10 Things That Surprise Foreigners About Nigeria

Nigeria may not be the most-visited country in Africa, but it does attract oodles of business and leisure travelers every year who come for its booming economic opportunities and unique cultural and natural attractions. But first-time visitors who might think Nigeria is similar to more popular African destinations like Kenya or South Africa are probably in for quite a bit of a shock. Here are 10 things that surprise foreigners about Nigeria.

lagos traffic

Courtesy of Ben Freeman / flickr

The traffic is insane

If you’re coming from L.A. or London and think the traffic is bad, wait until you get a load of Lagos, the country’s commercial hub. Traffic in Lagos is an absolute nightmare and has been counted as among the world’s worst in publications like The Atlantic and Business Insider. The problem doesn’t really get better in other cities either. Trust us, you don’t want to drive here if you aren’t used to it.

suya nigeria

Courtesy of usabin / flickr

The food is usually super spicy

Did that Tex-Mex food upset your stomach? Aww, poor baby. After having a few meals in Nigeria, you might wish you were still at Señor Frog’s. Nigerian food is to use mass quantities of onions, chili and palm oil, which is sure to light the mouth on fire and do a number on rookie stomachs. On the other hand, if spices expands your consciousness, you’ll probably enjoy Nigerian food to the max.

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Power Outages

Nigeria has some serious power problems. Whether you’re dining at a restaurant or checking your e-mail at an internet cafe, the power can and will go out frequently. Not just once a week, but multiple times a day. It’s so bad that the government-run power company (called NEPA) is often referred to as Never Expect Power Always and other humorous plays on words. Most hotels have this under better control, but after a few weeks in Nigeria you’ll get used to the soothing sound (and horrible smell) of diesel generators.

nigeria carrying chickens

Lorimer Images / Shutterstock

People carry a lot of stuff

Angry that your partner made you carry the heavy bag of groceries? Oh, you weakling. In Nigeria, you’ll see people everywhere balancing all kinds of stuff in ways that you didn’t think was humanly possible. You might see a woman carrying a basket of firewood on her head, or guy on a motorbike carrying a flat screen TV, a goat and a few chickens on the back. Whatever carrying feat you think you might have achieved, you can bet somebody in Nigeria has done something far better.

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It’s hot and rains a lot

OK, you might already know this one, but you have to be there to experience it. If you’ve seen pictures of Nigeria, you probably noticed how green it is. That’s because there is a long humid season and a hot dry season in most parts of the country. Most parts of Africa get a break from the heat at some point during the year, but not Nigeria! For example, if you’re staying in Abuja, expect six months of rainy days with temperatures around 85F (29C), then another six months of dry heat with temps around 97F (36C). Lagos is slightly milder, but it still averages 87F (30C) year-round and it gets more rain.

The hotels are expensive

Many people assume that once their expensive plane ticket to Africa is paid for, they can save money on hotels. But if you’re traveling to Nigeria, think again. The country is known for having some of the most expensive hotels in the world (albeit usually nice ones), and rates are comparatively higher than other places in Africa. Be prepared for some sticker shock.

market in lagos

Courtesy of Guety / Wikimedia Commons

People, people, everywhere!

Somebody has to drive all those cars and motorbikes that create the traffic, right? If you’re heading out for the day in major cities like Lagos, or even smaller cities like Kaduna, expect to be consumed by large crowds, whether you’re driving on the highway or wandering through a market. Daily life in Nigeria is lived in public, and it sometimes seems like the entire population of 180 million people is out in the street at the same time.


Wikimedia Commons

Nollywood is really big

No, you won’t see a giant Nollywood sign on the hills around Abuja. But when you get to your hotel and turn on the TV, don’t expect to see many Western channels. Of course, you’ll probably get CNN and Disney, but the bulk of the programming will feature Nigerian movies, sports, and especially soap operas, which are extremely popular. The Nigerian film industry has the third highest revenue of any country in the world, and it’s primarily Nigerians who are watching it.

nigerian language

Courtesy of Ulamm / Wikimedia Commons

The people speak many different languages

While Nigeria’s official language is English, you might hear a lot of other tongues in the streets. Many Nigerians prefer to use native languages like Igbo, Hausa, Edo and Yoruba instead, and save English for more practical matters. If you travel to some of the poorer areas, you might not hear English at all.

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You won’t use your left hand often

Using your left hand to meet and greet people is frowned upon in Nigeria. You shouldn’t touch your food with your left hand either, unless you want all of the people at the next table staring you down. Don’t worry, after a few stares,  you’ll be back on track and using your right hand for everything!

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