Today was supposed to be his big day. His hair had been fitly shaved, beard well-trimmed. His properly ironed emerald green tuxedo and white shirt, combined with a gold tie, had been hanging in the closet for some days now. A new pair of black Oxford shoes, with accompanying socks, had also been bought, well polished. A wristwatch, as well as the rings, lay in their cases, waiting to be worn on the occasion.
The caterer had been paid to provide food of all sorts for the invited guests. The hall for the reception also paid for. The disc jockey, or simply DJ, including the master of ceremonies, had also collected fees in advance. Invitation cards had been printed and distributed to family and friends several weeks ago.
The groomsmen had rehearsed their dance steps, waiting to wow the hundreds of guests particularly at the reception. They were well prepared to compete with the bridal train, even though no crown awaited whoever won. It was all going to be for fun, anyway.
However, on Wednesday, Donald Itsuokor and his fiancée, Mercy Chinukwue, made one of the toughest decisions of their lives. They postponed their wedding indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria. They had no choice but to do so.
“The thing is, it was not an easy decision. The wedding postponement is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever taken in my life,” Itsuokor, a civil servant with the Edo State Government, told our correspondent via the telephone.
As with many tribes in Nigeria, he and her fiancée planned to hold their traditional marriage first. They fixed that for Thursday while the white or church wedding would have held on Saturday (today) in Lagos.
But they were forced to cancel the events amid the ban on public gatherings in Lagos and many parts of the country to check the spread of the virus.
Itsuokor said, “On Wednesday when we decided to postpone the wedding, I didn’t eat until Thursday afternoon. Definitely, it’s not easy for me and my fiancée, especially for her. But I’m trying to make her understand it’s not our fault. We have to save lives right now.
“We don’t know where people we had invited had travelled to and we don’t want to put other guests at risk. Ultimately, we don’t want to run afoul of the state government’s directive because even if we went ahead with the wedding, the Lagos State Government has set up a task force to enforce the ban on public gatherings and it’s going to be embarrassing if they chased us out of the wedding venue. We have sent out the postponement notice to family and friends.”
But as much as he tried to hide it, Itsuokor sounded somehow downhearted, for he and his fiancée had lost much money due to the wedding postponement.
“We’ve spent a lot of money, we’ve made full preparations. We have bought many wedding items. We’ve even got the cake. Everything! I don’t know what to do now,” he said.
“It’s not easy. Where are we going to get money again to buy again all the things we had initially bought?” he asked rhetorically.
As for the cake, Itsuokor said it would be shared among family members who wanted it, while awaiting an end to the pandemic and the government to ease restriction on public gathering.
“We have not fixed another date yet because we don’t know when this situation will end,” he added.
Itsuokor’s fiancée, Chinukwue, an indigene of Delta State, had yet to grasp with the reality of the postponement.
Her shaking, perplexed but soft-spoken voice surely revealed her unhappy emotional state when our correspondent spoke to her on the phone.
“I don’t know what to do because everything, including perishable items, has been bought and we can’t even get back our funds. It’s really depressing because we don’t know when Nigeria would be free of the coronavirus,” she said.
But realising that the wedding postponement was beyond their control, Chinukwue said she had accepted her fate and that the family had gradually started eating some of the perishable food items so everything wouldn’t go to waste.
“The cake, a four-step one, can’t last for more than a week before it would get spoilt because of the type of preservatives added to it,” she said.
Left to her and her fiancé, Chinukwue said they would have loved to have a low-key wedding so they could move on with their lives, but for culture and respect for their family members.
“Despite the public gathering restriction, many family members still called that they would come. But we have to put their safety and others into consideration and to also obey the government. So the best thing was to postpone the wedding,” she said.
“I’m praying for the situation to end so we can hold the wedding and move on with our lives. I still look forward to the glamour of the day,” she added.
Ban on social gatherings
For the world right now, it has been a difficult time as the battle against coronavirus, codenamed COVID-19 by the World Health Organisation, rages on.
The disease, caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2, or simply SARS-CoV-2, was first recorded in Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China, on December 31, 2019.
From China, the virus spread to other countries, causing hundreds of thousands of infections and thousands of deaths. On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency.
As of March 27, the coronavirus had spread to 199 countries and territories, as well as one international conveyance – the Diamond Princess cruise ship harboured in Yokohama, Japan.
As of this date, over 576,000 people had been infected, out of which over 26,000 had died. But over 130,000 had recovered.
The United States led the pack of recorded cases, with over 94,000 residents being infected and more than 1,400 deaths. This was followed by Italy, with about 86,000 cases and 9,000 deaths; China had 81,000 cases and 3,200 deaths; and Spain, 64,000 cases and 4,900 deaths.
Nigeria was free of the coronavirus for the first two months of the disease outbreak – until February 27 when the first case was recorded.
The index case was a 44-year-old unnamed Italian consultant for Lafarge Africa Plc who arrived in the country on February 25 from Milan, Italy through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.
Meanwhile, a few days to the index case’s discharge, Nigeria started recording more cases of the coronavirus.
As of March 27, the National Centre for Disease Control said there were 70 recorded cases. While three had been discharged, there had been one death.
In the meantime, as the virus spread across the globe with no vaccine yet, cities have been locked down, human traffic restricted, schools shut, religious houses closed, airports shut and public facilities closed down.
Market closure enforced, except those which sell essential commodities.
Likewise, social gatherings such as weddings have either been totally banned or attendance restricted to less than 50 persons in many states in Nigeria.
As a result, many lovers who planned to hold their weddings had been forced to postpone the dates indefinitely until the crisis is over.
‘We’ve lost a lot’
Peace Green, a lawyer based in Lagos, was supposed to wed today in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and she had bought all the items needed to make the day glamorous.
Green and his fiance were also to hold the traditional wedding on Thursday, and the church wedding on Saturday (today).
But everything has changed.
On Thursday when our correspondent spoke to Green on the phone, she was returning to Lagos where she works from Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The Rivers State Government’s ban on social gathering occasioned by the pandemic forced them to shift the wedding.
The state Governor, Nyesom Wike, also on Wednesday announced an indefinite closure of the state’s sea, air and land borders into and out of the state with effect from 6pm on Thursday.
Green told our correspondent that the decision was not without a feeling.
“We have made a lot of preparation. Everything was set. And then this (ban on social gatherings) happened! I have mixed feelings right now, but I know all things work together for good,” she said.
Green noted that they had paid the caterer for the white wedding and the caterer had bought cartons of chicken, bags of rice, and other food items. The cake had also been baked.
She said, “We managed to carry what we could from Port Harcourt and put them in the car to take to Lagos.
“We had also paid the MC, the DJ and the security people for the wedding but all of them said they couldn’t make any refunds – not even a part of the money we gave them. It’s just crazy! We thought they would understand.”
Be that as it may, Green said she was still grateful because she did registry wedding last week and was officially married to her husband.
“Later on, we can do the white wedding and the party,” she said. “We had bought clothes and we have to wear them. I have no regrets, however, in all of these, because we have done the right thing by postponing the wedding. We have lost money but it’s safety first for now.”
She added, “I kept the cartons of chicken at our house in Port Harcourt and the caterer fried one carton of the chicken for us to take to Lagos. It is going to be helpful in this period when markets have been shut down.
“We also took some spices from what the caterer bought. The caterer we engaged for our traditional wedding has also assured us that she would still provide her services when we fix a new date.”
For Moshood Quadri, a logistician based in Lagos, three years of courtship was about to evolve into marriage on Saturday (today) until the outbreak of the virus and ban on social gatherings in Lagos.
He said, “We have postponed the wedding due to COVID-19 outbreak. We can’t expose our people to risk. Some of our family members who live abroad are in the country right now for the wedding but they are now in self-isolation. We just had to postpone the wedding.
“I have bought clothes and every other item needed but there is nothing we can do about the food items right now. We have lost lots of resources. We had paid for event hall decoration, cake and so on. Even though some of the service providers understand the situation, we would still need to add some money to what we already gave them when we fix a new date because they too had bought many things.”
But Quadri, an Ogun State indigene, said he was still happy, especially for “doing the right thing.”
“We have to put safety first and respect the state’s order. We will still do the party and everyone will be fine,” he added.
Thankfully, Quadri said he had done the registry wedding on Wednesday with his lover.
“The registry people didn’t want to do it, but because we had been given a date before, they asked us to invite one guest each. So my partner and I invited one person each from our families.
“Hence, we had just two guests at our registry wedding. Within three minutes, we were done and that was the most important thing – that we’re married. When this is all over, we will hold a family party,” he said.
Quadri’s partner, Ghaniyyat Shitta, said although the wedding postponement was a painful decision, “I believe it was the right thing to do for our family and friends, as well as the invited guests.”
On her part, Temitope Ojo, an administrator at a fashion firm in Lagos, said she and her partner had also indefinitely postponed their wedding scheduled for April 18 in Ikole Ekiti, Ekiti State.
Ojo said preparations had been on since January and wedding items such as clothes and food already bought.
Luckily, Ojo said they had not bought perishable items like tomatoes and pepper.
She said, “I feel bad but there is nothing I can do. Health is wealth. And also, safety first. We have to put the safety of our family and friends first. Apart from that, there is a coronavirus case in Ekiti State and the state government has banned social gatherings for the time being, so we had no choice but to postpone the wedding.
“We have to obey the government and our family members. My parents had been buying food items and I had bought my wedding clothes. The only thing I have not bought are perishable items like tomatoes and pepper. These are usually bought a week to the wedding.”
Although she and her partner had also paid for the services of a decorator and a DJ, among others, Ojo said their services would still be needed after fixing a new date, hence no need to request refunds.
She said, “I have spoken to the reception hall rental provider and the DJ and they understood the situation of things. They won’t refund our money but when we fix a new date, we will communicate it to them and they will provide their services on that date.
“As for my family coming from abroad, I told them not to bother to attend the wedding, even when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, because of the stress. The only guests we would expect are our people from Nigeria.”
As invitation cards had been printed and sent to guests, Ojo said the next thing was to send a bulk SMS to the guests and intimate them of the postponement.
Asked if the wedding postponement would affect her emotional state, Ojo replied in the negative.
She added, “I won’t be moody because of the cancellation. I just have to be cheerful. We shouldn’t be fearful right now but be hopeful that coronavirus will be contained.”
Relationship experts support low-key weddings
Because no one knows when the pandemic would end, a relationship expert based in Ibadan, Oyo State, Pastor Rufus Akande, said one of the main things engaged couples could consider was to hold low-key weddings.
He said, “It wouldn’t be wise to completely postpone your wedding because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What couples should do right now is looking for innovative ways to still marry.
“For couples who have gone to the registry, they are married and they should go and enjoy their new home. There is no need for any big party. If they had bought items before, they could use them at home, sell some and donate some to others.
“However, there is no crime in wanting to have a big party after the pandemic ends or social gathering bans are lifted. But if you look at it economically, what’s the need when you’re already married?’
Another relationship counsellor and psychologist, Mrs Jumoke Fade, based in Lagos, said because this was an unprecedented time, couples should take ‘unprecedented’ decisions.
Fade stated, “I know many couples might be downhearted right now, especially ladies. But they should count it all for good. A low-key wedding might be the way out now.
“You can invite your pastor or imam to your house. Invite the two parents and get their blessing. Marriage is done. A mini party can then be held for family and friends later on.”
For couples who have postponed their weddings, a Port Harcourt-based event planner and marriage counsellor, Mrs Rachel Waterside, said they might not have a reason to do so by exploring social media.
“With today’s technology, it’s quite easy to set an event up on online and be viewed across the world,” she said.
“Of course, I know this is not an easy decision for most of us in Nigeria who love parties,” she added.
Source: Saturday PUNCH