Doing Business in Nigeria

Nigeria is a country that is divided by cultural ethnicity. Having a business negotiation with members of the Yoruba tribe that lives in the South-West of the country may be completely different than having one with the more Anglicized tribes living in the South.

Businessmen from the Yoruba tribe aren’t exactly too business oriented and value their personal equations with a foreign business executive much more than what a business partnership could fetch them.

This is not so with the more modern Nigerians living in the South of the country, who are very business minded, sharp with great attention for detail. What remains similar among all tribes in Nigeria is their value for a word given in a negotiation. Once a word is given, it stays, and must be adhered to, regardless of how difficult circumstances could get for the person making the promise.

Nigerians also offer great deal of importance to the idea of loss of face. They don’t like it when people speak to them in a loud or harsh tone. They find it deeply insulting to be criticized in public, especially by a foreign business executive. If you really have to criticize a Nigerian businessman, please do so in private, when nobody is watching. And even then, keep your criticism soft. Or, get an intermediary to convey your message in private.

What’s common with all Nigerians is how friendly they are. They are incredibly polite, and always enquire about the families of business executives during a business discussion, showing great interest in knowing about their children, their names, whether they are in school or college and so on. You should reciprocate in the same manner and enquire about your Nigerian business associate’s family. Since Nigerians are a highly traditional society, family is of great importance to them.

There are certain peculiarities of Nigerian culture you should know about as well. Nigerians never look at a stranger in the eye. Looking directly into the eye is seen as disrespect and intrusion. It’s only after you have established a modicum of friendship with your Nigerian business partner that you can look at them in the eye directly while talking to them.

Also, Nigerians are no direct communicators, they take time to make their point and often do so after having gone round and round in circles, taking their sweet time, telling stories, metaphors and so on. You should be patient through all this and nor express irritation. This is just a part of Nigerian culture – they see being very direct as being disrespectful. So by taking their time to make a point, they are actually being respectful of you and your position.
But not all Nigerians are like this, some are very direct, especially Nigerian businessmen educated in the West and they are quick to make decisions. Also, it’s a pleasure to do business with them because you can surely expect them to stick to a decision once it has been made.

Dress sharply for a meeting, because Nigerians are very appearance conscious, wear conservative suits. Your handshakes should be polite and firm. Respect the hierarchy in a Nigerian organization and show deference to the senior executives always.

You can expect to get a lot of respect from your Nigerian business partners during your interactions with them, so it’s only right that you should offer an equal amount of respect in return. It’s a pleasure to do business in Nigeria as long as you respect the local culture and are polite, and yet professional in your approach.

This article is a part of our ongoing series on “Doing Business in Africa”. Our goal is to inform people about the right way to form a business partnership with local business partners in the vast African continent, and to offer a better understanding of the business culture and etiquette followed in that part of the world. The intention is to ensure that you are comfortable and know what to expect during a business negotiation with a business partner in Africa. Please send us your suggestions on how we may help to serve you better. Ciao!