Your trip to Nigeria should be very pleasant and engaging if you prepare ahead of time, and set out with an open mind.Visit Nigerian websites, like Nigerian newspapers, government sites, diplomatic/consular web sites etc. Travel sites like bttravel.com have proven quite competent in providing competitive fares and excellent customer services for flights to Nigeria. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office website www.fco.gov.uk has fairly current and useful information on Nigeria. Most other foreign web sites have notoriously outdated or stereotypical and unreliable information. You need a balanced view. If possible, talk to an American who has visited Nigeria, or a Nigerian living in the United States. You should be able to discern that visiting a mega-city like Lagos – a kind of Nigerian New York – never gives the true picture of any country. Plan to visit smaller towns and more traditional locations.
Nigeria is a multi-national state. Approximately 250 nationalities of different sizes with a broad spectrum of languages, culture, and aspirations live in Nigeria. However, four ethnic groups together account for over 60% of the country’s total
population: the Fulani and Hausa an array of smaller nation groups live in the north; the Igbo predominate in the east and the Yoruba in the southwest. The Edo, Ibibio and Efik Kanuri, Nupe, Tiv, Chamba, Ekoi and Ijaw are smaller but still important groups. Other groups are quite small. Nigerian people, although from a great variety of sub-national backgrounds – with their different language and cultures – are unified by their warmth and hospitality, translated into the sometimes overwhelming love its people reserve for visitors, be they local or international. Practically any family in any corner of Nigeria will surrender to a visitor their meal, their time, even their car and sleeping place. The Nigerian home is not his castle. Appointments are not expected for visits to most Nigerian families. It is common for guests to arrive from afar at midnight to a warm and cheerful reception. Most families play constant host to a retinue of relatives and friends. Nigerians hardly ever split the bill in a bar or restaurant. The practice is seen as a symbol of extreme stinginess. This is one major difference between the West and Africa.
Another is the practice of tipping. In most bars and restaurant tips are not expected. But if tips were given, the recipient would show extreme, and sometimes colourful, gratitude. Nigerians love to learn about the life of people outside their territory and are known to direct acerbic jokes at themselves and their country sometimes. Nigerians themselves tell the sharpest practical jokes about Nigerians. Nigerians are a very colourful people, from the way they dress, the way they dance, the way they “spray” dancers with money, the way they walk, and talk, the way they live. Age is a major index for respect. These days, social standing has become a competing factor. Chiefs and elders are greeted with deep and sometimes dramatic respect. In most parts of the west (Yorubaland) younger people prostrate before their elders, including their parents, when they come in contact with them. In most part of the north, a curtsy or a deep bow would suffice. In the east, it is all right to hug and shake hands with older people. With age comes responsibility. The older person must be well behaved and exude wisdom. More importantly, the older person or the better-placed person is expected to pick up the bill at the restaurant, in the bus or taxi or in the pub.
Nigerian life is powered by a sense of trust and inherent honesty. While the bar tender in the United States will insist on pre-payment, Nigerians do not get asked for payment until they indicate their readiness to leave – even if they had been in the bar or restaurant for 12 hours. The reception and trust of visitors and other Nigerians is another pointer to this attribute.
Nigeria is warm all-year, except for the occasional harmattan chill and some frigid temperatures on elevated areas like Jos and Pankshin in Plateau State and Obudu in Cross River State. Pack light cotton-based, comfortable clothing and a hat or cap and pairs of sandals for casual pursuits. No provocative dressing, please especially in the north or in the villages. For business meetings, pack a suit. Nigerian official dressing is conservative and formal. Dressing often determines the kind of reception you get and improper or casual dressing at an official engagement is not encouraged. But shirtsleeves and a tie are usually sufficient. Donning a traditional Nigerian attire is almost always a plus and conversation-starter. A foreigner in Nigerian clothing receives great admiration and trust. It is a good way to impress and earn confidence. Nigerian clothing is usually a loose embroidered or floral top and a pair of slacks or baggy shorts, or wrapper (a sari-like piece of colourful ankle-length cloth wrapped around the waist, for women). They come in a variety of colours, designs and textures – and prices. The clothing etiquette is different in the north, which has strong Arabic influence. Most workers and business people put on flowing robes – most of them white – or equally acceptable but more casual kaftans, with cuff links, and sandals. Nigerian wears do not require socks.
Cloth weaving is an affectionate Nigerian art and the backbone of the ever-evolving Nigerian traditional haute couture. The Akwete cloth expresses itself through the delicate art of cloth making that found origin in Akwete, a small town in Abia State is fast changing the dress fashion of many women who live in, or come to the country. The Akwete cloth produced on a wide loom in delicate and rich patterns has a width of a little more than a yard and is considered as fine workmanship by Nigerians and foreigners. Woven on narrow looms notably in the small town of lseyin in Oyo State, and among the industrious Ebira people who live in Okene, Kogi State the glittering, regal Aso Oke is extensively worn by Nigerians and foreign aficionados for society weddings and big traditional events. The adire, made from a variety of cloths, and dyed into elegant, avant-garde patterns — and sometimes teasy — surrealistic motifs, is probably the most popular and most worn of Nigerian cloths. It emerges from the dying pits of Abeoukuta (Ogun State and several other towns, each with its own snooty artistic statement.
You will find a rich array of Nigerian dishes in most restaurants and hotels. Almost all restaurants serve western foods. You can buy a plate of decent food for anything from 40 US cents to $100. The larger restaurants and bigger hotels offer specialized foreign cuisine. There are Chinese, French, American, Indian, Ethiopian, Italian, Lebanese and other pedigree of restaurants in big cities. Some Nigerian delicacies are sold outdoors over an eternally lit traditional barbecue machine. Kebabs (known as suya), roast plantain, corn, peanuts, yam and local plum (yummy with corn, available May to September) are very popular warm snacks loved across the social spectrum. A lot of Nigerian meals are a combination of vegetables, cassava (often locally processed into grains — garri), yam, potatoes and loads of fruits, fish, crayfish, meat (including game, known in Nigeria as bush meat). The pepper soup, fresh fish and bush meat are served as accompaniment to drinks in most bars. Edikang ikong, a rich, leafy delicacy from Efik land (and to some extent among the Ibibios) of the southeast is probably Nigeria’s most famous and most cosmopolitan meal. It is served in many restaurants from the smallest to the biggest hotels.
You can find in Nigeria practically all the type of drinks you can buy in the United States – beers, sodas, scotch, brandies, champagnes, cocktails… The chapman, a non-alcoholic cocktail is a Nigerian specialty that thrills many visitors. Another one is of course the palm wine, which is “tapped” from the raffia palm tree and is sold fresh in suburbs or as sterilized bottled beers in some pubs. A popular traditional brew in the north is known as brukutu – a chocolate-coloured, faintly sour fermented drink made from sorghum. It is served in calabashes mostly in home brewery-bars. But brukutu festivals abound. Nigerians do not believe in splitting bills at the pub. As a matter of fact they often mock people who do. Many foreigners would consider it wise to pool their money together in advance and designate someone to pay on behalf of the group.
Free food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic are usually served at parties, public and private functions. Provision is always made for uninvited guests and people accompanying invited guests. Another thing that may surprise American visitors is thetas there are generally no fixed bar closing hours. Many bars will remain open until the last client is served – sometimes as late as 5.00 a.m. In Nigeria, there are no age restrictions for the purchase of alcoholic drinks and cigarettes. When a family has a visitor, a pre-teen boy is often sent out to buy the beer next door. But interestingly there is no problem of under-age consumption of adult products. And children are not served alcohol in bars, of course.
Compared to the United States, and considering the strength of the US dollar, Nigeria is a very cheap country to visit or live in. Below is a price guide, in US dollars. Calculations are made at the lowest possible exchange rate (S1 = 100) of the US dollar to the Nigerian Naira.
Hotel room – from $10 – $200 depending on the size of the town and hotel class
A bottle of coke – 20 cents (but up to 40 cents in top class hotels)
A good Nigerian beer – 50 cents (60 cl. bottle, twice the US bottle); up to $1 in big hotels.
Restaurant meal – 40cents; up to $10 per person for cordon bleu meals.
Cabs – shared, up to 20 cents; hourly cab rental – up to $3/hour; “drop” or sole occupancy: $1 to $10 within the city.
Commuter buses – highest city fare anywhere in Nigeria: 20 cents Inter –city buses (some with catering, toilets) –highest fare – $35 (a little more for inter-city taxis)
Air fares – between $40 and $100 within the country and to neighbouring countries.
Apartment rental: Between $300 and $2,000 per YEAR, depending on location and size. (Nigerian apartment rental agreements are generally for yearly lease and are paid in full a year or two in advance)
Telephone per minute – 1 cent to 2 cents (local), 3c to 20 cents (long distance).
Shopping All major cities have large super markets and some chain stores. But like the smaller towns and villages, Nigerian cities also have markets of different sizes and cultures. In the markets, shoppers are expected to bargain. Bargaining humanises the commercial activity, effectively forcing both parties to be courteous and friendly – a contrast to the impersonal and fairly plastic shopping routines in supermarkets. Greetings and some small talk like asking about the business or the family set the stage for a good bargain. And selling is often determined by the buyer’s liquidity or social class usually given away by mode of dressing, carriage, unfamiliarity with pidgin English and sometimes the local language. But foreigners who bargain effectively earn the respect of the sellers.
There are three main types of bargaining schemes. Note that an Easterner in the north, or a westerner in the east, etc, will most likely maintain the bargaining scheme of his region of origin. Western (Nigerian) bargaining In the western (Yoruba-speaking) states, the seller offers a fairly high price for, say a huge chunk of beef. He says N500 (five hundred Naira, about $50), you offer N450. He says: “Pay money”. You “price down” offering N400, N350, etc, until he stops nodding. That is the price. Slashing the price from N500 to the real price of say N300 is considered very rude and uncouth.
Note that the seller may decide, as his own prerogative to sell the same size of meat to a poorer person or a “customer”, an attractive woman or regular patron at a much lower price than he would sell to you. Northern Bargaining In most of the northern states, the seller will size you up and offer you a price sometimes a hundred times the price he intends to sell the item. He could offer a cute Hausa bag for say N2, 000.
If out of politeness, you offer N1, 500, he expects you to dole out that amount. But how about offering N150, if you think it is worth it? Chances are he will now ask for N500 and rapidly descend to your own price. The western bargaining will irritate the northern – and eastern — seller. Also, while an attempt at speaking Hausa, the predominant language of the north can make prices tumble, it is foolhardy to expect a Yoruba (western) or Igbo (eastern) seller to slash a price on account of your attempt to speak his language. In fact, your pitiful attempt only aggravates your case as a stranger. Eastern bargaining In the east, anywhere east of the River Niger, you are likely to be offered a considerably higher price for items.
If you are asked to pay, say, N800 for a bunch of bananas, ask what the “last price” would be. He might say N450. Tell him you cannot afford the item and walk away politely. If he calls you back, it means you can bargain. If not, you are now armed with a price range and can bargain elsewhere, knowing that different sellers sell each item at different prices. If you are serious in buying, offer an amount not far lower than he offered (once you know the prize range) and not much higher than you can afford to pay. Once you offer a price, you are cannot bargain downwards. You are of course always welcome to improve on your offer. Offering a steeply lower price than the one the seller suggested or slashing an offer already made is considered as a supreme insult to the seller. You may be ordered out of the stall. Sellers in or from the east hold the belief that the first client determines the success of business for the day and they do everything to get the first “customer” to make a purchase. It is a good time to pick up a bargain.
- Nigerian cities are linked by broad highways and multiple-lane expressways. In some places, the roads are not as broad and good as American roads. Lagos and Abuja have a spaghetti of “fly-over” bridges in the centre of the town to ease traffic. Lagos is notorious for its multitude of automobiles and frequent rush-hour traffic snarls on some of the bridges that link the Lagos peninsular to the Lagos mainland. The speed limit in Nigeria is 120 kilometres per hour. Members of the Federal Road Safety Commission who enforce traffic regulations would normally give tickets to motorists who go beyond 130 on the expressways. Many Nigerians go to work by bus. The most famous is the “molue”, a huge yellow bus – the size of a US school bus found mostly in Lagos. It is cheap and sometimes fun to ride on. In the mornings the molue often has preachers and medicine hawkers singing and sometimes amusing the passengers. The smaller buses, ply the highways and the side streets. In the big cities, there are usually as many as a bus a minute. The bus conductor, a very dramatic individual hangs out of the bus, fluttering like a flag, and shouting the destination as well as announcing approaching bus stops. There are commuter trains and ferries in Lagos. But most people take the train for long distance – and utterly picturesque, if slow – trips. A very large number of Nigerians travel by plane. At a point, many made the 150-km journey between Lagos and Ibadan by plane. Nigerian airlines offer excellent services. Except for delays among some operators, air travel in Nigeria is distinctly pleasant. Some of the airlines have first class seats serving everything from cognac and champagne to a three-course meal. Some airlines manage to serve a full meal to economy passengers even on 55-minute flights. Most of the 36 states and Abuja have an airport at the capital.
Domestic Airlines Aero Contractors 234-1-4979122-4, 4962570, 4971973 (Fax)
Albarka Air 234-1-4704100, 4939040, 234-1-9-5233554, 5232619, 5232619, 8100130, 234-1-90-409670, 234-1-76-230121, 34-1-75-626145
Aviation Development Company (ADC) 234-1- 4962230, 4962657, 4965750, 4970086 (Fax)
Bellview Airlines 234-1-2624552, 612949, 613232, 2615098
Bristow Helicopters 234-1-4961070, 4962610, 4961501 (Fax)
Chanchangi Airlines 234-4978226, 7744660, 234-1-62-231778, 236442, 239949, 231010 (Fax) 234-1-9-8100143, 234-64-640020,234-84-231920
EAS Airlines 234-1-4975016-7, 4975019, 4965802, 4937815, 4937598, 4934150, 4965736 (Fax) 234-9-8100056, 5235656, 234-42-258000, 258870-1, 234-84-231921
Kabo Air 234-1-2623656-7, 618166, 2623658 (Fax), 234-64-625172, 625291, 631355, 632386 (Fax)
Nigeria Airways 234-1-4970872-3, 234-9-2346218-21 Skyline 234-1-4934440, 5874658, 234-84-231908 (Ext. 256), 234-90-403389, 234-42-556966, 234-87-236429, 234-9-8100267
English is the official language in Nigeria. But there are hundreds of local languages. Hausa is the dominant language in the north. It is also the main language, with some variations, in neighbouring Niger Republic, and is widely spoken in Chad, Cameroon, Benin, Togo, Ghana, etc. The Voice of America, BBC and the German international broadcast network, Deutsche Welle broadcast in Hausa. Yoruba (west) and Igbo (east) are also main languages in Nigeria.
Nigerian English Most Nigerians speak English – or some version of it. The local languages Nigerians speak often thrust themselves on their English speech and grammar – giving birth to both the Nigerian accent and the so-called Nigerian English. The visitor who understands the regional variation in the English phonology is likely to understand the Nigerian speaker more easily. In the Hausa speaking north, the following English sounds emerge differently from the Hausa speaker: The English p sound becomes an f and vice versa, thus: Paul is pronounced Fall Papa becomes Fafa But Perfect is Fer-pect Paul fell down becomes Fall pell down. Some vowels also sneak between consonants, among Kano people: Speak is pronounced – soopik School becomes soo-kool For some Hausas, Education sounds like edoo-cajin, and Nation sounds like nay-shing, etc The Ibibios in the far east also have significant, and sometimes hilarious, disagreements with English sounds: Because their language does not feature sounds like j, p, l, g, z, they often approximate the sounds thus.
Jos becomes yoss Paul becomes ball Goat is coat Left is deft Zoo sounds like Sue. Among the Yorubas, an s sound often becomes a sh; for example, son of the soil is shon of the shoil. But there are Nigerian pronunciations that transcend the limitations of the individual local languages. Here is how the Nigerian, no matter what part of the country he comes from, is likely to pronounce the following words: Cut – court Hat – heart Girl – gell Sun – sawn Later – lettah National – nationarl Beer – biyah or biye In Nigeria, the stress on several words stray to different syllable.
For example the stress or emphasis the words journalism, communism, etc., is not on the first syllable, but on the second. Meanings It is extremely important to know that Nigerians sometimes mean something different when they use a familiar English word or statement. Here are the meanings Nigerians have given to the following word and expressions: Bogus = big, huge (That bag is too bogus) Hear = smell (Can you hear the smell of flowers?) Rewire (verb in English) = noun, meaning, an auto electrician. (I want the Rewire to fix my headlamp. Note: This usage is common in the Lagos area) Yellow fever= A traffic warden. Toast = court, make propositions to (a girl) Chike (same Toast) Contravene = charge for a traffic offence. Used by police and traffic wardens.
(I am contravening you for illegal parking) Roger = gratification! My friend (pronounced like a question) = you idiot (or used in other contemptible contexts) Parlour = living room Drinking parlour = public bar Many words have an extended meaning in Nigeria. Uncle refers to any man older than you or (if not older) higher than you in status (West) Auntie (same as uncle, but female) Brother – sometimes, brother, cousin, friend, fellow church member… Sister –(same as brother, but female) Common Nigerian words used in Everyday English: Okada – a motorcycle taxi Kabu-kabu – unregistered taxi Suya – beef kebab Maiguard – security guard (mostly for private houses) Murtala – a N20 (twenty Naira) bill – it has the image of dead hero Murtala Mohammed. Area boy – neighbourhood riff-raff. Egunje – a bribe. Nigerian Pidgin English Unlike many countries even educated Nigerians communicate in pidgin. It gives them a sense of Nigerianness. Pidgin is a linguistic and social bridge between classes.
A grasp of pidgin eases the relationship with drivers, workmen, junior staffers, etc, and shows intimacy among equals and with subordinates. In other words if the chief executive switches to pidgin, he is often expressing a kind of conspiratorial trust. Because pidgin English is widely used socially and in some official circumstances, it is always useful to learn a few pidgin words. In any case, foreigners who have a smattering of pidgin charm Nigerians and get a better feel of things. Some common pidgin words and expressions are: Oyinbo – White person Well done oh – Hello How now? (Or: How you dey?) – How are you? I dey kampe – I am doing great. Which one you dey? – What’s up? What’s your problem? Etc. Pikin – child Siga – cigarette Machine – motorbike Siddon – sit (down) Wahala – trouble, problem. Tanda – to stand Komot – go away I don taya – I am tired E-do – It is enough Sabi – know Land – To arrive (E.g: Oga don land = the boss has arrived) I no sabi – I don’t know Gree – agree (e.g I no gree – I don’t agree) Shine – disappear (e.g. Make you shine – flee now) Abi? Or no be so? – Isn’t it? Tiff – thief Ashewo – hooker, prostitute Tokunbo – second-car (also known as Belgium), also a Yoruba first name. Siga – cigarette (not cigar) Egunje – bribe, gratification (also called Roger) K-Leg – hitch (only in: tori don get K-leg = there has been a hitch) Yeye – Useless, despicable (as in yeye man) J.J.C (= Johnny Just Come) – a newcomer, someone unfamiliar with things, expectations. Be = is, are, am, etc. (She be tiff = she is a thief) Na = it is (na me = It is I) Him = it, she, he. It can mean her, too: John na im friend: John is his/her friend) Na im = (It’s he/she)