From email scams to oil spills and charlatan Pentecostal preachers, it’s clear that Nigeria has something of an image problem.
While the outside world’s perception of Africa’s most populous country hasn’t always been overwhelmingly positive, there’s plenty more to this nation than its unsavory associations.
With its vibrant culture, sense of humor and adaptability, Nigeria has become the “Giant of Africa” in more ways than just population size.
In honor of Nigeria’s Independence Day on October 1, here are 10 of the many reasons why the destination one in five Africans call home stands out from the rest. You may be inspired to add Nigeria to your travel list:
In Nigeria, if you’ve reached your 30th birthday and are still unhitched, the elders will harass you down the aisle, which is why barely a week goes by without someone staging a traditional wedding ceremony somewhere.
Weddings are a sacred part of cultural life, but also an excuse to show off cuisine, fabulous clothing, music and dance moves in one life-affirming, chromatic bonanza.
With 250-odd ethnic groups, the ceremonies come in a variety of styles, depending on your region.
In the southwest, the groom and his friends might prostrate themselves at the start.
However, in the southeast you’ll see them dancing their way into the ceremony, wearing bowler hats and clutching walking canes.
In other regions, the bride and groom’s families send each other letters of proposal and acceptance before getting down to dowry negotiations.
Once the serious stuff is done, it’s back to music and dancing and, best of all, the tossing of banknotes in the air to make money literally rain down on the newlyweds.
If you haven’t experienced a traditional Nigerian wedding, you haven’t experienced Nigeria.
This mouth-watering tomato-based rice dish is a party staple.
There are many ways to cook it, involving endless permutations of meat, spices, chilli, onions and vegetables.
While it’s widely accepted that Senegal invented this dish, the concept spread to West African countries.
The most notable are Ghana and Nigeria — two nations that have vied with one another for supremacy in a never-ending battle known as the jollof wars.
Nigerians are the indisputable champions, of course, serving up “advanced level” jollof that our Ghanaian rivals can only watch and admire.
Oya, come chop!
Eating chicken to the bone
While we’re still on the subject of food, Nigerians are champions at eating chicken to the bone and beyond.
It’s not enough to simply eat the flesh. We break the bone, suck out the marrow and pulverize the remainder until there’s almost nothing left.
If your chicken thigh is still forensically identifiable at the end of the meal then you haven’t done it right. Abeg, finish am!
Only Hollywood and India’s Bollywood make more movies than Nigeria.
Known as Nollywood, our film industry is big business — so big it contributes 5% to national GDP.
With average flicks churned out in under a two weeks, Nollywood films are famous for their poor (albeit improving) production values.
But what they lack in sophistication they make up for in story lines that are an entertaining window on Nigerian moral values and byzantine social dynamics.
Narratives exploring servant-master relationships, the supernatural, corruption and infidelity are delivered with lashings of shouty, eye-bulging overacting.
The movies draw a big audience in the rest of Africa, where viewers from more reserved societies can revel vicariously in Nigeria’s outlandishness and even pick up some of our slang.
Nigerian soft power has never been greater.
By Noo Saro-Wiwa