10 Things That Surprise Foreigners About Nigeria

traffic in Lagos

Nigeria isn’t often the first choice for a visit to Africa, but it’s huge economy attracts oodles of business and leisure travelers every year. If you’ve been to traditional African destinations like Kenya or South Africa and think Nigeria will be similar, you’re probably in for quite a bit of a surprise. Here are 10 things that surprise foreigners about Nigeria.

1. The traffic is insane

If you’re coming from LA 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 known for being a nightmare and has been featured as the world’s worst traffic multiple times in publications like The Atlantic and Business Insider. The problem doesn’t really go away much in other cities either. Trust us, you don’t want to drive here if you aren’t used to it.

2. 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 be wishing you were still at Señor Frog’s. Nigerian food is known for using mass quantities of onions, chilies and palm oil, sure to light your mouth on fire or do a number on rookie stomachs. On the other hand, if the spice expands your consciousness, you’ll probably enjoy Nigerian food as well.

3. Power Outages

Nigeria has some serious power problems. Whether you’re dining at a restaurant or checking your email at an internet cafe, the power can and will go off 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, and in a few weeks you’ll get used to the soothing sound of diesel generators.

4. The human body can 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 plenty of people balancing all kinds of stuff on their heads that you didn’t think was humanly possible. You might also see a guy on a motorbike carrying a flat screen TV, or maybe a goat and a few chickens. Whatever carrying feat you think you might have achieved, you can bet somebody in Nigeria has done something far better.

5. It’s hot and rains a lot

OK, you might have already known 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 another hot dry season throughout most of the country. At least most places get a break from the heat, but not in 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 still averages 87F(30F) year round and gets more rain.

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6. Expensive hotels

Many people assume that once the expensive plane ticket to Africa is paid for, that it’s smooth sailing on the hotels. 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), and are comparatively higher than other places in Africa. Be prepared for some sticker shock.

7. People, people, everywhere!

Somebody has to be driving all those cars and motorbikes to 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 in 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 are out in the streets.

8. How big Nollywood really is

No, we aren’t talking about a giant Nollywood sign in the hills around Abuja. When you get to your hotel and turn on your TV, don’t expect to see that many western channels. Of course, you’ll probably get CNN and Disney, but the bulk of the channels are going to be featuring Nigerian movies, sports, and especially soap operas, which are extremely popular. The Nigerian film industry creates the third most revenue in the world, and it’s primarily all the Nigerians that are watching it.

9. Many people speak different languages

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

10. You won’t use your left hand more than once

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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