The giant of Africa is often skipped on travel bucket lists but Nigeria is a fascinating country and will probably be the most memorable country you visit. If you know these things, you are guaranteed to have a wonderful time!
The energy and positivism is contagious: The people of Nigeria will leave you inspired and energized. There’s a spirit of hopefulness that shows in the market hustle, the skyscrapers blossoming from land-filled areas and the way the people dance to any and everything, any and everywhere! Nigerians live as if tomorrow will be better and never truly give up. It is a coping mechanism in a country that has so much potential but has not yet harnessed enough of it.
Nigeria is safe: You know, as safe as most other countries in the world. The occasional kidnap or armed robbery reported in the news unfortunately comes with the baggage of any vibrant country. In the USA, shootings and bombings are a more regular occurrence than shooting and bombings in Nigeria but somehow, we still all troop to Miami in May and Florida in February. In Nigeria, a few states in the North East have been plagued with terrorist activity and this is on the decline with top-notch efforts by the Nigerian military to conquer this beast. Nigeria is a large country; 36 states, 350+ ethnic groups, thousands of natural landmarks, Africa’s largest economy, home of Nollywood and Africa’s best musical industry, etc. Foreigners can walk the streets without fear of abduction and with the basic travel alertness and safety precautions, you can let down your guard and explore the wonders of the country. Nigeria is as safe as any other country worth its salt.
Nigeria is hot: Hot and humid! You’re going to the right place if you’re looking for sunshine because all through the year, Nigeria is generally warm. The weather varies from place to place for instance, Jos is typically cool and Borno is typically hot. But it never snows and it is often warm enough for kids to play in the rain. The high humidity also makes it feel much hotter than it actually is and many people have air-conditioners in their cars, houses and offices to avoid the sticky sweatiness that comes with the weather. In Harmattan (the cooler, drier season that runs from late November till February or early March), the temperature drops slightly (especially in the evenings) and the trade winds bring along dryness and dust with them. Always have a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses to protect yourself as much as possible.
Everyone speaks English: Well, many people speak fluent English but everyone speaks Pidgin English. Pidgin is a local variant — I would say it is a unique language on its own — that combines local dialects, slang and some English words. No surprise, since English is the official language and most people speak it alongside one or two of 350+ local languages.
Nigerians are warm, friendly and loud: If you are lighter skinned or Caucasian, you might hear people call out ‘oyinbo’ as you walk through the market or down more bustling areas. The term is often used in an endearing manner and should not be taken as an insult or rude reference to skin color. Nigerians are vocal and in areas where people rarely see white people, they may wave or say hello! In the same markets and more bustling areas, personal space is a null concept. Most people get right up to the next person when standing in line or tap shoulders / hands of strangers to draw their attention. With loud words and very dramatic gesticulations, Nigerians may also seem like they are arguing when describing an event to one another or passionately telling a story.
The country is chaotic: But relax, there’s order in the chaos. If Nigeria, you might recognize aspects of the country that remind you of the roughness of Delhi, New York, London or Rio. In other areas, the roads are untarred, the buildings are simple and the people lead quiet, agricultural lives. At first glance, there’s no order; for instance, many people have their own generators to provide their own electricity as well as their own water supply. So, it looks like chaos when you see arbitrary police stops on roads, unclear instructions in government offices, loose security at Seme border, and unstable electricity. However, there’s a formula to the chaos and with a local to explain a few things, you’ll adapt to the system in no time.
Get ready for a meaty, spicy time: In major cities like Lagos and Abuja, you’ll find every kind of food you are looking for in Nigeria — Indian, Japanese, American, French, Chinese — especially Chinese, and even Ethiopian. But what’s the fun in coming to Nigerian without enjoying Nigerian food? Prepare for lots of meats, starches and spicy food. Pretty much everything in Nigeria is flavorful and often, spicy (hot). However, many places will gladly tame the pepper level of your meal if you give them a heads up.
Nigerian food is a true representation of its people with an unlimited variety of options and a rich medley of flavors. Only a small number of Nigerians are vegetarian but there are many meals on most menus that do not contain meat. Remember to tell your host or server ahead of time if you have specific food requirements.
Give a nod to a Nigerian legend: You are sure to completely win over the hearts of Nigerians if you say a word or sentence in a local language or Pidgin English. Nigerians appreciate it when others make an effort to learn their ways. You’ll get even more points if you acknowledge a Nigerian legend: Fela, Agbani Darego, Jollof Rice. Want to take it further, sing ‘African Queen’ by TuFace or dance ‘Shoki’ and watch people light up in glee. It is all about the effort.
Public transportation might be a struggle: There is an availability of public transport but they do not work with strict schedules and may be cramped. If you’re not in a hurry and want a full experience, jump into a ‘danfo’ or hail a shared cab a few times. For more comfortable options, Uber and Taxify work seamlessly in Nigeria and so do local taxis. If you book a tour or custom experience, your transportation will be taken care of.
Money: Some cities encourage cashless transactions and so will accept cards payments in most places. These can be unreliable in smaller cities and smaller establishments. To be safe, always carry enough cash for the day (not too little to get stranded and not too much). ATMs are available throughout the country and if you have a local guide, they can handle most of the transactions for you.
Religion is part and parcel of everyday life: Nigeria is tolerant of all kinds of religion. However, do not expect people to separate their religious activities from those of their work lives. Even though the country is a secular state, almost half of the population identifies as Christian and a similar portion identifies as Muslim.
The local traditional religions have managed to survive interspersed among Christianity and Islam. There is also thin but growing population of Hindus and other religious sects. Do not be surprised to see people praying at the start of meetings or to see how proudly Nigerians wear their religious affiliations on their cars, door posts and popular culture. The country is also well decorated with churches and mosques. You can visit some of these churches and mosques for a more robust experiences.
Everything is a contradiction: There is so much wealth in the country — you’ll find people living lifestyles that can rival that of British royalty or American tycoons, on legitimate wealth. In the same square mile, you’ll find people living in penury. In Nigeria, everything exists side by side and in seeming harmony — wealth and poverty, corruption and religion, . While these things exist simultaneously, the contradiction is often stark and visible.
Nigerians are flamboyant people: In Nigeria, big houses are big, parties are loud and weddings are extravagant. Compared to other African countries, Nigerians are flamboyant and often display their wealth in innocuous ways. Nigerian weddings have a life of their own and creative tour operators like TVP Adventures now offer packages for you to experience a wedding firsthand or attend a typical ‘owambe’ (celebration).
Brace for the Traffic (Lagos): If you are visiting Lagos, you’ll need to brace for the traffic. Veteran Lagosians may know the short windows during which road traffic is light but most likely, you’ll meet some sort of traffic during your visit. This is especially true if your accommodation is located in a separate area from your meetings, events or tours. While you crawl through, take note of the hawkers who sell everything from CDs to cold bottled drinks to air mattresses and standing fans in traffic. Lagos traffic doubles as a mobile department store. True story!
Take your vaccines & necessary precautions: This is a no-brainer when visiting a new country. Do not forget to visit your doctor to ensure that you are not unnecessary susceptible to tropical bugs or allergens. Nigeria is not more diseased than other countries, however, residents of a country will often be more immune to certain illnesses than visitors to that place. Take extra care to sleep with mosquito nets or lotions and drink bottled water everywhere you go.
Oh, the experiences you could get when you go to Nigeria! Is there a question about Nigeria you would like answered? Leave a comment to share something I might have missed. Medium