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Welcome to Nigeria!

Lagos, a dynamic modern city

Lagos, a dynamic modern city

If you are coming to explore business opportunities in Nigeria for the first time, there are two things you need to do. First, leave all your preconceptions behind. Second, plan to take lots of time to get to know the place.

A more balanced view

Nigeria is a country that has an international image problem. In mainstream media, few stories are told other than those about violence, corruption and oil theft. It is easy to imagine how biases and misconceptions can form given the limited sources of information on this country. Scratch a bit deeper, however, and a different picture emerges.

Yes, it is true that a significant portion of the population survives in the informal economy, but there is more liquidity around than often assumed. For example, it is estimated that ¾ of the population own a cell phone. Nigeria also the highest growth rate in champagne consumption in the world after France. While there is violence in certain areas and corruption in the public sector, the vast majority of its people are peaceful and hard working, and its major cities are far less dangerous than some in Latin America.

First, come with an open mind

Understanding your own expectations and preconceived notions about Nigeria is vital if you want to do business here: Nigerians are very sensitive to negative stereotypes about their nation. The ‘underdeveloped’ image of this country hides that fact that business-sector owners and employees tend to be very well educated, many in the best universities in the world. They are professional, business-savvy and have little patience for paternalistic or condescending attitudes from business visitors.

Second, come armed with time

It is true in many countries and certainly accurate here: Nigerians do business with people they know. Though this is Africa’s most populous country, the private and public sectors are small – everyone knows everyone else, at least by reputation. Business partners are sought within ethnic groups and trust is a commodity that is build up over time and through experience.

As a foreigner, the process of due diligence must not be rushed. Identifying the right people and network is paramount. For this purpose, your very first point of call should be the trade department at your embassy or Chamber of Commerce office in Nigeria. There are also private sector organisations such as the African Business Councils that can be very helpful. To international business people it may seem obvious, but these organisations will play a vital role in guiding you to initial contacts and providing an overview of who’s who and what’s what. Success in your business endeavour will be largely determined by your ability to understand the social, economic, political and cultural context. Do not assume that you understand Nigeria because you have worked elsewhere in Africa. There are many cultural dimensions to this nation that make it unique in Africa (and the world)


Nigeria is an emerging market defined by fluidity and change, an environment that requires creativity, flexibility and determination in order to succeed. The work starts with being open-minded when you arrive, and willing to invest time and effort into learning about this dynamic nation.


This article first appeared in Culture-Inc. Business Across Cultures

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