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Nkem Ndem: 9 Undeniable Facts About Working in a Nigerian Office

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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-worker 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 offence, 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 behaviour. 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. Complaint 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 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 kind are the one who seem 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 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 expect 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!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Nkem Ndem is an energetic and highly accomplished Media Consultant who loves to help small businesses, especially women-led, grow their online presence using the right digital strategy or transition from traditional organizational boundaries. With years of experience in Copywriting and Editing, Content Branding and Strategy, Social media, and Digital Marketing, she is clearly obsessed with Digital Communications. She is the Head of Content and Lead Consultant at Black Ink Media - an Ideation and Content Agency that excels in providing fresh, creative digital services to content-centric businesses. Find out more about her at www.blackinkm.com or send her an e-mail at [email protected] Also follow her on IG: @nkemndemv, Twitter: @ndemv.

33 Comments

  1. Bibi

    April 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Nkem your article is so on point.
    About office politics, I can write a whole book on that and it would sell like hot cake, for those interested. Also about the issue of Nigerian offices not following the stipulated time on the employment letter about closing and resumption time. At my last place of work I was to resume at 8 and close by 5pm, the first week of resumption,when I carried my bag to go home, I was told ‘that it was written on your letter doesn’t mean you will close by 5, sometimes we don’t leave till 7pm) even after pleading that I needed to take my baby from the creche by latest 5:30pm, till I left that organization, the closing time thing was always an issue.

    At my husband’s place of work,he hasn’t been on leave for two years, they always asked him who would do his job, they only pay him his leave allowance, the job pays the bills, we are grateful, so what can we do? I also regret not going on leave at all till I left my former place of work, plus I got no leave allowance sadly.

    Talking about seniority, lol! Nigerian offices thrive on that, even so called big companies,I once interned at the head office of a particular bank on the island..Where the standard rule is to call everyone, even the CEO by his first name. Ah! Try it with your senior coworkers at your own peril..you will be tagged rude and avoided like a plague. I always add the Mr or Mrs Prefixes abeg, I no want wahala,especially when they are aware you are not particularly an ajebutter,the ones who schooled abroad surprisingly get away with calling the older colleagues by their first name . Still talking about my last place of work, we had this cleaner who believes she is the ’emi Oga’ you dare not question her authority, and she’s older than most ladies in the office, she cleans the kitchen,dusts your desk only when she feels like, she even keeps malice. Her only loyalty is to the boss and his P.A.

    Your salary can never be enough, that is if it is not delayed.Delay is the order of the day. I remember also contributing 500 and above, it depends, for gifts for coworkers, in a month, two coworkers can have babies and you must part with some money to buy them gifts, you cant say no( I don’t really see anything wrong in this though,I just believe if one doesn’t have genuinely, one shouldn’t be mistreated or be the subject of gossip for that reason).

    Gossip is also rife, I try as much as possible to steer clear, but even when you sit on your own and concentrate on your job, the gossip might still meet you at your desk, lol except you don’t talk or relate with anyone, just try and minimize the way you gist with your colleagues, lest you get into trouble.

    I wasn’t in the good books of a female supervisor of mine for years just because I didn’t add her to my bbm, I just didn’t want office people on my BB. When it was time for promotion and everyone thought I deserved a particular position, she chose someone else,not only because of the BB thing, but other petty stuff ( she later regretted and apologized somehow).

    If your drawer doesn’t have a key, expect it to be rummaged through and through, at a point my drinks and beverages started to get missing from my drawer. A4 papers nko?,They will steal yours and hoard theirs. Especially those that do personal stuff with office materials.

    Oh what about verbal abuse from bosses. My colleague once got a mail that read ‘are you retarded?’ to ‘you are all dumb in this team’, my former boss was so crass and unrefined, he was quick to remind you there are no jobs. I was also a victim of his verbal abuse. He dishes it out cold.

    It can be tough and fun, you will definitely have sad and happy moments too. I can’t wait to get back to work, my baby is old enough!

  2. Ameh's love

    April 10, 2017 at 1:24 pm

    You are so not far from the blatant truth especially on the place of hierarchy,food and extra work at few seconds to close your files on table.

  3. olliealley.wordpress.com

    April 10, 2017 at 1:48 pm

    I resume at 8 and close by 5. No force on this earth can keep me a minute past 5 if I don’t want. For how much salary sef. Nigerian employers, I’ve come to realize, will use you if you present yourself to be used. If i spend my whole day at your office, when do I have to work on my dreams??

  4. Ms B

    April 10, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Civil service is the worst! In my office; we have to contribute monthly to pay the cleaner. A federal government agency! Sad really! Apart from contributions for celebrations/bereavement oh. The salary is not increasing but the avenues to spend are. Another reason many civil servants are corrupt, they reason that since government is not helping you; you must epp yourself!

  5. Beard gang

    April 10, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    You forgot the juju aspect…lol
    Awon zenith bank people don’t dull in this dept.
    You also didn’t add the part were you have to attend your boss’ social functions and buy the aso-ebi…shout out to FCMB HQ.

    There is one silverspoon son that asks his father’s senior managers where they were when his father was making money and sends them on ridiculos errands like buying moi-moi. The company glows everywhere…**winks**

    • nene

      April 10, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      lol

    • Alterego

      April 18, 2017 at 11:26 pm

      Have I laughed like this in a while? No. Imagine sending your senior to go and buy moimoi! Oh, the ridiculousness!

  6. frank teacher

    April 10, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    promotions are based on appraisals, appraisals are based majorly on inter-personal relationship with the appraiser, please don’t say mine is a computerized appraisal, abeg, nothing like that 100%.
    please before you complain of extra hours and talk of side hustle, remember some work from 9am to 9pm everyday, with three days off in a month, yes, no public holiday, no leave, year in year out,
    kindly point me to the labour police, so i file in an official complaint…

  7. Puzzles

    April 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    Nkem, long time. Did you go on holidays? Lovely article.

    Thankfully, i work in an office where everyone respects themselves and you are appraised based on your actual work. If you are a smart worker, you fly high. No one gives a damn about your age.

    Now it’s confirmed the kinds of topics that generates the most comments. If Nkem had written something in line with her previous articles, there would have been 100 comments by now.

    Where are those people asking Nkem if it’s only “man man” topics she writes about? Come and comment now, they are nowhere to be seen.

    • Peter

      April 10, 2017 at 8:33 pm

      On point Puzzles . I thought before this time this page would have been down. Nkem, maybe you should look at relationship( romance ) in the place of work , that may lure them . I enjoy it when I see them crying over your intelligence.

  8. dlp

    April 10, 2017 at 3:09 pm

    Omg u are so on point, especially the food part. I work with one of the professional firm and men. People can beg, Just went for lunch and i bought puff puff. I had to hide it and told my friend secretly to come and take hers. Cos before u say jack robinson, it is gone. I cant laugh abeg

  9. Peter

    April 10, 2017 at 3:12 pm

    Tribalism,Nepotism and Religion

  10. Me

    April 10, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    I totally agree with the”working extra hours” part. I work in the CS dept of booking portal and we never leave as at when due. Imagine where you are scheduled to work the 8am – 4pm shift and you get to leave work at 6pm and sometimes as late as 7pm/8pm in the name of COMPULSORY overtime. Even if they are paying for the extra hours, not everyone likes staying back after normal closing hours. I have a life outside work…..Gosh! Then the part where they assign more tasks to you few minutes to the end of my shift….you need to see me on such days. Oh well, there are no Labour laws to protect anyone

  11. Bibi

    April 10, 2017 at 3:44 pm

    Where is the long comment I typed.Sad

  12. Seyi

    April 10, 2017 at 3:47 pm

    Lol @who is warming dead body. But people can eat shit in offices sha. For real.

  13. Chu

    April 10, 2017 at 4:36 pm

    I can relate with a lot of this. Most especially the part of being a female. I have long set myself apart that I am not the go to person for refreshments, I have more important things to do, even my ogas meet a contract staff when they need refreshment rather than me.

  14. Ifymcqueens

    April 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm

    I remember d 1st day I resumed, d cleaner; an elderly woman told me dat she loves my weavon & I should give her when I loosen d hair…..that she is serious oh….part of their duties is to buy food for us….the woman would never want to release the change….I had to confront her & she told people I’m a stingy person….who cares!…..some people in the office are not professional…..regular training is required

    • Puzzles

      April 10, 2017 at 5:13 pm

      But you’re trying o.

      Telling someone to buy your food. Food that you would put in your mouth and eat. In this modern age when you don’t know the heart of people. And it’s the same cleaner who has gone behind your back to say you are stingy. Do you know what she could put in your food to get back at you?

      Not me sha. I can’t ask anyone to buy my food. I’ll rather buy it myself. If you like, call me paranoid. This world is wicked.

    • AceOfSpades

      April 10, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      What if the food is poisoned from the source you are buying from if your office has a kitchen! Listen the heart of man is wicked truly but one Yoruba adage says you can’t be as wise as the person that’s monitoring you!

      Just pray or better still bring your home cooked food and don’t eat again till you get home if you are so paranoid.

    • Peter

      April 10, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      I have one in my neighbourhood with four children and a runaway husband. He was the gateman and an errand man in her former place of work . Suddenly, this graduate and a highly respected lady got entangled in the web of a gateman, from errand man to husband. After three children, everything opened up and by this time it was too late. Gateman put love portion number 9 inside madam food . So be careful .

    • Anne

      April 11, 2017 at 1:08 am

      Actually it is risky to ask someone to buy food for you. Try no matter hungry to buy for yourself. Things are no more the same. I did it in Uni but I can’t now.

  15. le coco

    April 10, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    First point is so true.. Naija sha.. where are or labour laws

  16. Rubby

    April 10, 2017 at 7:41 pm

    Very interesting piece and very true,”Njideka the hottest babe” so hilarious,so true…

  17. Akara Pancake

    April 10, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    One thing I disliked about the Nigerian office are the “love fueds”. If you are a young cool looking dude, sometimes older executives/directors pick on you or have beef for you, if they feel you attract too much attention from females in the office. Especially if they themselves are eyeing one of those females. It is like high school all over again.

    Then there are beefs caused by fighting over a hot chick, who sometimes herself adds fuel to the fire by playing two male co-workers against each other to put herself in a position of power.

    I remember working for a company where the IT dude was one of the most powerful people in the organization. He had the CEO’s ear, as he had helped set up the company IT infrastructure, so he was given a blank behavorial cheque to do as he pleased. He was a tyrant in the manner of Maliyamungu, Idia Amin’s right hand man. He had big fat red lips and a bean shaped head, which sported kinky hair he never bothered to comb. We all nicknamed him “IT” (as in the after the clown in that horror movie”)

    You had better be on the IT’s good side if you wanted to be set up with a working computer and desk phone.. Depending on whether he liked you, IT could hook you up with all the new tech stuff like wireless keyboards or a shiny slim PC monitor, or a printer which actually works and does not print smudged ink like Tie and Dye cloth.

    If he hated your guts, you couldend up with the fat old white computer with the dead pixels which still ran Fortran. Or a UPS system that switched off with NEPA. IT was a problem.

    Before Blackberry/Smart phones phones became pure water in Nigeria, I know IT hooked up a female intern lawyer with access to the office server so that her work emails got pushed to her private phone. This was a privilege only the firm’s Partners enjoyed. I don’t know how she paid back that favor, but she always wore some saucy “push-up” bras to work. I am just saying o. Push me, I push you, huh?

    IT always seemed to work on a different time-zone from everyone else. Late into the office, early out. He was permitted to dress down, and his favourite garb was a polo shirt, jeans, geeky glasses and his Bagco supersack sized knapsack.

    But don’t let the Steve Urkel get-up fool you.

    A friend called Remi who was once competing with IT for the affection of a sexy girl named Segi who worked in Procurement. They took their war to another level, but IT went “no-holds barred” when he discovered that Remi had taken Segi for “movies and popcorn” at Silverbird the Saturday before. Office rumours were spreading that corn was not the only thing popped at that date.

    IT guy decided to play his ace-card. Remi was due to give a presentation on Private Equity in Nigeria to a bunch of Chinese clients in the office boardroom. Two of the firm partners were also going to be present along with interested workers of the firm, and these clients were a very lucrative account for the firm.

    Remi had worked on the PowerPoint presentation for the best of one month, and had finally completed the slides the evening before. He set up the projection apparatus, and then the clients and firm partners came in and took their seats. Okay, educate us…

    Err, when Remi tried to locate the files with the slides, they were nowhere to be found. He started to sweat profusely, and the partners looked on embarrassed as he fidgeted with the projector. As Remi struggled in front of everyone, sweating buckets, he looked up and saw IT seated at the back. He was not even supposed to be here.

    IT guy gave him a knowing wink. Like, I don winch you today.

    Remi avoided Segi like Boko Haram States after that.

    • Nkem Ndem

      April 11, 2017 at 10:08 am

      lmfao. i had fun reading this!

    • Nkem Ndem

      April 11, 2017 at 10:10 am

      @akara pancake

    • Alterego

      April 18, 2017 at 11:42 pm

      Akara Pancake, you are a riot! ??

  18. Jay

    April 10, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    All true but this got me so amused….

    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. Nigerians!!!!!

  19. ejogene

    April 11, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Nkem thanks for this piece!

    What about the office gossip, envy, unnecessary intrusion into your personal life by seniors colleagues “you don’t look happy? is everything okay?

    • Alterego

      April 18, 2017 at 11:46 pm

      The personal intrusion, gosh. A college had just got married and of course naturally people were excited. One senior launched into prayer gear six, for the remaining single girls. Unfortunately I walked past, she grabbed my arms and said, ‘don’t worry my dear, your own shall come. You are next, claim it, believe it, receive it .’

  20. Sarah

    April 11, 2017 at 11:12 am

    The part about not eating your food in peace is so relatable and annoying especially when colleagues you’re not exactly close to, want to eat your food. Like can you leave me a lone to eat my food in peace, I didn’t plan for other people.

  21. Alterego

    April 18, 2017 at 11:35 pm

    When I go out for lunch and I bring back something, I have to sit in my car and eat it. Or hide it in my drawer and pretend I’m hunting for something in the said drawer and eat as if I stole it. Imagine. For me, that is the worst. The food issue. I’m a food person and prepare my lunch with care and bring it in with proper utensil. Once I arrive, the jokes start. ‘Ri, what tips did you pick on food network this weekend?, ‘Ri, is this Basmati or jasmine rice, lemme taste. Some won’t tell you anything. Just stare at you with hangdog eyes. I just can’t.

  22. yummymummycumchick

    April 19, 2017 at 11:12 am

    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…………………….. I CONCUR. SHE IS A DIETY OOO JUST DONT TRY PICK FIGHT WITH HER.

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