How to be a Nigerian

lizardA few weeks ago, I came across a diamond in the rough. It was early in the morning, and I was thumbing through books in the Abuja airport, trying desperately to stay awake for my Virgin Nigeria boarding call. I am always interested to see which booksmake it to the far corners of the Earth, and in this particularly seedy shop, it was an interesting blend of business and self-help titles, with a few Obama memoirs. Then I found it: How To Be a Nigerian, a 79-page “guide book for Nigerians and expatriates on the conduct, deportment, comportment, bearing, demeanor, mien, carriage, air, port, actions, the misdoing, misconduct and misbehaviours of the Nigerian adult male and female.”

Oh – what a read! The book is quite outdated, written and published in 1966, and the author is hysterically opinionated, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Below are a few of my favorite quotes:

It is not easy to write a book. First, you have to get a book; then you have to write it. That has been my experience.

Doctors cannot cure you of fresh colds unless they know to what tribe you belong.

If invited to dinner, it is pertinent to arrive terribly late, for it is bad manners to give your host the impression that you are eager for his meal. You’ve got to show that you too have food in your home and you are doing him a favour by turning up at all…When you are offered a drink, refuse it right away, even if you need one desperately.

The practised Nigerian orator is verbose, expansive, repetitive. If there are two ways of making a point, one short, the other long, he will plug for the longer route. Because, in the ears of listeners, it is the length of his speech that will determine its substance, its wit, its power, its influence and its effect. He begin his marathon address with a familiar apology: …”I do not intend to waste your time.” Then he goes to so precisely what you expect him to do – waste your time.

They tip the taxi driver for giving them a nice ride through a circuitous route to their correct destination; they tip the newsstand vendor for risking his health in a cold booth to sell them newspapers. They tip the dainty usherette who guides them through dangerous aisles in a darkened cinema hall, they tip the lift attendant for attending the lift; and if a waiter brings them their change, they tip him for not keeping it to himself. How simply horrible.

In fact, a telephone is a gadget for recording silence. It is also an instrument installed in the home or office to relieve boredom. When life becomes monotonous and dull and friends and relations are nice and pleasant, you can obtain a good quarrel and get happily ruffled at very low charges, by merely lifting the receiver and calling the telephone operator.

The difference between an aeroplane and a Nigerian taxi is that one takes off, the other just fails to take off.

A Nigerian who writes fluent Arabic and has acquired a command of the French language in Chad Republic is still not educated, until he can speak and write English.

Most successful men in Lagos are rich not for the size of their savings, but for the load of overdraft they carry.

To be a good foreigner, you must stay an alien. Nigerians are immensely hospitable to foreigners. They especially like foreigners who know their place as aliens and keep it.

Well there you have it – how to be a Nigerian. Not sure how fitting these ideas are today, as I am fairly confident that a lot has changed in the last 43 years. I will attest, though, that the quote on taxi drivers couldn’t be any truer. Again, it was a fun read. Highly recommended if you ever get the chance to visit this country. Heading to Ibadan tomorrow, a city about 2 hours outside of Lagos, and will be there until next Saturday. Will update in the next few days.


Sweet lizard, yea? Spotted him at the hotel in Abuja. I call him Hubert.

4 thoughts on “How to be a Nigerian”

  1. hahaha. That’s hilarious! I have no doubt you will be a great Nigerian by the time you conquer Ibadan =) I wish someone would write similar book about Haiti, I’m having some interesting experiences!

  2. wow.. i’ll have to keep an eye out for the argentine version! You must have known you were in for a treat from line one:

    “It is not easy to write a book. First, you have to get a book; then you have to write it. That has been my experience.”

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