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Nigeria cultural insights

The following cultural insights are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. The content in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.

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Local and Canadian perspectives for the following subjects:

Conversations

Local perspective

Meeting a Nigerian for the first time could be easy and fun. Nigeria as a whole could also be one big drama and soap opera unfolding before your eyes and everybody seems to have one thing or another to talk or complain about. They are very happy when someone shows interest in what they have to say. As a result of the many and varied interests in the country, issues such as religion, ethnic, political, economic, and social determines the shape of discussions. Most times such discussions are often very passionate and dramatic. Don’t be surprise if a third party cuts into your discussions without invitation to defend his or her interest. As a result of the pluralistic nature of the various interests it is always preferable to take a neutral position or simply act as a moderator in such a situation. By so doing one would not be seen as taking sides with any interest group.

Asking after the welfare of one’s family is one way of showing how thoughtful one could be in a country where most of the citizens think government has forgotten them and their plight.

Nigeria is still a very culturally rich and traditional country even though most Western values have crept into the society, especially among the youths. Sexual and immoral jokes may be frowned upon by some people. As a result of the long military misrule and hardship, more and more people have been resorting to religious faiths for divine intervention so it is easy to find proliferations of churches and various religious sects in the Southern parts of the country. These also shape people’s ways of thinking and issues that influence their discussions.

Canadian perspective

In general, Nigerians are quite gregarious and outgoing. It is rather difficult to stumble upon a taboo discussion topic, and this includes the country’s problems—Nigerians discuss them all the time! Family, work and place of origin are good openers. If mentioning one of your siblings, qualify the brother or sister with "junior" or "senior", relative to your age. Canadians and Nigerians share roughly the same sense of humour, including observations of irony and double standards. However, it is considered intrusive to probe the nature of illnesses afflicting someone’s relatives, unless the speakers are on very familiar terms.

Learning a little bit of the indigenous language, such as basic greetings, can bring smiles to Nigerians’ faces—they are flattered that foreigners make the effort to respect their unique and resilient culture! Many expatriates report maintaining rewarding friendships with their Nigerian colleagues that often extend long past their stay here.

Communication styles

Local perspective

Although the ethno-religious and political composition of Nigeria sometimes affects the way people communicate in informal communities, officially (government and business circles, for instance) people are expected to communicate in much the same way as in Western countries. Depending on how well you know the person you are speaking with or how familiar you are with that person, the standard distance for communication is an arm’s length.

Culturally, people tend not to gaze directly at their superiors eye-to-eye, which would be seen as confrontational and rude. Traditionally, this tendency is transferred to other environments as well. Some people find it unsettling when you gaze into their eyes, not necessarily because they have anything to hide, but because of their cultural upbringing. Therefore gazing at the shoulder level or the forehead is a polite way of avoiding such a confrontation. You can look eye-to-eye at a friend or a very familiar acquaintance or use whichever way of communication is understood between the two of you.

The same thing goes for addressing someone by their names. Superiors and subordinates expect to be addressed as Mr./Ms./Mrs. [last name] except if they say otherwise. Close friends can be addressed by their first name. In official settings in particular, Nigerians love titles and those that have them consider themselves privileged and want to be addressed as such. You may find titles such as Dr., Barrister, Advocate, General, Colonel, Sergeant, Chief, Professor, Lecturer, Engineer, etc. And for those Muslims from the North that have visited Mecca, prefer to be addressed as Alhaji.

Touching or making gestures when speaking is very common in Nigeria and should not be interpreted as having any sexual undertone. Touching mostly depends on the familiarity between the two people communicating and the kind of gestures depends on the ethnicity because people tend to bring their native gestures into official communication circles.

The same is true for intonation, which is influenced by their local dialects. Facial expressions and tone of voice are important in Nigerian communication. A loud and sharp voice can be regarded as unwelcoming and hostile, while an indifferent facial expression can be read as obnoxious or plain ignorance. People expect facial expression that suggests empathy, but be careful not to allow dishonest people to take advantage of your presumed understanding of their situation.

Canadian perspective

Nigerians living in the southern half of the country are comfortable with considerably less personal space than Canadians; allow approximately 50 centimetres. In the northern half, personal space is greater. Among the Yoruba in the South-West, avoid direct eye contact out of respect for those senior in age or social standing; this rule is often enforced by standing at right angles to one’s speaking partner.

Placing the hand on the arm or shoulder of someone of the same sex during a conversation is acceptable in the south, to underline sincerity, mirth, etc. Rubbing shoulders with strangers, quite literally, is commonplace: Canadians who take public transport in Nigeria may be surprised to see that shared taxis often have two passengers seated in the front passenger seat, and three in the back, while mini-vans carry four passengers across each bench.

Men shake hands with other men frequently, but it is normally initiated by the person more senior. Handshaking between the sexes is rare, and women don’t initiate the gesture. In Northern Nigeria, men may communicate indirectly with a woman by addressing her husband as an intermediary. Avoid pointing the hand with fingertips pressed against thumb and then opening to reveal your palm—this may be interpreted as "you are a child of the fifth wife"—an insult to Muslims especially! Avoid handling money or food (at point of purchase, or at the dining table) with your left hand.

Nigerians in the Southern half of the country speak frankly and directly, and their normal speaking volume is about thirty percent higher than the Canadian norm; those living in the North speak quietly. A commonly heard beckoning call used by Nigerians on the street, and one which Canadians might misinterpret as being offensive, is to make a "hissing" or "kissing" sound by sucking the lips.

Fortunately, you will discover that Nigerians are generally forgiving of foreigners’ etiquette gaffes.

Display of emotion

Local perspective

Public display of affections such as kissing or assuming postures that may be sexually suggestive are commonly frowned upon by some people with strong religious convictions, be they Christian or Muslim. But demonstrations of affection from a mother to a child or between siblings are accepted. People are free to express their anger (as long as it is legal). It is very common to see this in chaotic Lagos, where people vent their anger openly as a result of one disappointment or another. Open emotional displays such as crying for the loss of loved ones is common. There are also emotional outbursts of joy at celebration of successes, birth of a child, promotions, etc.

Canadian perspective

Southern Nigerians raise their voices and appear to become emotionally agitated much more frequently than Canadians. This can be distressful for newcomers, but it usually only signals that the parties feel passionately about the discussion topic, and expect you to engage boisterously in the debate as well. Sometimes true anger is expressed in this manner, but assume first that it’s only "friendly aggression".

In the South, Nigerians generally never hesitate to assert their rights vocally. Feelings of discontent or wrongdoing are made known more spontaneously than in Canada; motorists will sound and indeed lean on their horns more frequently than Canadians. Shyness, reticence, and diffidence are rarely encountered in this country, as is the misrepresentation of feelings. Canadians will perhaps appreciate this absence of ambiguity or uncertainty in interpersonal relations. Other emotions, like sorrow, shame or love are registered less frequently publicly. It is rare to see amorous couples embracing in public, as one encounters in Canada. However, best friends of the same sex will be seen walking in the street holding hands or arm in arm, and students frequently sit in each other’s lap to share a seat in a crowded mini-bus or taxi. Gays and lesbians, with the exception of a few venues in the largest cities, very rarely display their lifestyle publicly.

Dress, punctuality & formality

Local perspective

It is very important to know the attitude toward work in Nigeria. The Nigeria work attitude is somewhat laid back and dress should be clean, modest and formal or semi formal, depending on the type of job and office occupied. Some people may prefer to dress to work in their African traditional attires, while some others would prefer to stick to the Western style dressing to work.

Language nuances are mostly business-like or formal. Sometime it can be casual, depending on the situation and with whom.

Officially, respect of time is very important, though one must make provisions for cases that may arise as a result of technical reasons such as broken down infrastructures and poor transportation systems.

Canadian perspective

In general, one should dress smartly, and be groomed well. Wearing unpressed clothing when electricity is not scarce is frowned upon. Likewise, garments that are torn, re-stitched or dirty, or reveal the skin excessively may send wrong signals. Physical appearances are the first signal of one’s status in society. While dependent on the corporate culture, "native dress" (flowing gowns in colourful printed cloth or lace fabrics) is often worn on alternating days with Western style fashions by Nigerians old and young; professional class Nigerians tend to restrict themselves to the latter.

Greetings—sociable communication to establish and maintain trust and rapport are de rigeur in even the most basic of interactions, particularly with peers and superiors. Ask of their spouse and children, if you have met them before. One never begins an encounter with a direct request. Most groups in Nigeria have inherited a fairly paternalistic, hierarchical social order (the exception being the Igbo of the South-East), although everyone is encouraged to attain their highest personal capabilities. Males will bow to their elders, and females frequently curtsey for their bosses or elders, especially when money, completed work, or food is passed. This patrimonial, collectivist system is gradually giving way to a more egalitarian, Western style individualism, but it is best to play conservative in initial encounters.

Nigerians have an orientation to work quite different from Canadians’ rigid demarcation of work and break periods. Nigerian family, social and remunerative domains interpenetrate so deeply and fluidly that a considerable period of acclimatization may be necessary. In the heat of the day, when the supervisor has not assigned them work, it is not uncommon to encounter workers with their heads on their desks (though they remain attentive to the summoning voice of the boss) or else spending hours together chatting and laughing; mothers at work may carry their babies nestled on their backs. Conversely, supervisors can on occasion require their staff to work long hours in unpaid overtime.

Time orientation also differs significantly from that of Canadians. Punctuality and clock- watching are rare, in part because of the unpredictability of the physical and communications infrastructure: travel delays result from frequent mechanical breakdowns, fuel shortages, road accidents, police checkpoints, and traffic jams. Communications are disrupted daily by power outages, public strikes, rioting, etc., although the emergence of mobile phone coverage in many locales has improved matters.

Time is expressed as a commodity, but more often in the form of obeisance than of outpacing the competition. Appointment bookings are rarely made, so one may be required to wait an hour or more to see important figures. Once ushered in, the meeting may be disrupted frequently, when someone of equivalent or higher social standing suddenly appears on the scene. Canadians should not expect the same uniform standard of prompt, efficient, customer-oriented service as back home; the rarely qualified response ’Soon’ to your question ’When... ?’ is best interpreted on a timescale perhaps five to ten times longer.

Preferred managerial qualities

Local perspective

A local supervisor/ manager is expected to have good leadership qualities and be at least moderately educated, experienced on the job, hard word working, approachable and caring. These same qualities are expected of a non-local (Expat) manager/supervisor. You can know how your staff views you from their behaviour around you. Observe if they are intimidated by you, if they willingly open up to you or if they at some point become confrontational.

Canadian perspective

Strong leadership skills are admired above all else in both Nigerian and expatriate managers. The supervisor holds a paternal (or maternal) responsibility over his (her) staff members, and as such should be well networked and a skilful strategist. Information sharing is rarely formalized, i.e. frequent group staff meetings are not expected. Often a supervisor will meet only with staff within the confines of their office. Employees will remain loyal if they feel their boss treats them fairly, by paying them regularly, and fulfilling the obligations expected in a reciprocal arrangement. Non-local managers would do well to have an indigenous colleague or senior establish for employees a clear chain of command. Because Nigerian practices are often idiosyncratic for those accustomed to standard Western business ethics, it’s fairly common for international firms doing business here to enter into licensing agreements with locally-owned Nigerian outfits rather than setting up foreign-controlled subsidiaries.

Hierarchy and decision-making

Local perspective

In the workplace, decisions are normally taken by the board of directors or senior management. Ideas can be generated by two-way communication from junior staff to management through the appropriate communication lines. Likewise, feedback to staff is sent through established communication lines. It is acceptable to go to your immediate supervisor for answers or feedback.

Canadian perspective

Staff often leave all decision-making to their supervisor. Nevertheless, within this rather narrow locus of control, employees’ resourcefulness and innovation are encouraged and rewarded. Immediate supervisors may treat employees who request help disdainfully. There is an expectation that employees have sufficient skills to complete their work with minimal guidance.

Religion, class, ethnicity, & gender

Local perspective

Gender

The gap between the role of men and women is gradually closing now with more women occupying senior management and ministerial positions. Men are fast accepting women as equal partners in progress, which represents a sharp deviation from chauvinist nature of past. But culturally, women are still expected to play the traditional mother, wife and sister roles with the nurturing disposition that goes with them. This is more pronounced in the Muslim Northern part of the country where the public responsibilities of women may be limited as a result of religious beliefs.

Religion

As a multi- religious country, Nigeria’s constitution allows for freedom of worship and religion for everybody and people expect their religious beliefs to be respected by others. In the Northern part of the country where strict Islamic law (Sharia) has been introduced, it is advisable to dress modestly and mind your language.

Class

People are generally class conscious. This explains why people are keen on titles and the emphasis on making sure they are addressed as such. It gives them the feeling of respect and superiority to others. Some people even buy honorary degrees and chieftaincy titles just to look important and relevant. There are situations where some insist on being addressed by all their prefixes or designations at once, e.g. Dr., Engr., Ambassador, Gen., Chief, Alhaji Mohumamed Baker. BSc, MSc., PhD, Fss, etc.

Ethnicity

Nepotism and favouritism are a major problem in Nigeria. People from the same ethnic background, school, associations, clubs and religion tend to favour each other at the expense of other people outside their group. Even though these practices are illegal in Nigerian law, people nevertheless do them. And they do not or have not necessarily improved the work place; instead it has brought about serious communication breakdowns, animosity, jealousy, feelings of been oppressed, deprived and marginalised.

Canadian perspective

Gender

In power relations, Nigeria remains a highly male-centric society, particularly as you move northwards. Only three per cent of federal political offices were held by women in 2000. Unmarried women and widows are afforded less respect. Violence against wives is permissible under the Nigerian penal code provided it does not cause "grievous harm" such as loss of sight. Some signs of positive social transformation are evident: in the Southern half of the country, women wield considerable economic control over trading in the markets, the incidence of female genital mutilation and polygamy is declining, and men’s attitudes are liberalizing slowly.

Religion

Perhaps nine-tenths of Nigerians profess to be either Christians or Muslims, although animist belief systems (e.g. ritual sacrifices, bullet-defying charms, oracles, carved figures embodying deities) often overlap. Unlike Canada’s predominant secularity, church- and mosque- going is practised fervently in Nigeria and it is usually the principal associative element outside the family circle.

Class

For most of the twentieth century, Southern Nigerian societies enjoyed relatively fluid social mobility. Indeed, Mashood Abiola, widely considered to have been the winner of the annulled 1993 presidential elections, is remembered proudly by his Yoruba countrymen as having attained formidable business success against a low income family upbringing. In Northern Nigeria, class hierarchy is much more rigid, dictated by the constraints of predominantly Islamic traditions.

Recent income distribution studies confirm that over the last two decades, an entrenched, burgeoning middle class has emerged that is drifting ever further from the impoverished majority.

Ethnicity

Most foreign and Nigerian scholars argue that the de facto civil society construct in Nigeria is ethnicity, given the high degree of political and economic uncertainty in the country. Vertical patrimonial networks ensure, in theory, that the poorest members in a kinship lineage will benefit financially, if briefly, from voting their "Big Man" representative into political office.

Small Nigerian-owned businesses and not-for-profit organisations are typically homogeneous ethnically and faith-wise, while large firms and institutions, particularly those in large urban centres generally integrate representatives across the four social dimensions.

Relationship-building

Local perspective

There is no rule against establishing a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business. Where it happens it is referred to as public relations and it helps to build trust and familiarity. It can be done through sports such as golf or dinner.

Canadian perspective

Relationship-building, based on trust and mutual support among all the enterprise’s stakeholders is a crucial prerequisite to the successful conduct of business (see question 1 under "Workplace"). Unlike Canadians’ faith in the impersonal, impartial institutions of the state and an independent judiciary, power relations and allegiance in Nigeria remain largely contingent on personal agreements, and criminal activity can often be carried out with impunity via bribery.

Privileges and favouritism

Local perspective

Even though friends, relatives and people of the same ethnicity expect one favour or the other such as preferred treatment, hiring and promotions, it is important to note that nepotism is illegal in Nigeria. However there are situations where you would need a trusted person to do certain jobs (eg: personal chauffer, cook, accountant etc.) and only a person you know well can make such a recommendation. There are other cases where people expect to be compensated in kind for favours they have rendered.

Culturally it is customary to send presents or gifts to village elders on a visit to such villages. Unfortunately, this culture has crept into official and business circles where every official expects you to give them hand-outs each time you visit or you have business with them. This situation has been made worse by years of military misrule, damage to the economy and the systematic looting of the treasury by government officials, which has brought about situations where workers go for months without pay. Most have taken to asking for bribes to augment their situation and others have taken to trading on merchandise in their places of work.

It is a common sight to find several roadblocks or police checkpoints with the police openly asking for bribes from motorists. The same thing applies to the immigration and custom officials at the various points of entries into the country.

Canadian perspective

Yes, certainly, based on the nepotistic, personalized political system, which governs most aspects of contemporary Nigerians’ well being (see questions 1 & 5 under "Workplace"). This is a contentious issue, however, as Nigerian civil society organs and external aid groups such as the World Bank are endeavouring to bring Nigeria into the Western value system, which is nominally based on impartial, merit-based rewards, instead of favouritism.

Conflicts in the workplace

Local perspective

It is always advisable to confront a colleague officially, directly and privately when you have a work related problem. Since Nigerians are somewhat loud and not as indirect as Canadians, it is quite easy to know when they have problems with you. On the other hand if they are too intimidated to confront you directly, they may withdraw from you completely or take to gossiping among other colleagues.

Canadian perspective

Yes, confront them directly and privately. Doing so publicly would undermine the supervisor’s credibility and impair the likelihood for successful remedy. As mentioned in the section "First Contact" (question 3), Nigerians have generally been socialized to air their grievances without reservation.

Motivating local colleagues

Local perspective

There are many factors that motivate your Nigerian colleagues to perform. These include: job satisfaction, good working conditions, fear of failure, good monetary compensation and prestige of having achieved.

Canadian perspective

Money, promotion, status, protection from the unpredictability of a harsh economic and political environment, and due recognition of good work are the most sought-after rewards by employees.

Canadians intending to work in Nigeria must understand that, through traumatic events such as the environmental degradation in the Niger Delta induced by foreign-owned resource extraction operations, impoverished communities in the Southern half of the country are well-acquainted with their economic rights. Good corporate social responsibility, including social development programming for the host communities must be countenanced, or the workers and citizens will revolt, possibly provoking military retaliation and potentially damaging international publicity, as recent events have demonstrated.

Recommended books, films & foods

Local perspective

To understand Nigeria very well, I recommend the following books: Enahoro, Peter. How to be a true Nigerian and Chinua, Achebe. Things Fall Apart.

The following Web sites have materials about Nigeria: www.nigeriaworld.com; www.inecnigeria.com; and www.abujacity.com.

Almost all newspapers are published in the official language of English and some of the newspapers that have national outlook can be accessed on the Internet at: http://www.ngrguardiannews.com, http://www.vanguardngr.com/, http://www.thisdayonline.com/, and http://www.mtrustonline.com/dailytrust/

Canadian perspective

Karl Maier’s 2001 book This House Has Fallen: Nigeria In Crisis is a good overview, if perhaps typical of the prevailing Afro-pessimist current. Wendy Griswold’s Bearing Witness: Readers, Writers and the Novel in Nigeria (Princeton UP, 2000) offers a fascinating bird’s-eye view of the literary landscape since the country’s independence, and not surprisingly, the trauma and opportunities accompanying dramatic social upheaval and urbanization are a prominent theme. Wole Soyinka’s novel The Interpreters, Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and the writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa reveal with compassion the hardships faced by ordinary Nigerians. There are also interesting personal reminiscences by long-time expatriates in print such as J.L. Brandler’s Out of Nigeria: Witness to a Giant’s Toils (Spectrum, 1993). Fairly balanced assessments of the political, economic, regulatory and labour environment are provided in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual CountryReport and Country Commerce reports for Nigeria. Nigerian adult literacy rates are 74% of the world average, and crowds of headline browsers can be seen gathered round the newsstands. Pick up a copy of Ovation to see Nigeria’s answer to the British high society photo-pictorial Hello!

The Naijanet Web community is an excellent discussion forum, chiefly contributed to by expatriate, and largely pro-Western Nigerians. Many Nigerian newspapers’ archives can be searched via Allafrica.com. Nigeria produces 150 feature films annually, screened in cinemas, and available from video rental shops. The plots usually involve the popular idioms of crime thriller, infidelity, and traditional belief systems, while filmmakers such as Jide Kosoko and Adebayo Salami present more serious social critiques.

In-country activities

Local perspective

Nigeria as a very culturally diverse country with about 263 dialects and almost as many tribes. It is spread across three main ethnic regions namely Northern Hausas, Western Yurobas, and Eastern Igbos. It is hard to point to just one culture.

However, Nigerians do have something they are all equally passionate about and that is football (soccer), which is like a religion there. Try to watch the matches with them. Outside sports there are over or about 60 television stations, two most prominent of which are the state-owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and the African Independent Television (AIT), which is privately owned. All the stations show wide varieties of local and international content, broadcast in English, which is the official language of the country. There are also about the same number of FM radio stations. Only a few broadcast programs in their local languages.

As a result of the cultural diversification of the country it is always better to travel to different parts of the country to really appreciate the cultural collage of the country. One of the best ways is to attend one of the numerous ceremonies and festivals spread across the country.

You may attend the Eyo festival in Lagos and the Igwe (New Yam) festival in Benin City, both in the Southern part of the country or the Durba in Kano City and the Argungun fishing festival in Kebbi, both in the Northern part of the country. Nigerians everywhere celebrate everything from birth to death, attending one of these ceremonies such as baby christening, customary wedding, funerals can be a good way to know more about the culture of the people of the particular area you are in.

The following links provide more information on festivals: http://www.motherlandnigeria.com/food.html#meals, http://odili.net/culture.html, http://www.motherlandnigeria.com/festivals.html, http://www.africa-ata.org/nigeria.htm.

Canadian perspective

Early on, Canadians should endeavour to get themselves invited to any of the numerous weddings, funeral wakes, baby-naming and chieftaincy title-giving ceremonies, religious and secular festivals, that regularly punctuate the calendar. Outside of places of worship, these gatherings are perhaps the mainstay of wider Nigerian associational life, and careful observation of social practices at these events can be invaluable. For example, affiliated persons may wear traditional garments tailored from the same cloth, to exhibit solidarity. Customarily, servings of food and beverages are handed individually to each seated guest. When hosting visitors in the home, expatriates should approach the more common Western alternative of self-serve buffet- style meals with some caution, and have plenty of extra helpings on hand in the kitchen.

The staple diet for most Nigerians consists of yams, cassava, or millet processed and cooked in various ways and served with stews and soups according to the region; vegetarianism is not practised widely. Nigerians are surprised and delighted when foreigners eat and drink in a typical roadside eatery or bar frequented by the locals, rather than in a posh up-market hotel/restaurant. It’s an excellent way to feel the pulse of the people in a relaxed setting, and an anodyne to chill from the frenetic pace of the market and street life.

With the passage of Sharia law, including prohibition of alcohol consumption in much of the North, Nigerian cities have vastly varying degrees of popular nightlife; cosmopolitan Lagos, followed by Abuja are the best for live performances, art galleries, etc. On the fields and in side streets, the equivalent to hockey for Nigerians is soccer, while draughts, "ayo" (a game rather like backgammon) and table tennis are other favourites. In larger cities, polo clubs, tennis courts and golf clubs are continuing colonial legacies.

Cultural interpreters are probably best sought from among colleagues, or fellow church or social club members who have had overseas experience or else worked with other expatriates. Larger cities have ’Nigerwives’ chapters, which are support groups for both expatriate wives of Nigerians as well as other expatriate women.

National heroes

Local perspective

Most of the national heroes of Nigeria with national appeal are dead. They are national heroes because of their struggles for independence and democracy. They shaped the political and social landscape of the country: Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe: First Nigerian governor general and later first Nigerian president; Chief Obafemi Awolowo: First leader of opposition and premier of Western region of Nigeria; Chief Anthony Enahoro: Mover of independence motion in parliament; Sir Ahmadu Bello: First premier of Northern Nigeria; Chief Moshood Abiola: Winner of June 12, 1993 election, Ken Saro Wiwa: Environmental, political and social activist, and Maj. Gen. Shehu Yara dua; Pro democracy activist.

There are, however, present day national heroes that are making an impact both locally, in Nigeria, and internationally, on the global scene: Prof. Wole Soyinka: Nobel Prize winner for literature; Prof. Gabriel Oyibo: Nobel Prize nominee for Physics; Dr. Philip Emeagwali: Inventor and one of the fathers of the internet; Hakeem Olajuwon: Formally of Houston Rockets and three two time NBA MVP; Sade Adu: International Musician of Sweetest Taboo fame and Multiple Grammy winner; Sir Emeka Anyanku: Former Commonwealth Sec. General; Adebayo Ogunlesi: Time 2002 Global Influentials and one of the top five bankers in Wall Street; Prof. Rilwanu Lukman: President of OPEC; Cardinal Francis Arinze: likely to be the next and first black Pope of Roman Catholic church; and Mrs Okonjo Iweala: Vice president World Bank.

These people represent the aspirations of the youths of 21st century Nigeria. They are the face of modern Nigeria on the world stage.

Canadian perspective

By and large, heroism is short-lived and contingent upon sustained monetary support and protection to kinship groups. Monuments in city traffic circles as often celebrate anonymous hunters, farmers or abstract themes as they do luminaries from history or mythology. A handful of statesmen are revered along ethnic lines, including Obafemi Awolowo and Mashood Abiola among the Yoruba in the South-West, Nnamdi Azikwe in the Igbo South-East, and various Muslim leaders in the North. Populist, anti-paternalistic human rights activists such as Ken Saro-Wiwa and Gani Fawehinmi, and internationally acclaimed writers like Wole Soyinka and Ben Okri are not as widely acknowledged domestically.

The comparatively peaceful and fraud-free 2003 elections may be signalling a new era of pan- ethnic Nigerian politics, where both the Northern and South-Western states rallied in a commanding majority behind the incumbent party, the PDP, with its Yoruba President and Hausa/Kanuri Vice-President.

Shared historical events with Canada

Local perspective

Historically Nigeria and Canada share a lot in common as former British Colonies and countries that operate with federal constitutions. Both countries share the same views on world stage and are members of the Commonwealth of Nations. Nigeria as a country recognises and appreciates the role Canada played in pressing democracy in Nigeria during the days of military dictatorship.

Canadian perspective

Canada has developed good karma with Nigeria. Many educated Nigerians have personal recollections of being taught by one of perhaps a thousand Canadian volunteer teachers that were posted throughout the nation from the 1960s into the 1980s, courtesy of organisations such as CUSO and WUSC. More recently, Canada is highly regarded for having led the Commonwealth nations’ condemnation of the previous military regime’s widespread human rights abuses. While diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Canada collapsed until the restoration of democracy in 1999, Canada continued during that period and to this day to import between $250 m and $500 m of crude oil from Nigeria.

Canadian firms have not been directly linked with incidents of corporate irresponsibility in Nigeria. Further, Nigeria’s development co-operation loan debts to Canada have been periodically rescinded, prompting the Nigerian government to ask other countries to follow suit.

Stereotypes

Local perspective

Nigerians have no known prejudiced or stereotypes that might be harmful to effective relations. Rather, relations between the two countries are very cordial.

Canadian perspective

Nigerians have an extremely negative reputation internationally. The United Nations cites one estimate that Americans were defrauded of $100 m. by Nigerian "419 scams" in 1999, representing roughly one per cent of total official foreign exchange earnings (UN, Nigeria Common Country Assessment, 2001:204). Recent reports from the World Bank have noted the "the outrageous level of corruption and the sheer difficulty of working in Nigeria" (Aid and Reform in Africa, 2001:651) and its being "historically... a very difficult place to implement projects... Of 20 projects initiated between 1985 and 1992... 52% were unsatisfactory." (Nigeria: Interim Strategy Update Report No. 23633-UNI, Feb, 2002:55). Some analysts estimate that 35-40% of the heroin trafficked into North America is controlled by Nigerian drug syndicates.

Nigeria, along with the rest of Black Africa, is conceived as a place of "unremitting despair"... but, then you come here and see gaggles of happy little kids running up to greet you and everywhere people hustling, trading, hawking energetically. The reality on the ground is a readily evident infectious, indefatigable spirit.

Nigeria is unfairly misrepresented in the dominant global media as being an excessively violent society, but the data on casualties resulting from political, ethnic and religious conflicts fail to support this. In fact, during the 1990s, Nigeria’s conflict-related deaths, roughly 6 deaths per million inhabitants per year, represented only one-fifth the world frequency, while in the last four years under civilian rule and increasing freedom of expression, 17 violent Nigerian deaths per million capita still represents only about 62% of the world average, and one-tenth the frequency for all of sub-Saharan Africa. Although a considerable number of expatriates and Nigerians alike have been taken hostage by gangs of youths and disgruntled citizens in recent years, these incidents were confined exclusively to the oil-bearing regions of the Niger Delta, and the detainees were released unharmed following negotiations.

About the cultural interpreters

Local interpreter

Your cultural interpreter was born in Lagos, the former capital of Nigeria, the fourth of ten children. He was raised here until the age of ten when he was sent to Catholic boarding school in a town called Irrua, in Edo State, in the Southern part of Nigeria. Afterwards, he moved to Abudu in the Niger delta of Nigeria to obtain a teacher's diploma. On completion of his teacher's training he taught for a year in a town called Uromi before furthering his studies in Benin City, the capital of the then Bendel State (now Edo State). He then moved to Turkey and later to the United Kingdom. Finally, he immigrated to Canada to study and has since obtained his Canadian citizenship. He has travelled widely to countries such as Hong Kong, United States, Netherlands, Ireland, Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Greece and Bulgaria. He is from the royal family of Uromi in the Edo Kingdom.

Canadian interpreter

Your cultural interpreter was born and grew up in Windsor, Ontario, the younger of two children. He studied chemistry from 1975-81 at the University of Windsor and at Wayne State University in the U.S. His work sent him abroad for the first time in 1982-1983 where he was a secondary school teacher in Nigeria, working under the auspices of CUSO. He returned to Canada for further study in chemistry and library and information science and for the next 10 years worked in Canadian universities and the federal government. For the past year and a half, he has worked as a research and documentation officer in a partnership between CUSO and a grassroots human rights non-governmental organisation, in Nigeria, this time in the large city of Ibadan in the South-West.

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Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.

The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.

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