Irene Becker
Source: Getty Images

The Durbar Festival is a four-day event that sees thousands of Nigerian Muslims participate in a magnificent display of Islamic and equestrian activities. The event takes place at the end of Ramadan and coincides with the onset of Eid al-Adha.

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During the celebration, thousands of men dressed in turbans and other traditional robes roam through the streets of major Nigerian cities on horseback. The festival is particularly popular in the states of Katsina, Sokoto, and Kano. The celebration dates to the 14th century.

5. The Oro Festival

The Oro Festival is an event celebrated by natives of towns and settlements of Yoruba origin. It is an annual patriarchal event, only celebrated by male descendants who are paternal natives of the specific locations where the event takes place.

The event was established to worship Oro, the Yoruba deity of bullroarers and justice. During the event, females and non-natives stay indoors as legend has it that Oro must not be seen by women and non-natives.

6. Ofala Festival

The Ofala Festival takes place in Anambra State and is one of the oldest traditional festivals in Nigeria. The event dates back to about 700 years ago, at the time of the first monarch of Onitsha, Eze Chima. The event's name is derived from two Igbo words, 'ofo,' meaning king and 'ala,' meaning land.

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The celebration serves as a rite of renewal for the sitting king of Onitsha. The event does not have a predetermined periodicity and typically occurs in October once every few years.

7. New Yam Festival

The New Yam Festival is one of the most popular Igbo festivals in Nigeria. It is used to mark the beginning and the end of the farming season, celebrate life, and acknowledgement the community's culture and general well-being.

The annual event typically takes place in early August when the rainy season comes to an end. The event is also used to unify the various subtribes of the Igbo tribe.

8. Lagos Carnival

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Participants pose for a group photograph during the carnival on 8 October 2019 in Lagos, Nigeria. Photo: Olukayode Jaiyeola
Source: Getty Images

The Lagos Carnival is also known as the Caretta Carnival of Lagos. It is held as part of the larger Lagos Black Heritage Festival, an annual folk celebration held in Lagos. The event's origins date back to the colonial period when it was used to mark the return of slaves who had been held captive in Brazil.

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The event was forgotten for several decades before being reinstated in 2010. Participants mark the event through songs and dance, drama performances, and numerous other culture-related activities.

9. Ojude Oba Festival

Ojude Oba festival is an ancient event celebrated by the Yoruba people of Ijebu-Ode, a small town in Ogun State. It is an annual activity that happens three days after Eid al-Kabir. The festival is meant to show respect and pay homage to the Awujale of Ijebuland.

During the event, different cultural age groups converge on the front of the king's palace on the third day of the Islamic Eid al Kabir event.

10. World Sango Festival

This is an annual festival observed by the Yoruba people in honour of Sango, a thunder and fire deity. Sango was the third king of the Oyo Empire and assumed the throne after succeeding his elder brother, Ajaka. The event takes place in August at the Alaafin of Oyo's palace.

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Sango is said to have been a strong ruler and magician who is widely credited with the success and prosperity of the Oyo Empire. His death is shrouded in mystery, with some sources saying he hanged himself to avoid a potential war with one of his powerful chiefs. To date, Sango is widely regarded as the best king the Oyo Empire ever had.

11. The Abuja Carnival

The Abuja Carnival is inarguably among the most thrilling annual Nigerian cultural jamborees. The event takes place in Abuja in November, sometimes in December, and includes cultural competitions, boat regattas, and street parades. It was established in 2005, with the aim of showcasing the city's rich culture and creative spirit.

12. Eyo Masquerade

types of festivals in Nigeria
Eyo masquerades dance during the celebration of Eyo carnival in Lagos on November 26, 2011. Photo: Pius Utomi
Source: Getty Images

The Eyo Masquerade, also known as the Adamu Orisha Play, is a Yoruba festival that takes place in Lagos. The event has no predetermined period but must take only happen on a Saturday. The event's origins are found in the inner workings of the secret societies of Lagos. Centuries ago, the Eyo festival was held to escort the soul of a departed Lagos King or Chief and to usher in a new king

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What is the most popular festival in Nigeria?

The Calabar Carnival is widely regarded as Nigeria's biggest festival. It is commonly known as Nigeria's biggest street party and typically has more than 50,000 costumed participants and 2 million spectators.

How many tribes are there in Nigeria?

There are 371 tribes in Nigeria today.

How big is the Yoruba tribe?

The Yoruba's ancestral homeland cuts across present-day Nigeria, Benin, and Togo in West Africa. The Yoruba people are estimated to be between 35 and 40 million.

What is the importance of festivals in Nigeria?

These events have significant cultural, religious, social, and traditional meanings. They are used to mark something that happens in the present or that took place in the past.

What are the religious festivals in Nigeria?

The most popular ones are the Ojude Oba Festival and the Durbar Festival.

Which is the biggest religion in Nigeria?

Islam is the biggest religion in Nigeria, with about 53.5% of the citizens practising the religion. Christianity is a close second with about 45.9% of the population.

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Which Nigerian festivals are held in December?

The Calabar and Abuja carnivals both take place in December, though at times, the latter can happen in November.

There are numerous festivals in Nigeria each year. These events are used to mark various cultural, religious, social, or traditional events and are observed in different parts of the country. Like in other countries, some of the festivals are remarkably more popular than others.

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