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Employment in Nigeria

Expats in Nigeria often work in a different business environment to what they’re used to back home, even if they have a job with a foreign company or they’re from another country in Africa. Nigerian business life has its eccentricities and it’s important to understand it from both a micro and a macro perspective to successfully work in Nigeria.

Nigerian Dependence on Natural Resources

Nigeria’s economy has been undergoing a lot of changes in the last 25 years. After a rebasing and recalculation of the country’s GDP in 2014, as well as decreasing oil output for the last 3 years, it appears the petrochemical industry makes up a smaller part of the economy (14%) than previously thought (35%). The services sector is responsible for a much more impressive 52% of the nation’s GDP, up from 29% before the rebasing. Nevertheless, the oil and gas sector still accounts for 95% of Nigeria’s exports, and yet only 10% of the labor force.

The mining industry in Nigeria is overshadowed by the nation’s fixation on petrol, but it should offer excellent opportunities in the future for expats working in Nigeria. The country has reserves of iron ore, gold, tungsten, and uranium, among others – all waiting to be exploited.

The Agricultural Sector in Nigeria

The nation’s population is growing explosively: One out of every six Africans is Nigerian. However, Nigeria has had some problems keeping all these people well fed. Where 20 years ago, 70% of the labor force was engaged in agriculture, that figure has dropped to around 30%. Further, much of the produce cultivated is exported and not meant for domestic consumption, such as cocoa or natural rubber.

Many of the people who work in Nigeria’s fields do so to feed their families with their crops. The agricultural infrastructure was neglected more and more as getting a job in Nigeria’s petrochemical industry proved much more profitable. This, in turn, stunted both the growth and efficiency of the agricultural sector. As such, some food must be imported and is unaffordable to the average Nigerian.

Corruption in Nigeria

Corruption is a very widespread problem throughout the nation, drastically reducing the quality of life for the common populace and stunting economic growth. For example, many of the people working in Nigeria’s blooming oil industry rarely reap the benefits of their labor: Over 80% of the revenues flow directly to the government, while 70% of the population live below the poverty line. This has repeatedly been the cause for violent riots throughout the nation, including in Lagos and Abuja, particularly when fuel subsidies were cut in 2012, almost doubling the price at the pump.

In an effort to combat corruption, poverty, and violence, decentralization has been a constant theme in Nigeria’s recent political history. Whether the country, with now 36 states and 774 Local Government Areas, has increased or reduced poverty and corruption with its decentralization strategy is difficult to determine.

The lack of job openings and widespread nepotism have driven many people to start working in Nigeria’s informal sector. Some estimate that about 70% of industrial employment is informal and thus poorly regulated.

Expat Safety in Nigeria

Some Nigerian people have resorted to even more radical measures and joined the criminal organizations that plague the country. These can be particularly dangerous to expats living and working in Nigeria. The area of the Niger Delta in particular has long been the most risky place to work in Nigeria, more so than the cities like Lagos and Abuja.

The kidnapping of foreigners is used as a common method of extortion. If your job description involves working in Nigeria’s oil-producing sector, please make sure your employer provides the necessary safety precautions, such as security guards and employee compounds. Oil-related work in Nigeria is very lucrative, but it can potentially be perilous. Please stay safe and read the section on safety in our Living in Nigeria Guide before booking a plane ticket.

Nigeria’s Free Trade Zones

Like many emerging economies, Nigeria has set up a number of Free Trade Zones (FTZ). Their objective is to make doing business in Nigeria more attractive to foreign investors by lowering bureaucratic requirements. At the moment, there are 25 operational FTZs, and many others are under construction.

FTZs make it possible for companies to set up shop and start working in Nigeria without having to worry about bureaucratic red-tape, such as tariffs and import quotas. Having a stake in Nigeria’s oil industry has proven very lucrative for investors; however, safety problems in the Niger Delta have often overshadowed the advantages.

Work Permits and Employment in Nigeria

Work Permits

As we have outlined in our article on Moving to Nigeria, the only way to legally work in Nigeria is by acquiring a CERPAC. This document is a combined residency and work permit, and it is the responsibility of your future employer to guide you through the necessary steps.

Although the process involves a lot of paperwork, it should not be too troublesome for expats. Keep in mind that the CERPAC is tied to a specific job. If you decide to change jobs, you need to re-apply.

Finding Employment

An employment contract is a prerequisite for obtaining a CERPAC. Thus, you will not be able to look for work after arriving in Nigeria, but this is probably not a step that many expats consider anyway.

It is always best to gather information about openings in the Nigerian branches of large corporations or to ask your current employer about possible transfers. The Nigerian branch of your home country’s Chamber of Commerce might be a very useful source of information as well.

Scams and Fraud

Please keep in mind that Nigeria is infamous for the “419 scam”, named after its number in the Nigerian Criminal Code. These are confidence tricks, mostly sent out via email, and they vary in strategy. In one form, they offer lucrative jobs in well-known companies; you can start right away, without applying for a visa first; all you have to do is to transfer a sum of money (usually a few hundred to a few thousand USD), so your future company can set up everything for your arrival.

Of course, you may ask yourself why a large company would need to borrow money from future employees. Please never reply to any emails asking you to transfer money or offering jobs that are almost “too good to be true”. They usually are.

Expat Opportunities

Oil companies have been a prime choice for expats for decades. Although the security situation in the Niger Delta is often problematic, there is a steady need for highly qualified expats in the oil industry. Construction and communications are also popular expat sectors.

We have mentioned some of the nation’s infrastructural challenges in our article on Living in Nigeria, and oftentimes, foreign professionals provide valuable know-how and assistance. Continued construction in the nation’s capital, Abuja, is also a good source of expat employment. Generally speaking, there is a multitude of ways in which Nigeria makes use of foreign expertise in order to improve its patchy infrastructure.

Social Security

Nigeria’s social security system is quite rudimentary and does not cover many important facets, such as unemployment insurance or healthcare (for further information on healthcare, please see our article on Moving to Nigeria). There is no paid sick leave, and maternity leave is limited to 12 weeks, six weeks before and after childbirth. According to the Nigerian Labor Act, women are entitled to at least half of their normal pay during maternity leave, although in practice, many employers keep paying employees their full salary. There is a pension fund, which covers old age and disability pensions, however this pension is not payable abroad.

Most importantly for expats, however, is that they are not required to contribute to any kind of pension scheme in Nigeria, as long as they subscribe to an equivalent program in another country. Expats should try to find an insurance company with full coverage in Nigeria, or discuss possible company insurance plans with their employer. Nigeria does not have any social security agreements with big sender countries such as the UK, the USA, or Germany.

Business Etiquette in Nigeria

Nigeria is a very different place to home for most expats who start working here. While there are many different rules of conduct among the diverse cultures of the nation, business etiquette tends to be the same wherever you might go in Nigeria. Your keys to success are adaptability, flexibility, and some background cultural knowledge. We have compiled some useful info below; keep it in mind to make your first impression a good one!

General Tips

Establishing a personal relationship with your colleagues and superiors is common in Nigeria. You can expect the first two hours to be spent getting to know each other. Family and health matters are very important in Nigeria, and they will inevitably be brought up.

Please don’t try to rush through this process or impose your own agenda at these initial meetings. For things to go smoothly afterwards, it is important to be pleasant and agreeable. In private meetings, don’t be shocked if they are interrupted by calls, emails, or knocks at the door; Nigerians do a lot of work in teams and managers constantly manage them.

The matter of addressing people might be hard to get used to for expats from “first-name office cultures”. You should always wait until you are invited to use someone’s first name. Until then, Nigerians prefer the use of Mr./Mrs./Ms. and surname.

Titles are of utmost importance, too. Many Nigerians will insist on being addressed with full titles at all times. Some occupations are used as titles as well, such as “engineer”, for example.


Greeting processes are very important in Nigeria, and it is rare to just greet someone in passing. Take time to exchange pleasantries and ask about each other’s well-being. To shake someone’s hand is common; if you are a man greeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first.

Try to greet each person in a group individually, in order of seniority. This is a common sign of respect, which can also be applied to superiors. It is also appropriate to bow your head when shaking the hand of someone much obviously older than you.

When speaking to superiors and seniors, try to avoid eye contact. In general, Nigerians make much less use of eye contact than members of Western cultures. Insisting on looking others in the eye during a conversation might easily be taken as a sign of rudeness or even aggression.

Business Cards

There is no exact way or time to exchange business cards, but you should always endeavor to receiver another’s with either both or your right hand – never with the left. Always take a moment to examine the business card before putting it away in a business card holder. Don’t ever write on your business cards; if your details have changed, have new cards printed. You should be sure to include any academic and professional titles on your business cards.

Nigerian Time

Generally, Nigerians live and work at a more relaxed pace than you might be used to. Punctuality is valued, but sticking to schedules is less important than an individual’s particular situation. Also, due to the erratic traffic conditions, being on time can be quite hard.

Patience is a virtue you will sorely need when doing business in Nigeria. It is often wise to schedule important meetings well ahead and to call in the day before to confirm.

Miscellaneous Etiquette Tips

Please remember that there are a number of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions living side by side in Nigeria. Make sure to ask co-workers about their background in order not to offend anybody by accident.

A useful piece of information for upbeat people: the “thumbs up” sign, which in Western societies usually denotes that everything is all right, can be very offensive in Nigeria!

The Nigerian concept of personal space is almost nonexistent. It is quite normal for people to stand close to you when talking or standing in line. While this may seem unpleasant to some, please be tolerant and do not tell people to back off.

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    InterNations is a fantastic community for expats and a must for anyone preparing to move abroad. I recommend it to all my fellow Germans overseas.

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