Babel Cultural Newsletter: Nigeria

Nigerian flag

Each month Babel offers free briefings and expert advice for working with different cultures to its clients, learners and friends in the industry. This month the focus is on Nigeria.

Nigeria is located on the west coast of Africa, Abuja is the capital. With multiple cities boasting populations exceeding one million, it's no wonder that Nigeria is one of the most populous countries in the world. Its biggest city, Lagos, contributes 9 million residents to the total population, while there are also 79 cities with a minimum population of 100,000.

With an abundance of natural resources, it is Africa’s biggest oil exporter, and has the largest natural gas reserves on the continent. It is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, and has strong historical, language and constitutional ties with the UK.

President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for a second term on May 29, 2019. He has identified fighting corruption, increasing security, tackling unemployment, diversifying the economy, enhancing climate resilience, and boosting the living standards of Nigerians as main policy priorities.

More than 250 languages exist in Nigeria. While the official language is English, less than half of the population speaks it. Other languages that are spoken widely are Hausa, Yoruba, Ibo, and Fulani. Conversations may get loud and passionate. However interrupting others may be considered rude. Communication in Nigeria can be direct and straightforward, especially among friends and close business partners. They may not find it difficult to say ‘no’.

Nigeria is a country in which relationships are all-important and so meetings will often start and finish with a great deal of social interaction. Do not try to rush these conversations as they are vital parts of the getting-to-know-you process, and take your time when greeting someone. Popular topics of conversation might include soccer (as it is extremely popular throughout the country and especially among the youth), family, work and place of origin.

All native Nigerian companies tend to display hierarchical tendencies thus the boss expects and receives respect from those below them in the firm. As age is highly valued in Nigerian culture, managers are often of the older generation – age brings wisdom. Respect for your elders is huge in Nigeria, even if you possess more qualifications than older colleagues.

Strong leadership skills are admired, with a supervisor holding a paternal (or maternal) responsibility over his/her staff. The boss is expected to make decisions (with or without wider consultation) and the decisions of the boss are expected to be carried out. Directions should be given in a polite and friendly but definitive fashion. Teamwork and the ability to work together toward clearly defined goals are considered valuable assets in the workplace.

Expect negotiations to be slow and protracted. Relationship-building, information-gathering, bargaining, and decision-making all take time. Throughout the negotiation, be patient, control your emotions, and accept that delays and changes occur. Most Nigerians prefer a strongly polychronic work style – they are used to pursuing multiple actions and goals in parallel. When negotiating, they often take a holistic approach and may jump back and forth between topics rather than addressing them in sequential order.

Culturally, people tend not to gaze directly at their superiors eye-to-eye, which would be seen as confrontational and rude. Traditionally, this tendency is transferred to other environments as well. Some people find it unsettling when you gaze into their eyes, not necessarily because they have anything to hide, but because of their cultural upbringing. Therefore gazing at the shoulder level or the forehead is a polite way of avoiding such a confrontation. 

If you have an issue with a colleague, confront them directly and privately. Doing so publicly would undermine their credibility and reduce the likelihood for a successful resolution. That said, Nigerians have generally been socialised to air their grievances without reservation.

Finally, your business dress reflects your status; men should wear dark, stylish suits and a tie, and don't hold back on the accessories. For female visitors, remember that Nigeria is a traditional country, and therefore skirts above the knee and revealing tops are unacceptable in the office environment, as is the exposure of too much skin around the collarbone and shoulder area. As the weather gets hot, make sure that garments are made of natural fabrics, such as silk, cotton or linen, which will allow the skin to breathe and help you stay reasonably cool.

Enter This Month’s Cultural Awareness Quiz

What is the nickname for the Nigerian Movie Industry?

Email your answer to

Please write Quiz in the subject title.

Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Nigerian colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Working Effectively with...' sample course outline'.   

All training is tailored to suit your needs and delivered at a location of your choice.

Working for an international company and planning training for 2020?  Contact Sue for a list of courses available.

To read more information, click here.

Babel delivers language training in all major world languages, coaches delegates to be culturally competent in their global roles, briefs expats for starting new jobs overseas and helps create high-performing remote teams.

Babel Language & Cultural Consultants