Famed for its hip and happening nightlife, Nigeria’s bars and entertainment venues have fallen silent, and its DJs are now pumping up the volume online.
Life as he knows it has completely changed for Obi Ajuonuma. The noise of the nightclub had been music to his ears. They were his echoes of success, and now, so suddenly, the venues have all gone quiet, and the silence is getting louder.
As one of Nigeria’s top-rated DJs, who had at one time set a world record for a 240-hour marathon on the decks, he is now faced with an uncertain future, one in which Nigeria’s bars and entertainment venues may never come alive as they used to.
Covid-19 has almost decimated the F&B industry, and with that, a slew of jobs that depended on it.
Ajuonuma, who has been a DJ for the past 16 years since graduating with a degree in broadcast media and entertainment from Westfield State University in Massachusetts, had relocated to Nigeria in 2012 for his career. This was after his father passed away in the Dana Air crash in Nigeria that claimed the lives of 159 people.
“It was a decisive time for me because I was struggling between being a DJ or doing what I went to school for, which was broadcast media and journalism. But I decided to stick to DJing because it made more money and gave me more control of my schedule,” says Ajuonuma.
That turned out to be the best decision of his life. Since relocating, Ajuonuma, who famously goes by the moniker ‘DJ Obi’, has become one of the most sought-after DJs in the Nigerian entertainment scene, with a handful of brand endorsements to boot.
He is a resident DJ in the most exclusive spots in Lagos as well as the go-to name for upscale weddings and birthday parties.
Everything was going swimmingly well until the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“Thanks to platforms like Instagram Live and Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Live, we have had to move the party online. So, we are taking the music to the people. So, if you can’t come to me, I will come to you.”
The marauding virus has been disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria since the country first introduced measures to mitigate its spread on March 30, with a total lockdown of the commercial capital, Lagos, and neighboring Ogun and Abuja. The total number of Covid-19 cases is rising, forcing many small businesses to reimagine new ways of staying afloat.
For many, it has meant taking a significant drop in payment for their services.
“I think my industry is one of the obvious sectors hit because human beings are meant to socialize and, in my industry, profits are made when human beings come together to party and enjoy themselves and put together events. That is one of the first things that shut down in terms of no social gatherings, no meetings, and as DJs, this is how we make our money, so if we can’t have people coming together, then we can’t make a living,” says Ajuonuma.
The crisis has pushed entrepreneurs like him to be creative by going digital.
“Thanks to platforms like Instagram Live and Facebook, YouTube and Twitter Live, we have had to move the party online. So, we are taking the music to the people. So, if you can’t come to me, I will come to you,” he says.
Luckily, platforms like Cash App, PayPal and Venmo have made it easy for DJs to receive tips, which has become the new form of payment for playing sets online. For those like Ajuonuma with an established reputation, another revenue source is brand endorsements. Cîroc for example was one of the first sponsors of his live sessions.
“For drinks brands, it’s difficult to translate advertising into products being purchased because now, people are not buying 20 bottles in the club because they are at home and they have priorities now because the world has changed.”
On the plus side, Ajuonuma increased his Instagram following from 59,000 to about 70,000 in the two months since the lockdown. And he is not the only one.
“There are DJs who have boosted their followers from 48,000 to 1.2 million on Instagram. We have also taken the whole Instagram experience to TV,” he says.
Zoom has also provided a new revenue stream for Ajuonuma.
“I have done like three Zoom birthday parties… So now, I can plug into Zoom and have a party with people all over the world.”
Other entrepreneurs within the events space have also had to rethink their value proposition. Rex Idaminabo is the founder of Achievers Media, which creates high-end events and networking opportunities for a specially-curated clientele. The ban on major gatherings has reduced sponsorship moneys, which used to be the main source of income for his business.
“What we have done is explore online connecting opportunities. We have moved to a retainership model with a number of clients where we do specific programs online. We have also organized global virtual conferences where clients can also network with various leaders across the world,” says Idaminabo.
The growing impact of the threat to economic livelihoods is also being felt in other areas of the economy in Nigeria. At the former end of the F&B spectrum, is the food business, and with Covid-19 set to radically aggravate food insecurity, the issues are at many levels.
In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important mainstay for the economy, providing employment for millions, especially in the informal sector. And higher up in the value chain of the food business is the hotel and restaurant industry, confounded with an unprecedented dip in profits and job losses for the millions it employs.
For now, the restaurants are finding it difficult to put food on the table.