How does business get done in Nigeria?

Regarding Nigeria-

One one hand we have this picture of Nigeria as this massive kelptocracy where everyone is scamming or playing everyone else on some level, and on the other hand Nigeria is a leading world petroleum exporter with billions of dollar in petro-income, and has a fairly advanced industrial infrastructure for an African State.

How do these two things co-exist? How does the nation’s business of building roads, sewers, office buildings etc. get done with any degree of efficiency in an environment where everyone is looking for graft and is on the make?

A lot of the oil stuff is run and owned by foreigners. Since the high-up government officials get a cut of the profits, they make sure they can run things how the foreign organizations want relatively free of problems. Corporations have a relatively free hand and even hire their own heavily armed security.

The infrastructures isn’t as great once you get out of the major population centers. I lived in Cameroon on the border with Nigeria, and while there were a wider variety of consumer good available in Nigeria, the standard of living on the village/small town level was not much higher than Cameroon in that area. You aren’t going to find a lot of sewer system, many paved roads, reliable water and electricity, etc. outside of the large cities.

This is a part of why Nigeria is such a dangerous place. There are massive inequalities and many people feel like the resources of their land are being sold to foreigners and nobody is seeing a profit except the elites. Militant groups have been waging a war directed against the oil companies for years. Oil companies have fought back with hired mercenaries and Nigerian police forces, leading to a bizarre and especially ruleless war of guerrillas versus corporations. A while back there was a big dust up when police shot some protesters on an oil platform.

This is a bit of propaganda. Multinationals have to constantly pay off the goverment and do not have a free hand! I had a friend whose firms entire oil tanker was “stolen” in port - they simply repainted it, reflagged and it was the Nigerian’s super! Everything suffers from the thieves at the top, including the corporations, local and international.

This is true, and worse yet, there are theives (police, soldiers) every 5km extracting bribes. Worst place in West Africa.

The blame the foreigners mentality in Nigeria is just excuse making. The Kleptocracy of the government is a purely Nigerian creation and far worse than any neighbours. Nigeria is legendary in all West Africa for being horribly corrupt. Maybe the oil firms should just pull out and let the Nigerians run things into the ground, but the culture of corruption can not be blamed on anyone but themselves, and others who make excuses for them. Ghanians, Burkinabes, etc., all the neighbours see the same things, there is corruption, and then there is Nigeria.

I for one welcome our new seaweed overlords

I was in Nigeria for about two weeks back in 1994, doing business. To a large extent, the answer to your question is that dash (the Nigerian term for “cash under the table”) is just part of the business world.

We were told by our clients to resist any efforts made at collecting bribes. When we entered the country, the guy at immigration gave us minor troubles, we had to provide additional documentation that was not legally necessary. He was clearly looking for us to grease the skids; we just played ignorant. The guy at customs opened my suitcase and asked, “Did you bring any presents for me or my friends?” Then, since we hadn’t paid up, there was an armed guard who stopped us at the airport exit. A crowd gathered, and a couple of them whispered to me to just give him money; fortunately, our client had met us. It was really funny if it wasn’t so scarey: she was about 4’10" and he was well over 6’, built like a football player and loaded with weaponry. She barely came up to his navel, and she started yelling at him: “What kind of impression are you making on these visitors to our country? You know better than that!” and chewed him out. He backed down.

It was pretty much that way every step. Anything we bought was bartered. Salaries, certainly at executive levels, are designed to (legally) evade taxes, but the laws are unclear, so they get away with lots. In terms of infrastructure like roads and such, at that time anyhow, there wasn’t any. The phones (we were staying in the fanciest European-owned hotel in Lagos) didn’t work half the time; the roads were so full of potholes that there might as well not have been any.

The reasonably well-to-do and the rich live behind gates, high fences, barbed wire and hired their own security guards. There were hundreds of people on each street corner, presumably homeless, barely clothed; driving by, I could see many of them sick, covered with sores, etc. I was told (by a very well-to-do accountant) that the oil companies destroy the villages and the people flee to the cities, looking for work, food, etc. But the cities are flooded with this population expansion that they can’t handle.

I’ve been in several “third world” countries, but this was one of the saddest. On the plus side, I’ve got enough stories for many, many cocktail hours.

This is the impression I got on my one brief visit to Africa, and from talking to numerous Africans in Europe. The lifestyle of a well-off westerner is available to anyone (plus lots of perks not generally available elsewhere), provided they can wrap themselves in an insulating bubble of money to protect them from the harsh realities of life as experienced by ordinary people.
Electricity is unreliable or non-existent, but the rich have generators. Roads are appalling but the rich have expensive well-sprung Range Rovers, or helicopters. Medical services are horribly primitive, but there are fancy private clinics, and Johns Hopkins/Cedars of Sinai/etc. are only a few hours away by first-class jet.

So business gets done the same way it gets done anywhere else, except that everyone you deal with every day has to be paid some extra cash to do their jobs or not to fuck you over (customers, suppliers, taxmen, policemen), and all the basic amenities you might expect to be supplied by the state also have to be paid for by you (electricity, water, security, etc. etc. etc.). Unsurprisingly it’s a lot harder to get anything done, and it’s usually very expensive. Nigeria alone probably spends tens of billions of dollars on running generators to make up for the utter fecklessness of its power utility.