Nigeria Expat Country Guide
This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. For more information we recommend that you speak with your national government Foreign Office (or equivalent).
The pulsating powerhouse of West Africa, Nigeria, is the most densely populated nation on the continent. One in five Africans hail from the country and Nigeria brashly dominates the region, both culturally and economically. The country harnesses its position in the top five countries for western economic expansion and trail blazes its rapid development through the continent with force.
As the world’s 10th largest producer of oil, Nigeria’s capital city Lagos is a tumultuous hub bursting at the seams with burgeoning technology, telecommunications industries, high-end restaurants and trendy nightclubs. Furthermore, with a volcanic art and music scene that is exploding its way into UK culture, Lagos is the face of modern Africa.
Outside the city of Lagos, colloquially referred to by Lagosians as Gidi, there are villages and towns shrouded in raw layers of rich culture and deep history. From a legacy of tribal conflict and slavery, to ancient Muslim cities and river deltas, the stunning natural environment provides a relieving break from an overwhelming country.
Although Nigeria lies wholly within the tropical zone, various regions of the country vary dramatically when it comes to climate. Coastal areas rarely exceed 32°C and the seasons are not sharply defined. Humidity is very high and nights are uncomfortably hot.
Inland, the seasons are much more distinct. April to October is the wet season, with lower temperatures and the wettest month usually being June. The dry season runs from November to March, with midday temperatures regularly rising above 38°C. However, nights are more manageable, with temperatures dropping as low as a refreshing 12°C.
Average rainfall along the coast varies from about 180 cm in the west to 430 cm in certain parts of the east. Inland, it decreases to around 130 cm over most of central Nigeria and only 50 cm in the extreme north.
It is worth remembering that the hot Harmattan wind from the Sahara Desert sweeps across the north-eastern areas of the country, bringing with it a reddish dust from the desert which can aggravate the respiratory system and provoke asthma.
Being Africa’s most populous country, it is no surprise that Nigeria has one of the largest aggregations of ethnic groups in the world. There are more than 300 Nigerian tribes, with Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba making up approximately 70% of the population. All Nigerian tribes have different cultures that have been carried on by their people for generations and this is why Nigeria has an immense and powerful cultural diversity.
Hausa is the largest tribe in Nigeria and responsible for 29% of the population, with the majority settling in the northern parts of the country such as Kano, Kaduna, Abuja and Bauchi. Hausa culture and traditional dress is influenced by its main religion, Islam. However, initially, Hausa people practiced a religion called Bori which portrayed the idea that spiritual entities live with human beings.
Hausa people are very religious and both men and women wear very strict outfits which are known for being highly elaborate. The men wear large flowing gowns known as Babban riga and a robe-like dress with design called Jalabia or Juanni. The women are identified by their wraps called abaya, blouses, head ties, shawls and hijabs. Hausa women also use jewellery and ornaments in their fashion, as well as lalli or henna paintings as part of their make-up.
The Igbo people have a rich history dating back to 4500 BC and the south and east of Nigeria is mostly occupied by Igboland, specifically swamp, forest land, as well as Niger River delta.
Igbo people originate from the Nri Kingdom which was one of the most ancient kingdoms on the territory of present day Nigeria. Igbo people love music and have invented and used a range of various curious instruments.
In modern times, most Igbo people do not wear their traditional costume in daily life, saving it mostly for special occasions, but the robes are colourful and comfortable to wear.
With the introduction of Christianity back in 1857, many Igbos are Christian, however, some areas and villages blend Christianity with local religions to create their own unique belief system. Furthermore, aside from religion, family is very important to the Igbo people; it forms the backbone of their culture and is one of the most family orientated cultures in Nigeria.
The third largest and most prevalent tribe in Nigeria is Yoruba, constituting around 21% of the population. They inhabit the southwestern parts of Nigeria but, interestingly, also can be found in other West African countries and even the Caribbean.
Much like the Igbo tribe, the Yoruba people hold family at the epicentre of life and in most cases, local communities are directed and headed by elders who are highly respected by the younger generation.
Despite many Yoruba people still holding on to their ancient tradition, only one in five continue to whole-heartedly practice their ancient beliefs, both culturally and spiritually. The rest of the Yoruba population is split in half, with one side confessing Islam and the other, Christianity.
Language in Nigeria is complex, with 521 languages having been spoken in the country at some juncture, and with 9 of these now rumoured to be extinct. The official language of Nigeria is English, the former colonial language which was chosen to facilitate the cultural and linguistic unity of the country. However, English is much more prevalent in the country’s urban communities than in the rural areas, with many adopting Nigerian Pidgin; an English-based pidgin and creole language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria.
Due to the 300-plus tribes that make up Nigeria’s rich cultural tapestry, each has their own language. Besides English, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Edo, Fulfudle and Kanura are the other major languages spoken in the country.
Hausa Is often associated with Islamic culture in Nigeria and is spoken by 18.5 million speakers predominantly found in the Sokoto, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa and Gombe states. After English, Hausa is the second language of 15 million Nigerians and has prompted the likes of BBC radio, China Radio International and Voice of Russia to broadcast in it.
Igbo and Yoruba are the second and third most notable languages in Nigeria, responsible for 42.9 million speakers and are spoken by nationals of primarily Igbo and Yoruba decent. Yoruba is widely recognised in the UK as many Nigerian immigrants live and work in cities such as London, Manchester and Leeds.
Whether travelling to Lagos, or any Nigerian town, it will soon become apparent that each area has its own motor park which serves as a transport hub, full of minibuses and taxis. Vehicles can be distinguished by signs on their roofs, detailing their destination, as well as ticket touts shouting out destinations. It must be remembered that the minibuses do not run on any time schedule and depart simply when the vehicle is full so for travellers it is best to arrive early to avoid disappointment.
The quickest way to get around many towns is on the back of an okada, a motorcycle-taxi. However, because of questionable safety precautions the government has banned okada in a few major cities. This has resulted in bad traffic jams and inflated taxi prices with drivers who are willing to flout the law.
Public transport safety is not Nigeria’s strong point, but using common sense and remaining vigilant is key. For those who are worried, most major hotels offer cars for hire with divers.
In general, Nigeria’s road system is good, boasting smooth roads in and around all the major towns and villages. However, due to wide roads, many Nigerians like to exercise their talents as racing drivers and this has resulted in ever-increasing accident rates.
In some urban areas traffic can be chaotic, and for travellers who are behind the wheel in Nigeria it is advisable to have a mobile phone and water on all journeys. Like any foreign country that isn’t crystal clean, it is best for foreign visitors to limit travel and avoid quieter or poorly lit roads. If stuck in a traffic jam or at lights, doors should be kept locked and windows rolled up.
In Lagos, eating, smoking, or using a mobile phone while driving is prohibited. Motorists and motorcycle riders (particularly those who do not wear a helmet) can face fines or imprisonment for these violations.
For travellers flying in to any of Nigeria’s international airports and expecting a greeter or driver to collect you, make sure they have identified themselves thoroughly before getting into any vehicle as bogus greeters are a real issue.
It is critical to visit your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before a trip to Nigeria to check whether you need any vaccinations. In December 2013, Nigeria was affected by the Ebola virus epidemic which originated in Guinea. However, as of the 20th October 2014, Nigeria has officially been declared free of Ebola.
In early 2016, Zika virus was confirmed in the country and it is best to discuss travel plans with your healthcare provider, particularly if you are pregnant or trying to conceive. Zika is currently endemic in Nigeria and is believed to be low risk to travellers.
Medical facilities in some parts of Nigeria are extremely basic and it is essential to have adequate health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment whilst abroad.
Serious tropical illnesses such as malaria, typhoid and yellow fever occur in Nigeria. Reports of Lassa fever are prevalent in several states and it is best to monitor local media for updates whilst visiting the country.
If you require urgent medical attention during your trip to Nigeria, dial 112 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your healthcare insurance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
The Nigerian Naira is the currency of Nigeria and is subdivided into 100 Kobo. The naira was only introduced on 1st January 1973, replacing the pound at a rate of 2 naira to 1 pound. This made Nigeria the last country to abandon pounds, shillings and pence.
Rampant inflation has occurred in Nigeria over the existence of naira. The Central Bank of Nigeria claimed they attempted to control the annual inflation rate below 10%. However, in 2011 the Central Bank of Nigeria increased the key interest rate 6 times, rising from 6.25% to 12%. In January 2012, the bank decided to maintain a key interest rate of 12% in order to reduce the impact of inflation due to reduction in fuel subsidies.
Nigeria is generally a cash economy although the use of credit and debit cards is increasing, especially in the big cities. If you hold a Visa, MasterCard or Maestro card you can withdraw cash in Naira from various ATMs in most Nigerian cities including Lagos.
ATM machines can be found at Standard Chartered Bank, Ecobank and some Zenith Bank branches and there are machines located within the premises of most Nigerian commercial banks. However, travellers should be aware that ATMs only allow you to withdraw 20,000 naira at a time which is a relatively small sum in Nigeria. Furthermore multiple withdrawals could slap a hefty transaction fee depending on your bank policies.
Once in Nigeria, it is best to buy Naira using foreign currency at airports or large hotels. It worth noting that only US Dollars, Pounds Sterling, and Euros are normally traded in at these stores. Changing larger sums of US Dollars or Euros will give you a better rate with professional money changers, such as on the currency exchange market near Lagos Domestic Airport.
Travellers travelling home from Nigeria should change any naira before leaving the country, as the currency has little value elsewhere and many establishments will not trade naira, making it a worthless piece of paper in some countries.
The responsibility of education in Nigeria is shared between the federal, state and local governments. The Federal Ministry of Education plays a dominant role in regulating the education sector, engaging in policy formation and ensuring quality control. However, the federal government is more directly involved with tertiary education than it is with school education, which is largely the responsibility of state (secondary) and local (primary) governments.
The education sector is divided into three sub-sectors: basic (nine years), post-basic/senior secondary (three years), and tertiary (four to seven years) and education in Nigeria is provided by public and private institutions.
Sadly, a lot of Nigeria’s children suffer from poor school facilities, and parents are pushing for change in the sector. Some schools are lacking basics such as electricity and pipe-borne water. Other establishments are not equipped with modern facilities or internet access, and children are learning from outdated and inappropriate textbooks.
Many Nigerian citizens wish for schools, especially secondary, to be returned to their original owners, missionaries, who provided a level of teaching and facilities that was on par with the rest of the world.
There are a number of high quality international schools in and around Lagos. Not only do such schools generally offer higher standards of tuition, but in addition they will allow your children to study for internationally-recognized qualifications.
Note that, as in many other countries, these international schools come with a premium price-tag attached. As a result, expats may want to consider trying to include school fees in their remuneration package in order to lessen the financial impact of taking children to Nigeria.
Food & Drink
Food is central to Nigerian culture, and with a country made up of so many different ethnic groups, there is a rich smorgasbord of different cuisines to experience. People in Nigeria’s northern regions, who are mostly Muslim, have diets based on beans, sorghum (a type of grain) and brown rice. Other Nigerian regions like to have fried plantain or pounded yam as an accompaniment to their meal. Meat is used in most Nigerian dishes and soups and stews are also extremely popular.
Often recognised by Westerners, jollof rice is a Nigerian staple. Rice is teamed with tomato, onion and scotch bonnet peppers. It is often enjoyed simply on its own as a meal, or accompanied by piping hot dodo; deep fried plantain cut in diagonal slices.
Egusi soup is another traditional favourite and is made from egusi seeds which are protein-rich seeds found in squash and melon. The soup is usually made of seeds, water, and oil, and can contain vegetables, seasonings and meat depending on preference.
Yams are a replacement for potatoes in Nigeria and are typically enjoyed in pounded form. The yam is made into a dough, resembling thick mashed potato, and is enjoyed warm alongside dishes like stews, soups and curries.
In terms of beverages, malt-based drinks are extremely popular. It is possible for those in the UK to try the favoured Super Malt as it is found in some supermarkets. Malt drinks are a take on stout beers. They are a non-alcoholic and sweet drink and are, essentially, unfermented beer.
Despite Lagos cementing itself as the face of modern Africa, the country is infamous for corruption, political unrest and terrorism. Although terrorism is now considered a global issue, the threat in Nigeria is high. Although the majority of attacks have taken place at churches or mosques during times of worship, it must be remembered that terrorists do not discriminate.
Travellers to the country should avoid public places where there are political or large public gatherings. Furthermore, a heavy security presence often indicates areas of particularly high risk. It is best for visitors to remain vigilant and pay attention to their surroundings at all times.
The main terrorist threat in Nigeria comes from Islamist extremist groups Boko Haram and Ansura, who have been known to kidnap foreigners and take hostages, often resulting in fatalities.
British nationals, due to their perceived wealth, are often targets for violent street crime in Nigeria. If staying with friends or family visitors should abide by the security guidance offered by their hosts and avoid wearing valuable jewellery or watches, or carrying large amounts of cash.
Violent crime aside, many travellers are increasingly being targeted by scam artists operating not only in Nigeria, but the whole of West Africa. The scams take many forms, from romance to employment opportunities, and can pose great financial risk to victims. You should be extremely cautious about any correspondence, particularly over the internet, with anybody from Nigeria in regards to relationships, business or work opportunities.
Another dark side of Nigeria is fertility treatment scams. There have been a number of staged fake births, commonly referred to as a ‘miracle babies’. These can result in desperate women, who have struggled to conceive naturally, being falsely led in to believing they have given birth due to a mix of drugs and herbal treatments.
Places to Visit
Nigeria isn’t particularly famous for its tourist destinations, or areas of outstanding natural beauty, but there are some destinations that will entice even the most sceptical of travellers.
Yankari Game Reserve
Yankari Game Reserve is a large wildlife park located in Bauchi State. For those who enjoy adventure, Yankari is a unique way to make a holiday to Nigeria remarkable. Travellers can enjoy seeing wild animals in their natural habitat on safari, and the reserve offers a wide variety of accommodation allowing visitors to stay in the park.
Obudu Cattle Ranch
Setting aside a few days to get in touch with nature at the ranch is a must. The attraction is popular for its beautiful natural wonders, cable cars, and amazing opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities. Travellers can enjoy the outdoor pool or enjoy a hike along the famous canopy walk way.
The Idanre Hills, which are said to be 800 years old, are a breath-taking landscape. There are 640 steps taking travellers to the summit but, rest assured, there are 5 resting points on the incline. The evergreen landscape surrounding the hills provide visitors with a tranquil haven, and a chance to enjoy a very rare panoramic view of Nigeria, 3000 feet above sea level.
Ogunbike Cave is a wonder of nature and home to a large colony of bats. The cave is segmented into sections, each having its own story. Native tour guides take visitors around each area of the caves, telling stories about the historical and spiritual significance the caves have in Nigeria.