Many Western governments, including the US and the UK, say no, to a large extent. Both the US Department of State and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office have issued warnings to their citizens to avoid all but essential travel to certain parts of the country due to safety concerns, particularly in Nigeria's northern states due to sectarian violence, and in the southern oil-producing states due to the activities of rebel groups.
Furthermore, reports by the aforementioned bodies claim that both violent and petty crime rates remain high throughout the country. Assault, burglary, mugging, carjacking and home invasion exist as serious threats everywhere, and many an expat has reported being a victim of such crimes.
In these situations, the Nigerian police or the area’s relevant law enforcement authorities may not respond at all, or may do so too slowly to matter. What’s more, these officials have even been pegged as perpetrators, coercing expats at checkpoints and elsewhere into paying bribes under the threat of jail time. In short, the police are not always dependable, and they are not necessarily an expat's friend.
So, to say Nigeria is not dangerous, would not only be foolish, it would be an outright untruth; but to say that foreigners that move to this West African country live their lives paralysed by fear, and are consequently incapable of enjoying themselves due to their perpetual concern for their personal safety, would be nearly as blatant of a lie. Expats living and working in various areas of Nigeria report that, though they acknowledge the risks at hand, they do, in general, feel safe.
Safety tips for Nigeria
All things considered, it is essential that expats take certain precautions while living in Nigeria in order to keep the safety bubble firmly instated around them. It goes without saying that they should remain alert, take notice of the people around them, and put in practice the same safety measures they would in any big city. But there are a few extra points worth adhering to.
- Avoid demonstrations, large gatherings and volatile crowds. The sentiment on busy Nigerian streets can change from one of calm to one of anger and distress quickly and spontaneously, a turn which often leads to violence.
- Note that the majority of armed attacks in Nigerian urban centres happen after 10pm. Thus, carefully consider your need to travel after dark, and if you do indulge in the nation’s vibrant nightlife, keep alert at all times and try your best to keep to well-lit city centre areas.
- Do not carry large amounts of cash, and do not wear expensive or ostentatious jewellery. Furthermore, do not flaunt items of excessive value in front of Nigerian house help; in the worst case scenario ownership may mysteriously change hands, and in the best case scenario, you risk seeming rude and uncaring to locals that live on a much more meagre income.
- If caught in a dangerous situation, do not resist; comply with the perpetrators’ request. Most victims harmed report struggling with or defying attackers.
- Lock all doors and windows when leaving home. Though many expats are fortunate enough to be accommodated within apartment complexes, compounds or gated communities protected by 24-hour security (some even with armed guards), this action is an easy deterrent and a good rule of thumb, especially since robbers have been known to scale high walls and divert the attention of guards.
- Never relinquish your passport or accompany a police officer to the station unless formally arrested. Furthermore, though Nigerian police are known to be corrupt, do not try to bribe these individuals.
- Realise that homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria. Same-sex unions are not recognised and sexual acts or public displays of affection between people of the same sex are punishable by harsh prison sentences. Advocacy groups for same-sex relationships are also illegal.
Financial crimes in Nigeria
No discussion of safety in Nigeria would be complete without mention of the ever-popular 419 scam, the section of the Nigerian penal code that relates to financial fraud. These scams, often involving an email by someone claiming to be a relative or in great distress, and begging for a deposit into their bank account, commonly originate from Nigeria and its neighbouring countries.
Needless to say, this is only one of the many faces of financial fraud in Nigeria, and though the banking system has become more secure over the course of the past few years, expats must still be vigilant when it comes to checking bank and credit card balances. Never let your credit card out of your sight, and always try your best to confirm the reliability of those whom you are paying.
Terrorism in Nigeria
There is a threat of terrorism in Nigeria, and expats working in the oil industry in the Niger Delta region, in particular, should realise the implication of their employment choice. Since January 2009, over 100 foreign nationals related to this industry have been kidnapped by local groups interested in using these expats as leverage in negotiation with the oil barons.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) remains the greatest threat in this region. MEND aims to assume control of Nigeria’s energy resources in the Niger Delta and has carried out a number of attacks against oil installations in the region and, in recent years, has even claimed responsibility for two car-bomb attacks in Abuja during Nigeria’s Independence Day celebrations in 2010. As a result, many foreign oil companies have instated “essential-travel only” policies for their employees, forbidding movement throughout certain Niger Delta states, namely Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers.
Sectarian violence continues in Nigeria’s northern states and related terrorist attacks have been carried out, particularly against churches and mosques in the region. For this reason, many governments advice their nationals against all travel to the northern states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe and Bauchi, and against non-essential travel to other states in the region. The main terrorist threat in northern Nigeria stems from Boko Haram, an Islamist extremist group which aspires to establish Islamic law in Nigeria. The group has also carried out a number of attacks in Abuja; most notably, a suicide bomb that exploded at the UN headquarters in August 2011 which left 23 people dead and over 80 wounded. There is a high risk of further attacks against international bodies and Western targets, and expats should be vigilant at all times, particularly in the vicinity of places of worship and government and military installations.
Road safety in Nigeria
Road safety in Nigeria is also well below standard, with incidents of armed robberies and hijackings carried out by gangs, and extortion perpetrated by the police. Expats should avoid driving at night.
In general, road conditions and dense traffic make driving around cities a stressful and hazardous experience. Most expats hire a driver, the cost of which can be negotiated as part of one’s package. When arriving at the airport, be sure to be met by someone you know, and avoid taking a taxi unless prearranged through a reputable provider.