By Sheelagh Mahoney, Head of Intercultural Training, Farnham Castle Intercultural Training

A rising leader in Africa, with a GDP of over $500, Nigeria prides itself as the world’s 21st largest economy. Situated in West Africa, Nigeria is often referred to as the ‘Giant of Africa’ due to its large population and growing economic power.

Its high youth population, with 62% of people under 25, contributes to its market potential for UK business, with a well-developed and skilled young workforce.

The UK is currently one of Nigeria’s largest investors, and in 2011 both agreed on a joint mandate to double trade from £4 billion to £8 billion by 2014.

For those organisations drawn by the numerous incentives to do business in Nigeria, learning its business etiquette is crucial. As a multi-religious country, Nigeria’s constitution allows for freedom of worship and religion for everybody, and people expect their religious beliefs to be respected by others. For example, a large proportion of the Nigerian population are Muslim, so you need to be aware of their taboos; alcohol, pork, gambling etc.

Aligned with the rest of Africa, it is considered rude to rush business introductions. Take your time inquiring about your counterpart’s wellbeing, family life and interests. Friendly introductions will work in your favour, whilst remembering to shake hands with everyone you come into contact with is obligatory.

Business cards are exchanged at the beginning of a meeting, however always with the right hand, because Nigerians do not use their left hand in receiving or giving.

Nigerians can be very direct but getting to the point often takes time. Having patience is critical, and avoid rushing them to a decision. If you commit to doing business in Nigeria, don’t count on closing a deal quickly — you will be expected to bargain and compromise in the marketplace and at the negotiating table.

Whilst it is important to formally book meetings with senior people, be aware that an appointment is rarely private. Expect to be interrupted by phone calls and visits from your client’s associates. It is also necessary to note that scheduling meetings three months in advance is advised.

Even though the list of etiquette may seem very different to that of the UK, you will quickly learn how accommodating Nigerians are to visitors.

The adage, ‘When Nigeria sneezes, the rest of the African nations catch cold’ enforces the economic and business power the country has. Those UK firms who understand the intricacies of doing business in Nigeria are ideally placed to capitalize on this powerful opportunity.