If you work in a Nigerian office, there are certain things you know to be true about the way things work in the system. It is an open secret that most outsiders fail to see. So, when you come across a young person aspiring to complete tertiary education, move on to the NYSC programme and eventually gain a position in the same Nigerian office you have been coping with, you just shake your head and pray that they survive as you have. Basically, what other option is there, really? The country is hard and gaining employment in the first place is a blessing…so, half bread is better than puff-puff.
The thing, though, is that with typical Nigerian offices, it is actually a different ball game. You come in with the impression that you would be given sensible responsibilities, which you can to carry out with assistance from colleagues who have fully matured and outgrown their puerile proclivities. You also assume that there’s a monthly salary attached for maintaining a decent lifestyle and standard of living…you may be in for a huge surprise. In fact, you better change your mindset.
No doubt, some offices in the country operate differently, especially the ones with a high percentage of expats. Things are normal and even sweet over there; but, it would be of benefit to you to acquaint yourself with some of the many annoying things you will certainly face in a typical Nigerian office environment. This way you are not surprised.
Office hierarchy is reflected in everything
There is no denying it. The concept of “seniority” is a big deal in Nigeria. From as early as primary school to secondary schools and even some universities (no names shall be mentioned), seniors – either someone who is older in age or higher in rank /level of experience – are better regarded. Thus, they get away with anything, including maltreating the juniors. You basically have to do their bidding just because.
Is it any wonder this attitude is taken to Nigerian offices? Agreed, every office operates on a system of hierarchies, however, in Nigerian offices, it is taken to another level.
You must ensure you greet all your senior colleagues before you settle in, otherwise you may get a query or even suspension; if you have booked a room for a meeting and somehow your senior colleague decides to have an impromptu meeting at the time in the same room, you will have to cancel your own meeting oh, because respect if reciprocal…whatever that means.
If there has been an office party, you must make sure your senior colleagues are fed before you help yourself to the bounty; and if your direct “oga” is not in the office when the food is being shared, you must hustle for him and keep his share.
The most ridiculous is when the office cleaner expects you to great her and call her “aunty” or “Ma” and even run some errands for her, just because she is old enough to be your mother and she has been working with the company since it started. The worst is during a brainstorming session when an older colleague shares a rubbish idea and you counter it. The others look at you as though “how dare you, who do you think you are?” You find yourself wondering why you were employed in the first place.
You will never be able to eat your food in peace
One would think that in a corporate environment, every staff would plan and make a budget for their meals per day, and in the case where they are not equipped for lunch time, they are able to remain professional about their appetite… but no… not in a Nigerian office.
It is amazing how humble colleagues in a Nigerian office can become when they accost you for “just a spoon of rice” or a sip of coke. They will so praise you! “Njideka , the hottest babe. What are you eating? Share the love na.”
You literally cannot eat your food in peace, unless you leave the office for a restaurant. Even at that, you may find some of your co-workers at the restaurant who will beg you to pay for their food.
It is worse in offices with microwaves because the minute you start warming your food and the aroma fills the air, you will have people trooping in to ask you what kind of food it is and how you made it.
It could also be on the negative where you bring something with a unique or awful smell like Ofada sauce made with locust beans. The news will spread around the office and a lot of people will complain. Side comments like “Biko, who is warming dead body in that microwave?” or “Why put us through this now, must you eat this? Hep us to hep you na” may even shame you into discarding your food.
Donating money and signing cards becomes part of your job
In Nigerian offices, especially in Local government and federal offices, the welfare department (where there is one) is just for show. The staff is still expected to chip in to support colleagues who have either lost a parent or spouse, just put to bed, are getting married, recovering from an illness or leaving the company (send-forth). There is always something to donate money to and even sign a card for; so much that you find you have to make a monthly budget for it. Refusing to donate money to any of the cause will most likely have you pegged as a wicked and stingy person. Also, the gossip will be epic.
God forbid that something now happens to you, they will gang up and make a mockery of donating to your situation. It is just best to give what you can really per time.
You will “fap” and be “fapped”
Fapping is the order of the day. It is never intentional. You will fap, your colleagues fap from you…everybody is happy. You cannot make noise about it really. From as simple as losing your food or drink (carefully labeled and placed in the office refrigerator) to the “real owners”, to having personal belongings such as your pen, your stapler, your air freshener, or even loose change lying on your table nicked by ghost colleagues, fapping is basically a norm.
Occasionally, there are serious cases of theft which are investigated, but nobody complains about these little ones. You cannot possibly kick up a fuss about a missing stapler.
The sharp comments from colleagues who take offense, are enough to make you endure your loss in peace. Again, you do not want to be marked as the one who always cries wolf – so that when you actually do lose something really important, you can be taken seriously.
There are a few Nigerian offices where discipline is a strong core value and even the security cameras installed in most offices are enough to deter such irresponsible behavior. These kinds of offices, which are the exception are very few in number.
When working in a Nigerian office it is important you stay sharp, observant and cautious rather than complain. Complaining is better when you have evidence.
You work extra hours for free
It is the norm to spend extra hours working in a Nigerian office without extra/overtime pay, no matter what your contract states. Basically, having a strict 9-5 work schedule is a myth.
Your line manager, most times, will assign tasks a few minutes to the end of the day with a deadline that ensures you put in extra hours after the stipulated work hours. You cannot even argue with your boss over this, otherwise, he will lecture you on the number of people who are lining up to take over your job if you keep being difficult.
Some people resort to such tactics as calling in sick or losing a family member… to skip work. In fact, even leave may not be granted as it should. But how many times do you want to call really?
In the end, you probably may just have to resign yourself to suffering and smiling, until you find another job.
Office flirtation and romance is the norm
Thanks to bureaucracy, the basic Nigerian office is a boring place… and as expected, most of the workers look for ways to entertain themselves. Since they get to spend a lot of time with each other, colleagues start to find their colleagues – even the ones they normally would not give the time of the day – attractive.
They flirt around and this flirtation sometimes develops into full blown romance and drama.
Even some married workers forget their marriage vows while at the office and chase after office interns – with hope to spice up their office life despite the risk of a scandal.
The worst is when a boss starts to make life miserable for a lower staff because they would not sleep with them. Some would even go as far as stripping the staff of their job.
Some Nigerian offices actually have a functional system that allows for maltreated workers to report sexual harassment, but due to the stigma, most now take it into their own hands.
Some have given in, only to record the sexual escapade and use it against these heartless bosses. There has even been a case where the victim set up a meeting with the boss in a hotel, only to arrive with two hefty men who beat the man to a pulp.
Your co-workers are your worst enemies
Office politics is a key aspect of your relationship with your colleagues in Nigerian offices and no matter what you do, you know, without a doubt, that you cannot really trust anyone.
It appears everyone is power hungry and so there is too much ass-licking to get to the top.
Due to this, your co-workers -who you probably spend more time with than your family and friends- sometimes, become your worst enemies. The worst kinds are the ones who seems nice and friendly, but secretly believe they are in competition with you and as so they start to plot your downfall without you doing anything to offend them. They closely observe you in order to gain the ammunition they can use against you should the need arise.
Fortunately, there are also a few co-workers who turn out to be god-sent; despite the general idea that they are your worst enemies, they help you grow in the system. Some even provide you with opportunities that you would not have had access to, otherwise.
Men almost always rule the day
Thanks to the feminist movement, women are more empowered now than they were in the past. There are actually female bosses, female CEOs and female managers in Nigerian offices now. There are even female ministers and senators in the government as well. Despite this improvement, women with these positions still have to grapple with the traditional idea that men are superior in Nigerian offices.
There seems to be this undying notion that it is “a man’s world”, and as such, subservient roles are still to relegated to women. For instance, in a team of men and women, the women will be expected to organize refreshments, or a female will be expected to serve the tea at the board meeting. Even the lowest staff would feel such roles are beneath him and a senior colleague will have to do it, just because she is female. True, women empowerment is on the rise and things are changing. In some offices, especially female dominated offices, these changes as a result of women empowerment are noticeable; but overall, the effects of these changes are minimal.
The salary is never enough
Have you ever noticed how almost every Nigerian office worker has a side hustle? They are always on the search for a second source of income? This is because they are never paid enough to meet up with the basic lifestyle of a civil servant. Again, discriminatory pay practices are the norm, and as such people are milked to the barest minimum. They are hardly paid based on a general salary schedule.
Even more, bonuses and raises also do not come easily to everyone. The few offices that try to extend benefits to all their staff regulate it and make it a form of competition for the entire staff.
Working in a Nigerian office is something almost every Nigerian would have to experience at one point or the other and while the truths listed above leaves very little for prospective workers to look forward to, it is important to keep them at the back of the mind.
Is there something else you would like to add to this list? Let us know in the comment section!
*Nkem Ndem contributed this from Lagos.