Welcome to our helpful guide for Nigeria. Should you be looking to travel, live, relocate or do business in the sovereign state, we will give you a helpful head start on understanding the country and its cultures.
Facts & statistics
Nigeria (formally the Federal Republic of Nigeria) is a country in West Africa. It shares borders with Benin in the west, Niger in the north, and Cameroon and Chad in the east. The most populous country in Africa, as well as one of the strongest economically, Nigeria is also a founding member of many international organisations, including the Commonwealth of Nations, the African Union, The United Nations and OPEC.
The Capital: Abuja
Main Cities: Lagos, Kano, Ibadan
Population: 188.5 million
Size: 923,768 sq km (356,667 sq miles)
Major Religions: Christianity, Islam
Main Languages: Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba
Climate: Varied, with tropical rainforests in the far south, coastal plains and savannah and highland areas.
Life Expectancy: 53 years (men), 56 years (women)
Dialling Code: +234
Emergency Number: 112
ISO 4217 Code: NGN
Central Bank: Central Bank of Nigeria
Currency Sub-Units: Kobo = 1/100 of a Naira
Denominations: Notes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 & 1000 Naira. Coins: 50 Kobo, 1 & 2 Naira
Local culture & language
Nigeria is an extremely diverse country, with well over 1000 different ethnic groups residing within its territory. The 4 largest of these groups are the Hausa, the Fulani, the Igbo and the Yoruba. The culture of Nigeria is therefore every bit as diverse as you would expect from a country which is a melting pot of people from so many different backgrounds.
Generally speaking, Nigerians can seem very emotional to people of other cultures, as big shows of emotion in public are commonplace and perfectly acceptable. This may make it seem that people are having an argument or a shouting match, when in fact they are merely having a discussion or a friendly conversation, so try not to be put off by this.
In most urban areas, and particularly in the south of the country, both men and women tend to wear standard western-style clothing. Therefore in a business context, stylish suits for men and smart dresses or trouser suits for women are the norm.
Nigeria does also have a rich heritage of traditional dress, which is worn in more casual contexts. Women will often be seen wearing long flowing robes and headscarves in bright colours.
The most popular style of traditional dress is called “Buba”. For men this entails a long, loose-fitting shirt which comes down to halfway down the thigh, and for women a loose-fitting blouse that comes down to just below the waist. Men can also be seen wearing a traditional cap, known as a “fila”.
Language in Nigeria
The make-up of languages in Nigeria is hugely diverse. Over 500 languages are spoken in the country, according to recent estimates, though many of these are on the decline.
The official language of Nigeria is English, the former colonial language. English was chosen in an attempt to try and promote cultural and linguistic unity within the country, although only around 75% of the population actually speak it, most of these being concentrated in urban areas. Many people speak “pidgin” English, which is a slightly simplified form of the language which also includes elements.
The other primary languages spoken in the country include Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. These languages are all quite distinct, as the languages of Nigeria draw from many different families, including Afroasiatic languages, Nilo-Saharan languages, and Niger-Congo languages. There are also some languages spoken in the country which have not yet been subjected to sufficient study to determine exactly what language group they belong to.
The 3 most widely spoken languages in Nigeria: Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa, all use the Latin alphabet but with language-specific variations. Most of these writing systems were developed by European colonists and have since been adopted as the official writing systems for these languages.
Hausa is written in the Boko alphabet, which adds 3 additional letters to the standard Latin alphabet of 26. Historically Hausa has also been written using Arabic script, however this practice is now significantly less common, and is primarily only used in Islamic schools and for the study of Islamic literature.
Yoruba and Igbo are generally written in the Önwu alphabet, also known as the pan-Nigerian alphabet. This writing system adds 6 letters to the standard Latin alphabet, for a total of 33. The pan-Nigerian alphabet was established with the intention of it being sufficient to write all the many languages of Nigeria without recourse to diagraphs, i.e. combining 2 letters to make one sound.
Etiquette & customs
Nigerians tend to be more relaxed about physical contact, so bear in mind that if you are from a western background, you may feel that your personal space is being invaded. People of the same gender will often touch each other on the arms or back whilst having a conversation, and this is considered perfectly normal. Touching between people of different genders is less common, particularly in the Muslim areas in the north of the country.
Many aspects of Nigerian customs are defined by traditional family roles. Therefore during a meal it is not uncommon for men, women and children to eat separately, with the men being served first. When sitting down to eat, the honoured guest will be served first, and you should not start eating until they have started. Avoid eating or passing food with your left hand and do not position yourself so that your feet are pointing towards the food. At the end of a meal, a small burp indicates that you are full and have enjoyed the food. Better out than in!
If you are eating out in a restaurant, in addition to the above, you should also be aware that you may be seated at a table with strangers. If this happens, then do not feel obliged to start a conversation with them, but continue with your meal as if you were at your own table. Normally the person who invites other people for a meal will also be the one paying. It is appropriate in Nigerian restaurants to tip at about 10%.
The population of Nigeria is divided fairly evenly between Christians and Muslims, though exact numbers vary, with the primarily Sunni Muslim communities being based in the north of the country, and Christianity dominating the central and southern regions. There are also a small minority of people who adhere to other religions, including traditional tribal beliefs.
Unfortunately there have been some confrontations between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria in recent history, propagated by the radical Islamist sect, Boko Haram, who have claimed responsibility for several attacks.
Advice for doing business in Nigeria
Handshakes are the normal means of greeting in a business context, though be aware that they are often longer than average, and you may be expected to hold onto the person’s hand for the whole initial part of conversation. Be wary of physical contact between a man and a woman, as Muslim Nigerians discourage this. If you are a man, then it is best to wait to see whether a woman extends her hand to you.
Status is important in Nigeria, so if you are meeting someone senior to you, a small bow when shaking hands would be appropriate. Additionally, avoid prolonged eye contact with someone more senior to you, as this could be seen as disrespectful. In the same way, do not be put off if you are meeting someone junior to yourself and they do not maintain eye contact – this is their way of showing respect. When greeting a group of people, always try to greet them in order of seniority.
Generally, greetings are a very important aspect of social interactions in Nigeria, so you should always try to ask after a person’s health and talk about what they are doing, their family etc. as this shows an interest. Moving swiftly from a handshake on to discussing business may be interpreted as rudeness.
It is normal to exchange business cards. Make sure you present your card with your right hand, and accept cards from others with the same hand, smiling and making eye contact. Put cards that you receive into a case or keep them on the table in front of you.
The Nigerian attitude to business meetings and negotiations is a reflection of their wider attitude to social interactions. Therefore, expect a certain amount of emotion when negotiating, and feel free to respond in kind, however remember that losing control is not acceptable. Bargaining and haggling are an important part of Nigerian business negotiations.
You should always arrive on time for meetings, although be aware that it is possible others may arrive late. Tardiness does not have the same stigma attached to it as it does in western countries.
Expect meetings to take a lot of time and to involve a certain amount of “beating about the bush”. Nigerians like to feel comfortable that they know the people they are dealing with before they will make important decisions like entering into business with that person, and therefore there will be a lot of small talk and getting to know each other before getting down to business.
Advice for relocating to Nigeria
The truth is that Nigeria is not at the top of most people’s lists as an expat destination. Its reputation is tainted by its relatively poor safety record and is not helped by the prevalence of corruption and illegal activity reported in the media. However, Nigeria is also an economic bastion in West Africa, and its burgeoning oil, mining, banking and construction industries are increasingly becoming a draw for foreign workers. For those who can see past the apparent risks, the country has a wealth of cultural treasures waiting to be explored and enjoyed. If you are thinking about moving to Nigeria, then here are a few basic tips that you might find useful:
The first thing to note is that many expats end up living in communities together. In some respects this is a very positive thing, as these communities are highly sociable and thriving. However, you need to be careful to avoid never getting to see the reality of the country you are living in, and to do this you will need to get out of your comfort zone a little bit.
Be prepared for the fact that crime, corruption and excessive and some time non-functional bureaucracy are things that you will inevitably have to deal with. It is a good idea to speak to other expats before you move to the country to get some tips as to what areas to avoid and how to get through the immigration process without tearing too much of your hair out.