Corporate Traveller

10 things you didn’t know about doing business in Nigeria

It’s an economic powerhouse on the continent and one in which South African businesses are increasingly investing despite recent challenges.

Together, Nigeria and South Africa are a match made in heaven – accounting for about half of Africa’s GDP. Culturally, however, they are quite different.

It’s important for South African travellers headed north to respect this and prepare for a business culture that could at best be described as ‘fluid’.

“A quick, direct approach is required in Nigeria. There’s a lot of competition and businesspeople need to be spontaneous, flexible and very decisive. You need to think on your feet if you’re going to get your desired result,” explains Oz Desai, Corporate Traveller GM.

“The Nigerian people are vibrant and very innovative. Doing business here is exciting and fast-paced. You need to be well connected, influential and on the ball. On the one hand things happen slowly, on the other extremely fast, so the unpredictability of the environment certainly keeps you on your toes.”

With an economy that is vested in oil, mineral resources, services and information and communication technology, Nigeria is a boon for South African investors wanting to expand their business interests on the African continent.

“Provided you understand the business etiquette, doing business in Nigeria can be extremely rewarding,” says Mark Richardson, Team Leader Corporate Traveller and Nigeria specialist. “But don’t expect anything to be predictable and to go as planned. Today’s interpretation of a deal may not be the same interpretation tomorrow.”

Here are Richardson’s 10 things you didn’t know about doing business in Nigeria:

1. No 9 to 5 

Forget the Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 grind. Nigerians do business anywhere, anytime. It’s almost as if wheeling and dealing is in their DNA.

2. Hurry up and wait

Everything will happen in its own time and the more you try to force it to fit your timeline, the less it will.  Trying to hurry things along with have the complete opposite effect. You need to be patient and trust in the process.

3. Stamp, stamp

The Nigerians have inherited a penchant for bureaucracy like many African countries. Expect a wad of paperwork for every transaction even if you’re fully aware that this paperwork will never get used.

4. Get personal

Nigerians love to meet foreign nationals who come to do business in the country. Regale them with stories about back home because, remember in this economy, building relationships is your number 1 priority.

5. Sharing is caring

Your allotted appointment time is not yours, and yours alone. Nigerians have no qualms about interrupting meetings with phone calls and brief interludes from others, especially their friends and family. And don’t be surprised if they’re carrying three cell phones to take these calls.

6. Up close and personal

Personal space in Nigeria is markedly less than in South Africa. Try not to be uncomfortable if your Nigerian colleague is standing to close for comfort and ‘yelling’ at you.

7. Be polite

It is the Nigerian way to be effusively polite in their approach. For South African business travellers this may seem overtly formal, but it is their way so be sure to conform and not offend your hosts. Family and health are important. Expect your host to enquire about both and to spend some time discussing this, and ensure you do the same. Looking your Nigerian colleague in the eye could also be construed as too aggressive so keep this in mind when you’re engaging in conversation.

8. Travel tips 

Yes, you need a visa and yes, it takes time. Ensure that you’ve applied for your visa in good time as it can take longer than other visas. We would advise against driving in Nigeria so if you rent a car, hire a driver for the duration of your stay. And when it comes to currency, US dollars are your best bet, but don’t change them all into naira because it could be a struggle converting them back – foreign currency shortages have been an issue.  

9. Not everyone’s the same

There are several ethnicities, cultures and religions in Nigeria so it would be wrong to approach every Nigerian colleague the same way, much as it would in South Africa. Make an effort to understand their background before you meet them so that you can approach them appropriately.

10. Compromise

This may not be the Grand Bazaar, but you can expect Nigerians to be brilliant bargainers. Astute businesspeople, they know how to negotiate and you’ll need to work hard to achieve a compromise that suits both parties as a result.

Armed with these tips and the knowledge that you’re in their home and need to abide by their rules, South Africans travelling to Nigeria can look forward to an exciting business partnership with an earnest, entrepreneurial nation that adores doing business.