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Tribes in Nigeria and their weird business practices

Oyemaja Executives, a division of The Oyemaja Group.


Business, Advertising, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Oyemaja
Oyemaja, Weird Business Practices; Photocredit: Unsplash

Attaining success in business is like playing a game of Jenga with sweaty palms and shaky hands. Every move you make either helps your stack get taller or raises the odds that it will tumble down. Despite the challenges, the desire to succeed is a common human motivation that drives businesses all around the world.


With more than 250 ethnic groups, Nigeria is a nation with several distinct customs and cultures. Many of these tribes have unusual and distinctive business practices (their unique jenga moves) that have been passed down through the decades to sustain their way of life. Their occupations range from farming and fishing to crafts, cattle trading, leather work and other kinds of trades. When push comes to shove and success appears to be just out of grasp, some tribes go to great lengths to reverse their fortunes, indulge in weird business practices and take audacious risks.


What remains striking is the fact that some of these weird business practices are still in existence till today despite the fact that the Nigerian economy has seen its fair share of modernization and globalization. Well, I guess some cultures can’t go extinct like dinosaurs. Now, let’s dive in and explore some of these practices:


Snake Charmers

Snake charmers are found all over Nigeria and consider their craft, which they use to win over customers and sell juju charms, to be a trade. This is evident particularly in northern Nigeria. A snake charmer with an animal skin containing juju charms that are claimed to solve all life problems and make people rich is a very common sight at market places, on major road sides, and in front of a large crowd of people. Such charms are displayed before onlookers, arranged on woven traditional mats, with snake skins and snake heads to back-up all assertions. They go as far as pulling stunts with live snakes, swallowing them and miraculously producing them again. Unfortunately, some of them die of snake poisoning.


The Nwaboy or BoyBoy Deceit

The Igbo people commonly use the Nwaboy form of apprenticeship. It is considered a method of distributing wealth among kin. According to this custom, a young boy or man must depart from his house with an older, wealthy relative or family friend who is typically a successful businessman for “training”. The Nwaboy stays under the masters’ guidance during this time for a fixed number of years to learn the business’s ropes. He receives compensation after faithfully serving his master for the specified amount of years. That’s the custom, no doubt. But over the years, some masters derail from the pact and start making life difficult for their Nwaboy. They go as far as accusing him of theft which could lead to imprisonment. Sometimes, they bar him from trading in their vicinity so that their customers won’t be lured away and for him not to be successful as they are in business. Most importantly, they do this to avoid paying the gains and rewards the Nwaboy needs to start a new life.


Yoruba Juju

Have you ever been to a market and seen a line of shops offering the same goods? That’s fantastic, I must say. There is more to it than that. You notice once more that there seems to be just one store luring everyone in. Many still go there and disregard other businesses despite how busy it is, how unfriendly the staff is, and how long it takes to make a purchase there. You might have actually encountered juju.


Some traders have a reputation for having strong juju that allows them to dominate other traders and regulate all market activity. In order to draw customers and boost their sales, stores, shops, and other places where buying and selling occur are known to hang or place juju nearby or inside of their buildings. Let me shock you. It is believed that most desperate food vendors cook their food using the same water that is used to bathe a corpse or water used to wash hands (omi ìsanwô) in order to make it more appetizing and delicious and entice people to buy from them repeatedly. Hmm, just be careful of what you eat outside.



Business, Advertising, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Oyemaja
Oyemaja; Weird Business Practices; Photocredit: Unsplash

OgwuEgo among the Igbos

This is also similar to the Yoruba Juju but there’s a little twist. Ever seen an Igbo guy complain that his uncle who has 10 cars and 10 houses has used his glory? That’s more like it. The concept is based on the idea that the wealthy person, whose relatives are poor, somehow acquired his money by utilizing ogwu ego to impede the advancement of the underprivileged family members. The money that would have gone to his poor family is magically collected by him, the rich person. His family then becomes impoverished because of this. Ogwuego is sometimes called blood money. But really, is it really a money ritual or the folks are lazy? Whatever it is, just work hard and smart.


Inheritance Practices among the Igbos

The Igbo people hold the view that a wife is property or commodity that may be passed down through the generations, which is the foundation of inheritance customs. An Igbo man’s bride may be inherited by one of the man’s brothers in various Igbo communities when he passes away. Did I just hear you whisper *tufiakwa*?💀 Well, that’s their custom. There’s an ulterior motive behind this. Greedy family members employ it as a means of gaining access to the deceased man’s wealth. The good news is that as more women become informed and reject it, this practice is gradually disappearing. Literally, feminists left the group chat.


Kayanmata of Northern Nigeria

Just skimming through a Twitter post could reveal to you that a married man has neglected his family to follow a young lady and spoil her with all the good things. You whisper to yourself “Hmm, he has been entrapped. They have used Kayanmata for him. He needs deliverance. Women are wicked people.


The Kayanmata, which is the most popular in the North, is believed to have been entrenched in cultural customs for more than 500 years. Literally translated, “kayanmata” implies a woman’s possessions. Due to the fierce competition among the northern women, they are taught the value of keeping their men satisfied in bed by using various herbal concoctions to keep them aroused for sex all the time. Perfumes, cosmetics, lubricants, insertions, powders, and spices are just a few of the many forms that kayanmata can take. Now, here’s the gist. Kayanmata has gained visibility in Nigeria and has now become a means of prosperity for ladies. It can make a man surrender anything the user asks of him by bewitching him. It is believed that specific types of Kayanmata can affect a lady’s fortune when she uses them. Well, you may be right. The man might have been entrapped. Please use 5 seconds to fear women before reading on.


Rain making / holding

It’s 3pm and you step out to see a gray sky, the clouds look dark and heavy, the wind rustles and trees can’t stop waving at you. Everyone runs around to make sure their goods are not affected by the impending rain. You even feel a few small droplets on your skin. The atmosphere feels tense and anticipatory. All of a sudden, the sky is clear. Everything goes back to normal. They’ve held the rain. Impressive! But how? The rain making and holding practice is common among the Igbos and Yorubas. It’s called iha mmiri in Igbo. The concept is that a person can temporarily control the elements by relying on a spiritual entity or other supernatural methods, such as “the gods” or ancestral spirits, and produce sunshine or rain as he deems proper.


The reasons are not far-fetched. They hold rain to make sure that it doesn’t halt their business or affect their ceremonies. They make rain to water their farms and boost agricultural yield. They do this by burning a particular leaf which produces fumes that hold back the rain or sometimes, by incantations. You probably might have thought that your chant of “rain rain, go away. Come again another day” saved the day when you were playing as a child, little did you know that some forces were at work. In recent times however, rain making or holding is identified as a highly scientific technique, known as cloud seeding. To lessen precipitation, it involves spraying a chemical substance, typically silver dioxide, into the clouds.


Orisa priestesses

You’re walking by a busy road, you see a woman dressed in all white, adorned with shells and cowries, carrying small bells and chanting whatnots. Whether this woman is cursing you or praying for you, you have no idea. Because of your good heart, you give her money. Sometimes, you become very scared and you avoid them like a plague. Haha. Orisa spirituality adherents hold that we use our “ori” to choose our blessings (money, long life, success, prosperity, etc.) on the way to earth. These priestesses use divination to guide people on the right path of their destiny. Instead of doing their jobs of divination and guiding people on their right path, they now resort to begging for alms on the streets. Their beliefs have been turned to a money making scheme and it just gets even weirder.


Wrap It Up

Understanding Nigeria’s cultural business traditions is essential to conducting business and succeeding at businesses in the country. Each tribe in Nigeria has its own uniqueness. Despite the fact that some business practices may be deeply rooted in some cultures or traditions, it is crucial to acknowledge their negative impacts and work toward eliminating them. Just like in the game of Jenga, we can intentionally make moves that will make the stack tumble down. We’ll always pick up the pieces and start afresh.


Your besties,

Oyemaja Executives.


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