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Nigeria is notorious for the poor level of safety and security within its borders, and it comes as no surprise that even well-seasoned expats with years of travel behind them will be concerned about their personal safety in Nigeria.
Many Western governments, including the US and the UK, have issued warnings to their citizens to avoid all but essential travel to certain parts of Nigeria due to safety concerns, particularly in the northern states due to sectarian violence, and in the southern oil-producing states due to the activities of rebel groups.
Nigeria, or parts of it, is undoubtedly dangerous, but foreigners that move to this West African country hardly live in perpetual fear for their safety. Most expats living and working in various areas of Nigeria report that, though they acknowledge the risks at hand, they do generally feel safe in Nigeria.
Crime in Nigeria
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 foreign nationals have reported being a victim of such crimes.
In some situations, the Nigerian police or the area’s relevant law enforcement authorities may not respond immediately. 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 are not necessarily an expat's friend.
Expats should take certain precautions while living in Nigeria to stay safe. 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.
Many expats are fortunate enough to be housed in accommodation which is protected by 24-hour security (some even with armed guards), such as apartment complexes, compounds or gated communities. Nevertheless, it’s best to lock all doors and windows when leaving home, especially since robbers have been known to scale high walls and divert the attention of guards.
Note that many armed attacks in Nigerian urban centres happen at night. So, expats should carefully consider their need to travel after dark and, if they do indulge in the vibrant nightlife, they should stay alert at all times and keep to well-lit city centre areas.
Fraud in Nigeria
No discussion of safety in Nigeria would be complete without mention of the ever-popular 419 or advanced-fee scams, named after the section of the Nigerian penal code that relates to financial fraud. These scams often involve an email or text message from someone claiming to be a relative, with a business proposal or in great distress and begging for a deposit into their bank account. Needless to say, this is just one of the many faces of financial fraud in Nigeria, and though the banking system has become more secure over the past few years, expats must still be vigilant when it comes to checking bank and credit card balances.
Terrorism and conflict in Nigeria
There is a threat of terrorism in Nigeria, and expats working in the oil industry in the Niger Delta region as well as across Northern Nigeria should realise the implications of their employment choice.
North and northeastern areas in Nigeria have faced a heavy threat of terrorism, particularly in Borno State. However, no region is free from this potential threat. Many governments advise their nationals against all travel to the northern states of Borno, Kaduna, 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, Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), and Ansaru, a terrorist organisation based in the region. There is a high risk of attacks against international bodies and Western targets, and expats should be vigilant at all times, particularly in the vicinity of places of worship, including churches and mosques, and government and military installations.
Be aware that some states and areas frequently impose curfews and these should be obeyed. We recommend staying up to date with instructions from the relevant authorities.
Kidnappings are common in Nigeria, connected to terrorist motives or for ransom. Expats involved in industries including humanitarian aid, tourism, journalism and business are potential targets for kidnapping and should ensure they follow all necessary safety precautions.
Violent protest action is unpredictable, but expats should be aware that it does occur frequently in major cities, including Abuja. It is best to avoid large crowds and steer clear of political gatherings and rallies.
Road safety in Nigeria
Road safety in Nigeria is well below standard, with incidents of armed robberies and hijackings carried out by gangs. Expats should avoid driving at night.
In general, road conditions and dense traffic make driving around cities a stressful and hazardous experience. Unfortunately, Nigeria's public transport doesn't guarantee safe arrivals. Most expats hire a driver, the cost of which can be negotiated as part of one’s employment package. When arriving at the airport, new arrivals should be sure to be met by someone they know and avoid taking a taxi unless prearranged through a reputable provider.
►For more on staying safe and healthy in the country, see Healthcare in Nigeria
►Wondering how far your expat salary is going to go? See our overview of the Cost of Living in Nigeria
►For guidance on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud and scams while abroad, read this article on Job Scams
"The main safety issue: foolishness. I follow similar rules to wherever I have travelled and lived: I am careful, we don’t walk around at night, keep money put away and don’t carry lots of cash. We are more careful in certain areas, etc." For more on an expat's perception of safety in our interview with Vena Namukasa.
"Any foreign service guidance will warn against travel to various parts of Nigeria and warn of the terrorist threat and the kidnap threat in Abuja for foreign nationals. Robbery is also a problem. However, this isn’t representative of the fact that with a little good sense, there’s no reason to be fearful living in Abuja." Read more in our interview with Clementine.
Are you an expat living in Nigeria?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Nigeria. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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