The dangers the average Nigerian poses to a newly arrived expat are enormous! The alarming way your name gets mispronounced, the totally different inflection in spoken English, the gaiety, positive cheer of the people, some culture shock, and perhaps some hope for a permissive leakage from the pockets too. There is also the sense of humor: haven’t we once been labelled as one of the happiest people in the world? Happiness may mean different things to people, but the penchant for humor in negative situations is one of the perks of living in Nigeria.
Perceptions of Nigeria as a dangerous country reflect the mindset of most expats coming anew to the country. With a sharp sense of entering into dangerous territory, expats come packaged with a bit of paranoia, a ready-made escape plan (likely with an emergency suitcase), and a network of fellow expats along with the relevant diplomatic missions; a foolproof kit! About three months ago, when the British Foreign Office in its news listed a number of countries labelled ‘dangerous’ and ‘partially dangerous’, Nigeria was listed under the category of ‘partially dangerous’. The question is: what qualifies a place as ‘dangerous’? Well, a place labelled as dangerous is where you are likely to die a horrible death even after doing all you can to minimize the risks. Placing Nigeria in the ‘dangerous’ category is actually nothing short of absurd.
The country is arguably one of the most visited destinations in Africa (more or less so depending on which international index you rely on). Lagos alone accommodates over 2,000 expats monthly. It is also estimated by the British Common Wealth Office that around 117,000 British nationals visit the country each year. Nigeria is a unique country, but also a country of extremes and home to some of the most educated and brightest minds in Africa. Although its polity has been deeply rottened by corruption, it is a country with undisputed international presence and attention. Extreme poverty co-exists side-by-side with stupendous wealth, but there has been apparent stability in the political terrain in the recent years.
What about the ‘partial’ danger? Political instability, incessant violence, terrorism and ethnic or religious war(s) are the usual parameters for danger. To discount all assertions of danger might not be entirely right, but most impressions of danger are outdated and overhyped. Violence and crime are often a by-product of poor living conditions or an unfair environment found on almost every continent of the world.
In Nigeria, it is more commonplace in slums and areas where travelers rarely visit. There are also threats like the armed rebel groups who are rather more focused on vandalizing in areas where they protest unfair social and economic treatment by the government; the deadly reign of terror unleashed by the Boko Haram sect in the Northern states which has seen a gradual demise from the army under the current government; and the nomadic herdsmen also in the Northern states who have contributed to their share of terror in a crude bid to control more grazing lands.
Nonetheless, daily blatant violence is discouraged and uncommon, although petty thefts and robbery can be quite rife in some areas whilst con artists are a common threat to both the locals and the expatriates.
What about wars? Sorry, a ‘Naija’ (rich or poor) is too bothered about what the immediate moment has to offer and how to enjoy themselves to be concerned about taking up arms, not even in protest against an unfair government. The closest to wars you’ll see are the ranges of advertised meta-physical wars by the mind-boggling number of churches who offer sure ‘victories’ against spiritual enemies using God and their charismatic leaders often portrayed as the prototype of prosperity.
Protecting yourself as an expat is not about living in a constant state of fear or paranoia. However, understanding your environment, using common sense, seeking professional advice for business relations even before you venture abroad, and exercising caution generally may keep you safe. It also helps to learn to use discretion, especially if you are coming from a culture known for directness and openness.
The average Nigerian is also known for its street sharp. Hospitality, vivacity and zest for life and survival have been somewhat kept intact with the people of Nigeria, despite daunting challenges. Stable and temperate weather, dramatic panoramas, lush and pristine landscapes, a colorful and artistic sense of style, the promise of adventure, and the liberty to discover all typify Nigeria as an outstanding place. So let your hair down to see and enjoy what is beautiful and unique about Nigeria. Enjoy the natural hospitality of the people, and glory in the near-reverence of your expat presence. Mingle with Nigerians in safe forums and environments (business, personal or otherwise). Visit pristine beauty spots and enjoy the saccharine freedom, (frustrating) traffic, fun, and originality you can only find in Nigeria!
Still, the grim truth is that it is a dynamic and ever-changing situation, not just in Nigeria but across the world. Countries once ranked as the safest destinations could take a turn being quite a dangerous place, or vice versa. So do not discard your suitcase, yet!
Esther Opaaje is a lawyer living and working in Lagos, Nigeria. She has a Bachelor's degree in Law from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and is equipped with relevant knowledge and exposure in the day-to-day nuances of practice in the Nigerian commercial sector, specifically in corporate representation, property law, probate and torts. She also consults in general legal advisory, and occasionally writes freelance. She currently engages as a Solicitor and is working on honing her skills as an ADR Practitioner.