On any given day on the streets of Nigeria…

Just one way to attract attention on the streets of Nigeria

Just one way to attract attention on the streets of Nigeria


Customs, rites and rituals in Nigeria stand out loud and proud, probably more noticable to me because of the lack of tourism in the country, especially compared with the other places I've passed through recently. Here are a few noteworthy traits that this passer-by has noticed just wandering the streets: 


Hissin’and kissin’

Attracting someone’s attention on a chaotically cacophonous West African street requires one of two specialist techniques.

Try amplifying and drawing out a kissing sound or (the more widespread) hissing like a snake (with a lisp).

If you are trying to tout for business or just generally make yourself known both cut through the bustling noise of a Nigerian street market exponentially more than the common yell.

I wasn’t sure how to react, however, the first time a mid-50s male shop attendant blew a big smooch in my direction; he was just trying to sell me a mobile phone recharge.

You get used to it, but I’m more of a ‘hiss’ than ‘kiss’ man myself.


Heavenly callings  

Nigerians love to be grandiose when it comes to naming their children.

Many names I stumbled across were, quite literally, of biblical proportion: Virtue, Chastity, Comfort and Blessing.

The country’s current president scores the prize for the first name most compatible with his profession. It’s as if Goodluck Johnson’s parents knew that one day his name would have to help him with the monumental task of presiding over a country of 150 million people.

However, business names in Nigeria don’t necessarily feel the need for hyperbole; as shown by names such as Adequate Security (why go to too much trouble?); Decent Hair and Beauty (don’t want to show up the other girls); and God’s Hands Water Company (who else can you rely on for pure water).


So, so sorry

Nigerians apoligise needlessly (more so than even the English do) for everyday occurrences that are well outside of their control, mostly for things they could have neither caused nor prevented.

One lady I briefly spoke to sincerely apologised to me for some mosquito bites on my arm (perhaps on behalf of the mosquitoes).

A hotel clerk repeatedly said sorry when I drunkenly tripped up some perfectly maintained stairs. Perhaps he was simply sorry that I am so uncoordinated. 


Bless thou and all who travel in her

Nigeria is a country prone to exceedingly public displays of piousness, whatever the religion.

The most extraordinary manifestation of this I witnessed was the blessing of a long-distance share-taxi by a priest.

Before we embarked he implored the Lord to clear the driver’shead lest it be “clouded by the confused thoughts brought on by the powers of darkness” during the (daylight) drive.

The holy man, then addressing the 80s Peugeot directly, demanded that the car not “be responsible for our hospitalisation”.

He then sprinkled some holy water over the car and, after a short communal prayer, we were on our way.


Stand and deliver

Nigerians are among the most straightforward people on earth, they will articulate whatever is on their mind. Consequently, they are also deft hands at the art of the public confrontation.

Seeing two peoplein a face-to-face bellowing match on the streets of Lagos or Calabaris a every-five-minute phenomena.

Initially, the sight of two enormous Yoruba men standing in a hyperactive tete-a-tete, deep voices booming like cannon fire, crowd formingaround them, seems to be a moment to be feared. For the first few days in Nigeria, I was waiting for punches to fly and authorities to be called at some of the incidents I witnessed.

But, no need to worry, this posturing is simply a cathartic release from a population just wanting to have their say. None of the seemingly serious arguments I saw, usually over simple personal space issues, escalated beyond heated words.

One local put these vocal gladiatorial contests in perspective.

“People in Nigeria will talk big and loud but the last thing they want to do is fight. Back a Nigerian up against a wall in a fight and he would rather burrow through the wall then raise his fists.”


The dash for cash

It’s hard to find a Nigerian who denies that their country is one of, if not the,most corrupt on earth.

This corruption manifests itself in the ‘dash’, a diminutive, on-the-spot bribe, often payable at any place where you come into contact with petty officialdom, particularly conspicuous among the country’s police force.

Travel more than a few kilometres in Nigeria and you will no doubt be stopped at an impromptu road-block,where ordinary people will have to ‘dash’ their way through.

On one 10-hour journey in a shared car, our driver (without any real visible prompting) silently greased the palm of at least 35 policemen (out of 50 road blocks which we passed through), usually a couple of US dollars (equivalent) per time.

Nigerians will complain bitterly about the dash (usually not at the time), but will inevitably pay it some form: it was factored into our share taxi cost. Some say it as an inevitable part of ‘getting by’ in this society.

I even saw one driver ‘dash’a federal policeman with a loaf of sliced white bread.


Steve Madgwick


Next stop: After an educational, confrontational, flavoursome and inspiring two-and-half weeks in Nigeria, it’s time to leave the energetic tumult of Lagos for somewhat calmer pastures in Kampala, Uganda. Thanks to those people who made our time in Nigeria all the above and more. Cheers to ’Gbenga, Ndidi, Goddy, Emeka, Keith, Jenz and all those friendly Nigerians who constantly put us on the right path.