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Nigeria: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Africa, Nigeria

woman at nigerian market 


map of nigeriaLocation: Western Africa, bounded by Niger in the North, Cameroon in the East, Benin in the West, and the Gulf of Guinea in the South.

Capital: Abuja.

Climate: Nigeria experiences tropical weather with some aridity in the North and equatorial weather in the South.

Population: 149,229,090 as per July 2009 estimates. About 70% of the population live below poverty line while unemployment rate hovers at 4.9%. Nigerian economy is solely dependant on its rich yet underutilised oil reserves. Political instability and corruption have led to inadequate management of resources. In recent times the Nigerian government has begun to focus on infrastructure in a bid to bring about economic reforms. Other than oil Nigeria has resources such as coal, tin, palm oil, peanuts, cotton, rubber, cement, chemicals, and a successful shipping industry.

traditional nigerian drummersEthnic Make-up: Main ethnic groups from about 250 are Hausa and Fulani 29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, Tiv 2.5%

Religions: Islam 50%, Christianity 40%, and other native religions. The Constitution guarantees freedom to practice all faiths.

Language: The official language is English, but about 500 different languages are spoken in Nigeria. Some important native tongues are Yoruba, Ibo, Hausa, and Kanuri.

Government: Federal Republic

Travel Issues: Travel to Nigeria requires a valid passport, a Nigerian visa, and a return ticket. A visa application has to be accompanied by 3 recent passport size photographs, visa fees, an onward ticket, and a letter of invitation/reason for wanting to visit Nigeria. Visas cannot be obtained on entry or at the border. Extensions can be obtained from the Immigration Department of the Federal Secretariat.

Health & Safety: Yellow Fever vaccination is mandatory for all travellers to Nigeria. Other recommended immunisations include Tetanus, Hepatitis A & B, Polio, Typhoid, Malaria and Meningitis.

motorcycles in lagos 


kids in nigeriaThe People

Nigeria is home to about 250 ethnic groups, each with their own languages and customs. People are very traditional when it comes to marriage and family life. Christians are allowed only one wife while Muslims may have as much as four. Extended families are the norm and often wives in a polygamist set-up work together in farms.

nigerian manThe Religion

Main religions practiced in Nigeria are Islam and Christianity. Christians occupy the Eastern and Southern States of the country while Muslims are to be found in the North.

Role of Family

In rural Nigeria, the onus for earning an income, as well as taking care of the family, often falls on women. Women tend to farms as well as make and sell homemade products to feed and clothe their children. Men are very patriarchal in their attitudes to women; however, mothers and sisters have more say in family matters than wives do. Having a number of offspring is a matter of pride for a man.  


A belief in animism prompts a strong faith that appeasing ancestral spirits brings good fortune and prosperity to the tribes. Therefore, ancestors are propitiated with a number of rituals including animal sacrifice and juju ceremonies with animal skulls and bones to ensure their blessings. Even some Christians share these beliefs and incorporate these rituals in their mode of worship. Elaborate masks made of bronze, wood, or terracotta, are worn at funerals to appease the dead soul. 

peppers in nigerian marketRecreational Activities

Football, aka soccer, is a popular recreational activity. Big cities such as Lagos have all sorts of modern recreational outlets including sports venues and computer games. Cricket, polo, and wrestling are considered pastimes of the affluent. 

Anything else important for this culture

Inter-ethnic fighting is a source of great instability in the social fabric. Similarly, religion forms the basis for quite a few conflicts. These are compounded by poverty and a terrible divide between the rich and the poor. Elders in Nigerian communities, both male and female, are accorded a great deal of respect. They are greeted by kneeling down before them as old age is believed to be a divine gift bestowed only on a worthy few. Nigerians set great store by education and therefore, like to be addressed by any title they may possess.

 nigerian market


Meetings & Greetings

Meetings between Nigerians involve a handshake followed by rather lengthy well-wishes bestowing good health and prosperity for everyone including family members. This holds true for old friends as well as someone introduced for the first time. Often business meetings commence only after such elaborate greetings on both sides. Muslim Nigerians may not shake the hands or touch the opposite gender in any way while greeting them.

3 nigerian ladiesCourtesy

Always show respect for elders. It is considered bad manners to use your left hand to pass things or pick up anything. Avoid discussing politics and issues such as religion, corruption or civil unrest with strangers or casual acquaintances.

Gift Giving

If invited to visit a Nigerian home it is good to bring along a token gift in the form of chocolates, pastries, or fruit. Gifts should be handed over and received with both hands and never with the left hand alone. Gifts are not opened as soon as they are received.

nigerian soccerDress Code

A definite hierarchy exists in Nigerian society and you need to dress according to the level you are moving in. If meeting with someone from the affluent circles, a formal suit or jacket would be necessary. Women need to be dressed conservatively and may accessorize generously. While in other circles,dressing calls for tact, and care has to be taken to not look overdressed. Casual to smart clothing minus accessories would be considered appropriate. It is always wise to avoid expensive jewellery and flashy clothes when traveling in strange places.

Dining Etiquette

Etiquette requires you to wash your hands before and after a meal. Nigerians are very hospitable people and ensure that guests have eaten before they themselves sit down to a meal. This is especially so in rural areas.

children in nigeriaVisiting a home

Leave your footwear outside before entering a home. While seated ensure your foot is not pointed outwards at anyone or at the food. Tea will be offered in three rounds with increased sweetness to signify the flowering of the relationship between the host and the guest. Never refuse these rounds of tea even if all you imbibe is a sip. Fruit juices may also be served. Food and drink should not be taken at the same time. never pour your own drink or refill; always wait for the host to do so.

Communication Style

Nigerians open up only after they have established a relationship. Thus the initial stages of a business meeting may well be spent on chit chat that might appear meaningless. Direct eye contact may appear an affront in conservative societies or when speaking with older people, and so, the gaze should be directed to the forehead or shoulders when speaking with them.

nigerian town

Dos and Don’ts

Do not rush directly to matters at hand but rather spend ample time on greeting and introductions however pressed for time you may be. Do not rush to a first name basis unless invited to do so. If greeting a woman take the cue from her on whether to shake her hand or merely bow gently in greeting. If offering gifts to a woman, men have to mention that it is conveyed from their mother, wife or sister. Women, as a rule, do not travel alone and may face problems if they attempt to do so, especially after dark. Do not order pork or alcohol if dining with Muslims.


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