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Nigeria Customs & Etiquettes


Along with South Africa, Nigeria is considered a super-power in the African continent and consequently Nigerians are generally proud of their country. It has the largest population in Africa and the land is endowed with vast quantities of natural resources. It is the sixth largest oil-producing nation and has a well-educated and industrious society. They are fond of the expression, "When Nigeria sneezes, the rest of the African nations (with the exception of South Africa) catch cold."

Extended families are still the norm and are in fact the backbone of the social system. Grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers and in-laws all work as a unit through life.

Family relationships are guided by hierarchy and seniority. Social standing and recognition is achieved through extended families. Similarly a family's honour is influenced by the actions of its members. Individuals turn to members of the extended family for financial aid and guidance, and the family is expected to provide for the welfare of every member. Although the role of the extended family is diminishing somewhat in urban areas, there remains a strong tradition of mutual caring and responsibility among the members.

Nigeria is a hierarchical society. Age and position earns, even demands, respect. Age is believed to confer wisdom so older people are granted respect. The oldest person in a group is revered and honoured. In a social situation, they are greeted and served first. In return the most senior person has the responsibility to make decisions that are in the best interest of the group.

Do not cross or jump over someone's legs if they are sitting with the legs extended out as it is considered bad luck.

When entering a house in the predominantly Muslim North, you have to let them know in advance that you are visiting so that the women can prepare (cover themselves up). Islam requires women to cover their hair & bodies to other men and this is practiced in the North. Knock the door and wait to be answered before going in. They will ask you to wait while the women are informed. Do not be offended by the wait.

Meeting & Greeting

The most common greeting is a handshake with a warm, welcoming smile. Men may place their left hand on the other person’s shoulder while shaking hands. Smiling and showing sincere pleasure at meeting the person is important.

As in the rest of Africa, it is rude to rush the greeting process. You must take the time to ask about the person’s health, the health of their family, or other social niceties. Close friends and family members often kiss and hug when meeting.

A Nigerian generally waits for the woman to extend her hand. Observant Muslims will not generally shake hands with members of the opposite sex.

Address people initially by their academic, professional or honorific title and their surname. Friends may address each other in a variety of ways: the title and the first name, the first name alone, the surname alone, or a nickname. Always wait until invited before using someone’s first name. When greeting someone who is obviously much older, it is a sign of respect and deference to bow the head.

Gift Giving Etiquette

If invited to dinner at someone’s home, do bring fruit, nuts or chocolates for the host. A gift for the children is always a nice touch. Gifts should be given using the right hand only or both hands. Never use the left hand only. At Ramadan, it is customary for Muslims to give gifts of food and fruit.

Gifts from a man to a woman must be said to come from the man’s mother, wife, sister, or other female relative, never from the man himself.

Gifts should be wrapped and there are no cultural taboos concerning paper colour in Nigeria. Gifts are not usually opened when received.





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