Guests sashayed through the tent doors into a scene of surreal opulence. At the far end of the tent, engulfed by servants, courtiers, national politicians and guards with wires in their ears, the celebrant perched beside his wife on a throne covered with white faux fur, his every move broadcast on flat-screens arrayed around the tent walls.
From the throne, the founder of the First City Monument Bank (F.C.M.B.) could survey his 1,000 guests, acres of floral arrangements and goldfish ponds brought in for the occasion, and the legion of waiters ferrying Taittinger and Veuve Clicquot and steaming trays of traditional Nigerian stews and rice. Bands and dancers performed in succession, a professional actress emceed and business and blood royalty mingled with state governors and the archbishop of Lagos. Massive cakes, one a replica of Balogun’s columned white house, and one designed to match his white Rolls-Royce, were stationed in front of the head table.
Governors began their speeches by acknowledging “the celebrant” and other honored guests whom they referred to as “your royal majesties.” The archbishop gave a benediction calling on God’s blessings. Another elderly gentleman, a childhood friend of Balogun, croaked out a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” In their formality and vocabulary, the speeches came from another era, Victorian perhaps. If a speaker could find a three-syllable word to replace a one-syllable word, he chose it. But nobody paid any attention at all. The younger guests were too busy networking, exchanging business cards and tapping numbers into their phones. Nigerians, I was told, often look like they are partying, but they never stop doing business.
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