The world’s sixth largest oil-producing nation, Nigeria is considered to be an African super power. With uniquely personal approach to business, it’s important to be prepared for some probing questions and a change of pace.
An industrious and well-educated nation, with the largest population in Africa, hierarchy plays a key role in business culture in Nigeria. Both age and position command respect, with the oldest person present being greeted first in both social and business situations and usually the one responsible for decision making.
Developing personal relationships with business counterparts is also of the utmost importance and you can expect the majority of initial meetings to be taken up by establishing rapport, with personal areas such as family and health considered suitable topics for discussion.
While there are approximately 52 living languages in Nigeria, the official language of English is used to conduct business. It is however important to be informed and respectful of the many different ethnicities, cultures, and religions that live side by side in Nigeria, in order to avoid causing any offence.
It is customary to shake hands in greeting at both the beginning and end of a meeting in Nigeria, which combined with enquiries about each other’s wellbeing can make introductions a lengthy process. On meeting a female Nigerian business associate, wait to allow her to extend her hand first, before initiating a handshake. When meeting someone older or more senior, many people will lower their eyes as a sign of respect.
The use of correct titles is very important and you should opt for academic or professional titles, or Mr./Mrs./Ms. followed by the last name. As it’s not common to use first names, only do so if you are invited to.
While there’s no strict fortuity to exchanging business cards, your title and any advanced university degree should be prominently displayed and you should present and receive them with both hands, or just the right hand, studying any cards to receive before carefully putting home away in a business card holder.
How to close a deal
Business meetings in Nigeria should be booked in advance and confirmed on the day. It’s important to appreciate that while punctuality is valued, Nigerians tend to live and work at a relaxed pace and this combined with erratic traffic conditions, can lead to delays.
Any planned agenda should be sent ahead of the meeting, allowing time to for your Nigerian counterparts to consult with key stakeholders who will not be present prior to the meeting.
As greeting processes are of great significance, when entering a room you should great each person individually, in order of seniority, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. A large part of initial meetings can centre around relationship-building and it’s essential you don’t try to rush this element, as it may be considered rude and be detrimental to any future business dealings. It’s equally important to avoid trying to push your own agenda early on and to be forgiving of any interruptions to meetings, such as phone calls and emails.
It’s wise to present yourself to be pleasant and agreeable at all times if you are hoping to close a deal in Nigeria and in general you should avoid making direct eye contact, as this can be interpreted as rude or aggressive. Don’t make the Western thumbs up symbol, which can be highly offensive, and be tolerant if someone sits or stands very close to you, as the Nigerian concept of personal space is almost non-existent.
Nigerians prefer to develop personal relationships prior to conducting business, so the first few meetings may feel formal as your Nigerian business associates become more comfortable with you and during this time you should maintain a reserved manner.
As Nigerians can easily become suspicious, success relies on your trustworthiness, so ensure that all team members provide a united front and avoid making exaggerated claims that seem too good to be true.