Visitors living in Nigeria for any length of time (three months or more) would do well to quickly identify a Nigerian as their cultural mentor. This person should be someone who is knowledgeable and tolerant of the different religions and cultures. He should be consulted when special dates (Muslim holidays, the Christmas season, etc.) approach and when foreigners are invited to special occasions (wedding, funerals etc.)
In general, dress in Nigeria is conservative. Women wear clothing that covers their arms and legs and some cover their heads. Trousers on women are being seen more and more. Nigeria women wear shorts only for sporting events. Men also dress casually-conservative, meaning that trousers and short or long sleeved shirts are the norm. For important business meetings suits and the national dress are worn. Visitors who wish to be easily accepted would be wise to follow suit, especially if on their first visit to the country and trying to make acquaintances and friends. Nigerians providing cultural training for foreigners put it clearly and succinctly by saying, “we do not want to see the geography of your body”.
Begging is an acceptable part of life in some cultures. The more you give to those in need, the higher place they attain in the afterlife. It is important to determine what feels right for you; some people provide N5 or N10 to beggars as they approach the vehicle. Others select a charity organisation to which to give. In any case, a polite acknowledgement by bowing your head and smiling is essential.
It is important not to give or receive items with your left hand. This hand is normally reserved for personal hygiene. This is particularly important when eating with your hands. it is, however, acceptable to use knives and forks with both hands.
Greetings are extremely important in every situation-whether passing someone on the street, walking into an office or meeting someone at a party. While walking in the street, it is important at a minimum to simply nod your head and say good morning, good afternoon or good evening as you pass. At the office, the greeting should be more elaborate. “Hello, how are you? How was the night? How is your family? are commonly heard. When you arrive at a party, you should acknowledge the others present either by shaking hands all around, or nodding, smiling and murmuring greetings, if the crowd is too large. It is important that the person who issued you invitation knows that you attended the event. Be sure to greet that person even if you do not stay the entire time.
The concept of “personal space” is different for Nigerians. Visitors may feel Nigerians are standing “too close” to them in lines or at public events. No offence is intended; foreigners simply feel the public events. No offence is intended; foreigners simply feel the need for more people space. Likewise, no offence is intended you feel you are being “stared at”. Although this happens less in Abuja and Lagos than in the provinces, there is also the common misconception that because some Nigerians do not look you in the eye when they speak, they must be lying or hiding something actually being done out of respect.
Social relationships are extremely important in Nigeria. “Life Events” are marked by the gathering of family friends, work colleagues primary school friends and in smaller areas-the entire village not unusual for there to be several thousand people at major social occasions. Nigerians appreciate those who share in their joy and sorrow. Personal visits before or after the large social occasions are very meaningful.
Many occasions are held in public buildings because of large attendance. Evening parties are often held under canopies in the yard or on the street. There is often more than one band-which may make conversation difficult. Men and women often separately, though it is acceptable for visitors to sit together regardless of gender.
Most social occasions begin later than scheduled and last several hours. Invitations to several occasions on the same day are common because there are so many and they tend to last a long time. It is socially acceptable to arrive late, stay long enough to greet the key people and leave. Guests staying for the entire event will see a large turnover of guests. Nigerian social occasions are expensive. Friends and relatives assist each other with substantial donations. Fore example, a man who buries his father will receive envelopes of money from his friends. He then contributes when his friend’s daughter gets married, names a baby or has a death in the family. Visitors invited to such occasions should take gifts or money along. The amount of money will depend upon your position and relationship to the family. It is wise to consult cultural mentors to determine what is appropriate for each occasion.
Nigerians are usually very well dressed for such occasions. Visitors who attend should be formally dressed, e.g. dark suits and tie for men and formal dress, hat and heels for women. At many churches, women are expected to cover their heads. It is often appreciated if a Visitor wears Nigeria dress. However, it is necessary to check with the cultural mentor to make sure that what from the right region, for the right gender and worn properly).
A wedding is the union of two families, not two individuals. After letters are sent from the groom’s family to the bride’s and back again, there is an “introduction and engagement” ceremony- what Westerners would consider as the traditional wedding. There are extensive introductions of family members, speeches, various rituals and the exchange of gifts. This event usually takes place in the house of the bride and is a relatively small gathering of people (about 100). The formal church, mosque or registry wedding, includes guests, elaborate clothes and long speeches. Light refreshments will be served at the reception. There will be a band a full meal at the evening party.
Friends of specific participants in the wedding will often wear the same type and/or design of cloth, e.g. friends of the bride’s mother may wear one type of cloth and the friends of groom’s mother may wear another. If you are very close to a key participant, they may ask you to wear the cloth too. For women who prefer not to cut it and have it made into a dress, it shows your support and friendship to get the cloth, even if you are unable to attend the wedding.
If you are not wearing the choice cloth of one of the participants, your dressing should be formal. Women may wear long dresses that cover their arms and a hat, while men could wear suits. For gifts, you can ask the family what they would like. Money, traditional fabrics and kitchenware are always appreciated.
Bring wads of crisp bank notes/currencies with you as there will also be plenty of opportunities to give donations to the families, the mosque and/or church etc. Some cultures also have the custom of a ‘money dance’ where currency notes are tossed or plastered on the bride and/or groom during a dance (popularly called “spraying”). As with other Nigerian events, weddings tend to start late and last very long. So if you arrive on time, be patient, the experience will be worth the wait.
Funeral here are viewed from two different perspectives-one for an elderly person and another for a young person. The funeral of an elderly person who has lived a full life is cause for celebration. In Christian families, the deceased is often not buried until weeks after their death so that family members can travel back home adequate funds for a proper burial ceremony can be gathered. There is likely to be a wake in the evening/night prior to the funeral, then a church funeral, followed by the burial. Guests go to the home the deceased for a party, complete with full meal, band, dancing and “spraying” (putting money on the forehead of significant well). However, in the Islamic religion where strict conventions on burials are observed, the deceased needs to be buried within hours after death. Then there is a party eight days later and again forty days later. Dress for both occasions is formal.
The funeral of a young person whose life has been cut short is much more sombre. The ceremonies are usually the same are not accompanied by eating, drinking and dancing. Likewise dress is sombre. An ‘outing’ ceremony takes place after a funeral when families put on bright clothes and go to church together.
In most cultures in Nigeria a baby is named on the seventh or eighth day after birth. The ceremony is usually done in the early morning and may have Christian or Muslim prayers.
Certain birthdays have great meaning and are often accompanied by big parties, e.g. ages 1, 2,10,21,40,50 and 60. But ages 70 and 80 have the greatest meaning and attract the highest esteem.
Chieftaincy titles are still highly valued and sought after by many Nigerians. Titles are based on personal achievement, inherited positions or wealth. Visitors who have lived in the country for a long time and/or made substantial contributions to a community or culture may sometimes be made ceremonial chiefs. Often, several chiefs are installed during the same ceremony.
This is a celebration of a new prestigious acquisition such as a car or a house. The ‘washing’ of a house is similar to the western house-warming celebration where friends come to help and rejoice in good fortune.
In general, Nigerians like spicy food. Each ethnic group has its own diet, which is largely determined by the geography and agricultural production available in the area. Because Abuja now has such a mix of cultures, most staples can be found here. Meals often consist of a large portion of carbohydrates such as yam, gari (cassava), rice, sorghum, corn or millet, with a stew and some cooked vegetables.
The carbohydrate eaten defines the meal, e.g. “I ate pounded yam”, and not I ate chicken with vegetables”. The carbohydrate is accompanied by some stew or soup, which is usually made up of tomatoes, onion and hot pepper ground together. It may also include ground seeds, nuts or cut vegetables. For example, Egusi Soup contains ground melon seeds, dried fish, efon (spinach), vegetables and palm oil. The pounded staple accompaniment. Starter courses such as raw vegetables and desserts are not part of the normal diet. Fruits are often eaten as snacks in between meals and can be purchased on the street. Street vendors often sell oranges, pineapples, bananas, apples, groundnuts (peanuts), popcorn, corn fritters, puff-puff (similar to doughnuts) roasted plantain or maize, raw garden eggs (eggplant), carrots, meat pastries, Suya meat( popular type of roast meat), Akara (a puffy deep-fried cake made with beans) and kulikuli (small peanut paste balls).
The term “tea” refers to any hot beverage. It is usually served with bread, preferably the sweet Nigerian-type or cakes.
Mama put or little “restaurants” with local foods can also be found on almost every street. However, the sanitation arrangements in these places are not the same as in other more established places where running water can be used to clean the dishes, This is a safer choice.