Nigerian Communication Styles

Nigeria has well over 300 ethnic groups, each of which has its own language or dialect.

In such a language-diverse country, English has come to be seen as the unifying language and although the dominant indigenous languages of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba are widely used they are not universally understood.

You should therefore have no problem conducting business in English throughout Nigeria and certainly all senior governmental figures and business leaders will be fairly fluent in the language.
Nigerians like to use language in a fairly flowery fashion and will often address you with great courtesy and overt signs of respect. This desire to show respect to people is shown in the Nigerian use of titles and honorifics. People will often be addressed as Uncle, Auntie, Chief, Mazi, Doctor etc. rather than by the use of first names. Do not be surprised to hear yourself being addressed as Sir or Boss.

Business conversations will often veer towards the personal and you may be asked questions about family, hobbies and other interests within business meetings. This is an important section of the meeting and should be treated as such. It is not seen as overly personal but rather as a signal of warmth and friendship.

Handshaking is very important and it is usual to exchange long, lingering handshakes with everybody you meet. Do not be in too much of a rush to have your hand released — just relax.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Nigeria

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Nigeria’s massive oil reserves can be seen as both a blessing and a curse. The sale of crude oil represents about 70% of government revenue and an incredible 90% of the country’s exports. A blessing when oil prices are high but a real problem when prices fall dramatically. Nigeria needs to diversify away from such over-dependence on the oil industry and it needs external help to achieve this diversification.

Therefore, Nigeria definitely needs foreign investment and know-how. It probably needs what your company is selling – which must make it an attractive potential market. In addition to the country-wide need for investment across a whole range of sectors, Nigeria also has demographics on its side. Over half the population (which will be 200 million before too long) are under the age of 24. That represents a huge new potential consumer market who are aspirational and consumerist.

Is Nigeria an attractive market? Should you be looking at doing business in Nigeria?

The fact is that Nigeria is a difficult market from a number of perspectives. Corruption is often cited as the major barrier to doing business in Nigeria and it is undoubtedly true that corruption is rife in many areas of commercial activity. However, the major stumbling block when entering the Nigerian market could in fact be the local business culture. You would be very unwise the approach the Nigerian market without first trying to get a solid understanding of the way in which business is done locally. It isn’t like ‘back home’. Do some research and arrive in-country as well-informed as possible.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Nigerian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips