We often relate Nigeria to credit card fraud, internet scams, kidnapping of westerners, corruption, and terror attacks. Here is my advice about security in Nigeria.
Doing business with the giant of Africa
In our part of the world, people relate quickly to credit card fraud, internet scams, kidnapping of westerners, corruption, and terror attacks from Boko Haram, when someone talks about Nigeria. Governments recommend not to travel to Nigeria if you don’t necessarily have too. It does not sound very inviting. You don’t often hear about the positive side of this country. I will talk further about my experience, and what travel risk mitigation strategies I would recommend to corporate traveling to Nigeria. It is a country with many opportunities, but it is certainly not a place for the faint-hearted.
Facts about Nigeria
Nigeria is a country rich in natural resources, which attracts more and more global businesses to invest in it. About 4.4 million visitors from overseas travel to Nigeria every year. With over 180 million people, it is the seventh most populated country in the world – with one of the largest populations of youth. However, with a lack of jobs in the country – this stimulates increased criminal activity.
Did you know that Nigeria is competing strongly with South Africa to be the largest economy on the African continent? The World Bank is considering Nigeria as a merging market, so when you are in any of its major cities, you can feel the vibe. Chinese, for example, invest heavily in Nigeria and major airlines operate many flights from China via Ethiopia or the Middle East. Istanbul and main hubs in Europe maintain regular direct flights. New hotels are on the rise to meet with future demand. An excellent infrastructure on an international level for businesses is in the process.
Corruption is a part of the business culture. Especially when you are dealing with the government. Simply calculate the cost of corruption into your business activities, or acquire excellent negotiations skills, if you plan to do business with the giant. This is Africa – with different rules, and sometimes, maybe, no rules. It will decide for you on the day, depending on what attitude or perception you are coming to Africa with.
You are Welcome
This is how most people are greeted on arrival. To be honest, I am always a bit skeptical when I hear this. Once I had my doubts when one of the drivers who picked me up at the airport greeted me with, “Welcome to Nigeria”. The way he said it was a bit scary and I was watching him carefully the entire forty-five-minute drive in the car. When he left the main road for a shortcut and drove into the slums, I was wary and started to memorize every little detail along the road and the direction we were heading. Luckily, I ended up safe at my destination.
In this country, you always need to verify your driver. In general, when you enter unknown territory and the airport is far away from the city, I would always recommend arranging two independent pre-booked airport transfers, booked on different names, to mitigate the risk of piracy or ending up stranded at Abuja airport. Then, you have the option to choose the driver you feel safest with when you come out of the arrival hall.
The route from Abuja airport to the hotel is a risk factor, and even if you ended up in a safe vehicle with a safe driver, the risk of being pulled out of the car by gangsters or police who take their chances, cannot be easily eliminated. What you wear, how you talk, how you think, and how you behave, can have an impact on any outcome.
It also matters at what time of the day your aeroplane arrives and from which destination you are coming from. For example, a visitor arriving with Lufthansa in the evening is certainly at a higher risk than someone who arrives at noon from another African country. In the heat and with a full tummy, a gangster is never motivated to commit a crime. As we know, predators tend to hunt prey at night and most flights from Europe arrive when it is dark.
If you are in charge of the travel security of employees and you have concerns for their safety, then, corporate kidnapping training should be considered. It will mentally prepare staff for what to do if they get caught and how to behave during the negotiation period. The first goal should always be not to get caught in the first place.
I have observed that business owners in Nigeria really care about their visitors and when Nigerian’s say, “You are Welcome” with a slow voice, then they honestly mean it. You can expect many friendly people with a sense of humour, that will show you their appreciation if you treat them with respect. Africans have a lot that is positive to give and share. I found it interesting that the level of Duty of Care is in some hotels is higher compared to hotels in Central Asia.
The Envoy Hotel in Abuja is an excellent example that caters specifically to business people and diplomats. This small boutique hotel has set a new standard for safety and security for hotel guests. The hotel is part of the Mantis Collection and it will open its doors soon. You will find world-class hospitality and global hotel security standards under one roof – A multi-layer security concept specifically designed for sophisticated travellers, that is independently audited.
Hospitals in Nigeria
One night, I ended up with food poisoning in a public hospital and I needed a drip to refill my body fluid. I asked the Night Manager of the Reiz-Continental in Abuja to help me to get to the hospital. The service and the level of care were excellent. Instead of an ambulance, the hotel instantly provided me with a driver and a personal bodyguard – around the clock – who stayed with me the entire time. I did not know at this stage, that there was a high risk of someone injecting a live-virus into me and then asking for money for the anti-virus.
While I was treated, the hotel and security management monitored the situation closely and made sure I got back safely to the hotel to recover. While I laid down in the emergency room and looked at the walls and furniture, that were covered in blood from previous incidents, I learned that it is important to always plan for the worst and hope for the best.
While our travel agencies prepare us with what they think is sufficient travel insurance packages, I highly recommend that you always have a Plan B, C, and even D. In case the hospital is not willing to accept a ‘Letter of guarantee’ to pay for the hospital stay, you will need to make sure you always have enough cash on hand. Otherwise, it is difficult to get out, and without a ‘Fit to Fly Certificate’, you won’t make it onto the plane. I had to pay the nurse a lot of money to receive the right paperwork. Don’t expect to find an ATM in every hospital.
Terror on a whole new level
Boko Haram is one of the deadliest terrorist organizations in the world, which operates mainly in the northeastern part of Nigeria and neighboring countries. The areas around Abuja and Lagos are relatively safe compared to the northeast. But you can never be certain. However, it is advised to remain vigilant at all times. Female suicide bombers with babies in their arms, add a whole new complexity to the topic. Therefore, enhanced security measures are essential:
No risk. No fun.
Despite all the risks, I would still encourage businesses to invest in Nigeria. What you get in return is rewarding and prosperous when you include locals in your venture. You will discover great business opportunities in one of the largest economies in Africa.