Tattoo As Big Business in Nigeria

Umeh attending to a customer

Many Nigerian youths are exploring the art of making tattoos on their bodies and tattoo designers are cashing in on the craze to make good money

By Chinwe Okafor  |  Oct. 14, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

AT the age of 15, Titi Olaonipekun was involved in a fatal accident which claimed six lives along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Olaonipekun escaped death with a broken leg and an injury in the upper part of her left arm. She recovered fully many years later, but the injury left a big scar on her left upper arm which forced her to be wearing long sleeve shirts. Last year, the 23-year-old student of Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, walked into a tattoo parlour and asked the artiste to design a star round the scar on her arm. Thereafter, Olaonipekun started appearing in clothes that exposes her arms.

Interestingly, it was the tattoo that attracted Realnews reporter to her. She said: “At first, I felt I had to do it because I couldn’t keep hiding my arms in long sleeves. A friend later advised that I could cover the nasty scar with a tattoo. I saw it as a good idea and I went ahead. I had many choices of the type of character I could have drawn on my arm but I chose a star because of what it represents in my life. It represents the day I had the accident that almost claimed my life. The incident happened at night and I still remember that before good Samaritans came to our rescue in the wrecked bus, the last thing I saw was a star,” Olaonipekun said.

Upper arm tattoo
Upper arm tattoo

Unlike Olaonipekun who tattooed to cover her scar, there are several other people with different reasons for having tattoos on their bodies. Edwina Adjei, a student of the Lagos State University, who has a butterfly tattoo on her neck, said she started to love butterflies ever since she was a kid. “I used to keep them at home because they signify beautiful things. However, as an adult, I can no longer keep them, and I feel the best thing I can do is to inscribe them on my neck so that I will always see them each time I take up a mirror to look at myself,” Adjei said, adding that tattooing is meant for the big boys and big babes.

Tattooing, no doubt, has been around for centuries and the practice is popular especially among young people in recent years. In the past, seeing someone with a tattoo in Nigeria was quite rare and was considered as repulsive, satanic or a cultic symbol or mark. But the trend is gradually infiltrating into the society, with teenagers emulating their preferred entertainers and sports men and women. They display their tattoos on their arms, neck, back and leg and some ladies display theirs on the more sensual parts of their body such as the breasts, laps or a little above the pelvis or buttocks. They display their tattoos by wearing clothes that expose their cleavage, low waist trousers or skirts for the one on their butt and tops revealing their back to show the tattoos.

Some parents have decried the spate of young men and women wearing tattoos on their bodies in the name of fashion. Taiwo Egwakhide, a school teacher, said she dislikes tattoos and would not allow her children to wear them no matter how beautiful they may look. She said that tattoo was a western body art, and frowned at the habit of Nigerians who imitate the western world in everything they do, whether such is right or wrong. “Anything the white man does, most Nigerians will begin to do, whether good or bad. How can somebody just decide to draw tattoos on the body? It means that you do not like the way God created you and you want to add to it by designing your body. I see it as an immoral act. It is a satanic thing and it makes you look dirty physically and spiritually,” Egwakhide said.

Ronke Aina, an evangelist, explained that tattoo is not good for a child of God. She said that people ought to be contented with the way God created them and stop looking for other artificial beauty. “Tattoo doesn’t portray decency as far as I’m concerned. God’s creature shouldn’t have a tattoo. Nigerians are doing this to show off because this is a western culture,” Aina said. She blamed Nigerian celebrities for introducing the art to the country. “So many people, especially teenagers, look up to them as role models and try to emulate almost everything about them, from dressing to hairstyles and even tattoos,” she said. According to Aina, tattoos are diabolical and dirty, even the Bible is also against it.

It's all about style
It’s all about style

Empress Awa, an upcoming actress, said only people who have no care for their bodies and no respect for God’s creation are the ones who have tattoos on their bodies. “If you had a Bugatti Veyron Super sport car that goes for $2.6M or a Ferrari 599XX that costs $2M, would you allow even the tiniest scratch on it? If you can’t allow a scratch on something that is man-made and can be duplicated, why would you allow a scratch on your body that cannot be replaced? It is simply senseless,” Awa said. However, she said everyone has the right to do whatever he or she pleases with his or her body, but people must remember that their appearance matters. “If you want to be addressed properly then you must appear respectful and decent,” she said.

Ben Umeh, an apprentice in a tattoo parlour along Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos, said that tattooing has increasingly become a thriving business in the country in recent times. He disclosed that in a week, they attended to about 20 or more customers. Interestingly, he claimed that Nigerian women are more receptive to tattooing as they are the ones who patronise them most. “We have more female customers who come to us for tattooing. Some of them ask us to put tattoos in funny areas of their bodies and that they are ready to pay any amount for it. Tattoo is becoming more popular in the country and we judge this by the number of people we see getting it each day. Our customers mostly demand for tattoos of various sizes. The time, the size, the colour, the placement, the details, the pain tolerance and the artist schedule determine how long it takes to complete a tattoo.

“One simple quarter-size tattoo can take an hour, while a large back piece can take seven or 10 hours. Size matters in this equation and time is also money. The longer it takes to finish, the more your piece will cost. Getting a tattoo doesn’t quite come cheap. About N10, 000 could get a small tattoo done while a larger one attracts more money. Color tattoos usually take longer time to complete than black and grey tattoos. There are some artistes that specialise in black and grey fine line tattoos while others offer colorful and imaginative designs. Details vary greatly in tattoos. The more intricate your piece, the longer the design will take to complete,” Umeh said. According to him, tattooing close to the bones and across the nerve structures on areas such as the knee, top of the foot and ribs could be quite a shock if it’s a person’s first tattoo. He said that there are some people who would want tattoos that they could expose while others prefer more private areas.

Exploring the same business is Austin Orhue, a tattoo designer in Benin City, Edo State. He described his business as a successful one. He said that tattoo had become a fashion in Nigeria and the world at large and that it adds value to those, who wear it. “Tattoos bring out one’s beauty because it is a marking made by inserting an indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin to change the pigment for artistic reasons. Tattoos on humans are a type of decorative modification. The designing varies from permanent, temporary, laser and sticker tattoo and its processes are not really painful. I learnt how to design tattoo in Spain when I went in search of greener pastures which was not successful. I have been making a living out of the business since my return to Nigeria. I take care of myself and my family from this business. What many people don’t understand is that tattoo is just an art drawn on the skin,” Orhue said.

Ayo Adesanya, a nollywood actress showing off her tattoo
Ayo Adesanya, a nollywood actress showing off her tattoo

He said that the lower back, wrists and upper chest which are preferred by men and women, whereas thighs, hips, ankles, upper arms or shoulder blades are sensual and discreet parts of the body where people who want hidden tattoos wear theirs. According to him, having a tattoo on the neck means that someone is daring and tends to make bold choices. He also said that a tattoo on the back would give the impression that one is shy or putting an end to a phase of life or end of a relationship. The forearm, on the other hand, signifies toughness or strength he said, adding that many people get a forearm tattoo to bring attention to their well-toned muscles while the chest speaks of love and affection. Orhue warned that not all body parts are the same and as such, the tattoo pigmentation will not be the same on every skin tone. Besides, he said, that tattoos on areas like elbows, knees, knuckles, and feet may not look good because the skin around these body parts fades quickly.

People tattooing their bodies are also exposed to dangerous diseases that can be transmitted by improper sterilisation of equipment used in tattooing. Reports have revealed that diseases like HIV, hepatitis and other blood poisoning diseases are passed from tattoo shops. Investigations further revealed that though most tattoo shops have sterilisation machines, few people care to use them. Experts say because tattooing requires breaking the skin barrier, it may carry health risks, such as infection and allergic reactions. Remi Ajekigbe, head, Radiotherapy and Oncology Department, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, warns that dark tattoo colours can make a skin cancer more difficult to identify.

Also an online portal, Communicable Disease Report Weekly, warns those wishing to take tattoos that the exercise could pose serious health challenges. This is also confirmed by dermatologists, who say people sometimes develop allergy to tattoo inks. But, Ewan Alufohai, a surgeon, and former Vice-Chancellor of the Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, said that there is no proof to show the medical side effect of tattoo on the human body. Alufohai explained that tattoo wearing started with the lesbians and the gays, stressing that “it has now became a fashion trend for those who wear it. “I think it is a thing of interest for those who wear tattoo. It is fashion according to them,” he said.

Despite its health implications, more young Nigerians are exploring the art of tattooing the body. However, one of the latest and most bizarre tattoo that is being done by young men in Nigeria now is tattooing their lips pink. The main reason for this practice is the belief that women find men with pink lips more attractive. Young men pay around N7, 000, if not more, just to have their black lips cleaned of excess skin and tattooed with a pink paint to make them bright.

2 thoughts on “Tattoo As Big Business in Nigeria

  1. So sick and tired of people always saying art and fashion are ‘western’. Tribal marks and body art have been around for centuries in nigeria but mainly as a means of identification. The caribean, mauwi,hawaii, even parts of north africa have always practiced tatooing. All the westerners did was to improve the art of tatooing

  2. Did I just here taiwo égwakhide saying tattoo is dirty physically and spiritually ?, oh come on, tattoos as been for centuries, the western are just trying to improve it, and it does not mean that you don’t like how God created you, likewise is not an immoral act, tattoo is fashion, it’s beauty just the way it is…and what is “Ronke aina” an evangelist saying that tattoo is a artificial beauty ?, so tell me making holes for hearings, applying makeup, putting lipsticks, and using of body creams is that not artificial ?, why don’t just take your bath and put on your clothes without creamy and makeups ?

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