The Economist gives a few tips to business travelers to Nigeria, particularly Lagos - but the tips are not funny. It shows Lagos is yet to join the civilized business world because most things that should be taken for granted don't work in Nigeria.
Looking to Lagos
By The Economist
By The Economist
WHEN visiting one of the world's most corrupt countries, a little local knowledge helps. Our correspondent gives some insider tips. New horizons: Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria, has a reputation as one of the world's most uninviting cities. Well-represented in just about every negative indicator (especially corruption), this teeming megalopolis of anywhere between eight million and 15 million inhabitants (nobody is really sure) hardly invites tourism, despite the forlorn hopes of its boosters . Nigeria's oil wealth, the "devil's excrement" according to some, certainly seems to have been misused here. But Lagos's prospects may be changing. Sir Richard Branson recently added a 49 per cent stake in Virgin Nigeria, a new Nigerian flag-carrier, to his empire. The British entrepreneur thinks that Lagos is a much more natural transport hub than Johannesburg or Cape Town. Whether he is right remains to be seen.
- Lagos is Nigeria's business capital. But Abuja is the seat of government, and the site of important decision making.
- Bribery is most visible at police checkpoints (usually at big junctions), where armed police may demand "a little something for the weekend". Let your driver do the talking or be diplomatic. "Just a smile for you today, sir", should let you off the hook. Bribery at higher levels of officialdom is less blatant, especially where foreign visitors are concerned (but your Nigerian business-partner may be approached).
- It is essential to hire a good driver who can double as a fixer. Taxis in Lagos tend to be unreliable and can be unsafe. No matter how run-down it may appear to western eyes, Lagosians are proud of their city.
- Avoid using credit cards. Fraud is rampant and your card details can easily fall into the wrong hands. It is best to change money in the bureaux de change of upmarket hotels. Regular visitors to Lagos tend to change their money in the black-market exchanges in the carparks of large hotels.
- Nigerians are sharp dressers. Three-piece suits in the blazing heat are not unheard of. Ties are not essential, but you will need a smart shirt and jacket. Some locals will appreciate you wearing traditional Nigerian garb when attending festivities and informal social engagements.
- No matter how run-down it may appear to western eyes, Lagosians are proud of their city. Complaints from visitors about traffic, power cuts, petrol queues, rubbish-choked gutters and people urinating in the streets will not go down well.
- Expect business meetings to be delayed, but always arrive on time yourself. Nigerians are notorious for poor time-keeping - a reflection of the unruly environment in which they operate. Always allow time in your schedule for this and don't get flustered.
- Before the meeting starts, hand your card to everyone in the room; even to the secretary taking notes (both as a sign of courtesy and to ensure your name is spelled correctly).
- Opening chit-chat should revolve around neutral topics, such as football. More than 360 Nigerian footballers play in European and South American teams. It will help to know at least Jay Jay Okocha or Celestine Babayaro.
- Do not bring up corruption. If it comes up in conversation, respond with "It's the same all over the world".
- Let your host guide the course of a business meeting. If a point of concern comes up and you feel he is not responding, bring it up at the end, when the meeting is almost over.
- Do not be surprised if the lights go out in the middle of your presentation. Power cuts are a daily occurrence in Nigeria and stand-by generators are not always quick to kick in. Avoid comments such as "I hear this sort of thing happens a lot here". Instead, kill time with small talk or simply plough ahead with your presentation. You'll be applauded for your nonchalance. Do not be surprised if the lights go out in the middle of your presentation
- Seniority matters. Treat anyone older than you, whether a gate guard or bank manager, with civility and respect. Don't openly challenge your older Nigerian colleagues, even if you are higher up the corporate ladder. Find polite ways of allowing them to save face.
- Both in the office and in everyday situations, Nigerians often call their superiors "Chief". Follow suit and you'll blend right in.
- Gift-giving is ingrained in the Nigerian culture. Your business contact may appreciate a small gift, such as a tie from Harrods, or a box of chocolates from Fortnum and Mason.
- Lagos's rush hour starts at 3p.m. and lasts until 9pm. Allow for an hour to get through it, even if you're only travelling a short distance.
- Relentless humidity can make Lagos very uncomfortable. In winter (November-March), hot days are the norm - prepare for temperatures of up to 36¡C (98¡F), with the harmattan wind from the Sahara adding to the dust and haze. Summers (May-October) are a little cooler and wetter.
- Popular food includes boiled, pounded yam or cassava dipped in oily stews and eaten with the right hand. Use cutlery for other dishes, such as spicy jollof rice (rice with beef or chicken) and plantain. Chilli pepper is used liberally. "Bush meat", ranging from pythons, large rodents and monkeys, is also popular. If that doesn't appeal, try goat, which is tender and tastes slightly sweet.
- According to The Economist's former Africa correspondent: "Nigerian pepper soup is one of the world's great dishes. It comes in three main varieties - beef, goat or fish - and is usually scooped up in the cupped palm of the right hand. Other tasty concoctions include okra soup with dried shrimp and spinach, and melon-seed soup with crayfish. Local clear beers such as Star and Gulder are scrumptious. Nigerian Guinness, brewed to a recipe that keeps the tropical heat from spoiling it, is much stronger and more bitter than the Irish original."
- Lagos has many jumping music and dance clubs. Jon Lusk, editor of The Rough Guide to World Music especially recommends Motherlan, run by L‡gb‡j‡, a masked saxophone maestro, and Femi Kuti's New African Shrine, where Nigeria's biggest star carries on the Afrobeat revolution pioneered by Fela Kuti, his late and legendary father.
- Out on the streets people may exclaim Oyibo! ("foreigner"), when you pass by. For many Nigerians, the sight of a foreigner is unusual. The word is meant as a greeting (even though the literal translation is "he who looks as though he's been stung by a bee").
- Women visitors should dress smartly but conservatively, and should avoid going out alone. Even when accompanied, be prepared to have advances made to you. Turn down unwanted attention politely (pride is everything in Nigeria).
- Keep small change in your pocket for tips, but take care to keep it in proportion to local wages. Slipping a waiter 500 naira ($4) may seem like a small matter to you, but such as sum would be 10 per cent of an average monthly salary.
- As a rule, leave a tip of 10 per cent in restaurants, and give hotel porters 100 naira. Taxi drivers tend automatically to raise their prices for foreign customers, so an additional tip would be unnecessary.
Out and about
Crime: You'd be unlucky to be robbed at gun-point in Lagos, but street crime in Lagos is high and those who can afford to do so live behind walled compounds protected by barbed wire, with iron bars at the windows. If you plan to stay out late at night, ask your driver to work late too (he will usually be perfectly happy to oblige).