Risky Business

Nigeria is rated high risk for both travel and medical reasons yet business in the oil and gas sector in particular is recovering. Wings advises sensible precautions and preparedness to keep travellers safe and sound.

Violent crime, social unrest, kidnapping, dodgy domestic airlines, widespread corruption, challenging communications, poor road infrastructure and the threat of malaria and yellow fever, conspire together to make Nigeria a less than welcoming destination for business travellers.

However, Wings Travel Management ensures the safety of its clients in this wild West African country, the majority in the oil and gas sector which is based in Nigeria’s oil capitals of Port Harcourt, Warri River state, Delta state and Lagos state, the commercial capital where most oil and gas head offices are based.

Most rigs are offshore for deep sea drilling in the open sea and Wings manages the regular 28-day crew rotations between rigs and home destinations around the world.

It’s big business as Nigeria is the 12th largest producer of petrol in the world and the 8th largest exporter of this gold liquid. It’s no surprise that petroleum accounts for a large slice of the Nigerian GDP, at roughly 40%.

Wings manages clients in this relatively undeveloped market with mobilisation of crews and corresponding logistics through the company’s office in Lagos. While Lagos is relatively safe, Port Harcourt is synonymous with high rates of violent crime, particularly kidnapping, while its airport has been rated among the worst in the world. Travellers and commuters are advised to keep road movement to a minimum and confined to daylight hours and always accompanied by a security company escort. This is an important base for many oil and gas companies.

Good advice is to keep windows up when travelling in a vehicle and to always sit in the back, and allow your driver to manage any stops by police.

“It’s very daunting for first-time travellers,” says Andre Van Straaten, Regional Manager, Business Development, Africa for Wings, “as things don’t work here like anywhere else I have been to.” Most oldhanders would say that comment is an under-statement.

The gold standard, as advised by Wings, is to have strict procedures and rules in place. Wings recommends the use of protocol services, also known as meet and greet, where different levels of service are available to maintain security and ease transit through the various airport services.

Travellers must not leave any Nigerian airports with anybody but the person identified as the pre-arranged meet and greet contact. That goes for the capital Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport (ABV), Lagos’ Murtala Muhammed International Airport (LOS), any Northern states River state and Delta states airports or Port Harcourt International Airport (PHC).

“Nigerian airports are challenging,” says Andre. “Every bag you have is scanned before entering the airport and then checked prior to check-in and that causes delays. Check in staff are exceptionally busy and immigration is a lengthy process, as forms are needed for arrival and departure. The airport has limited air conditioning for such a hot country.

“Abuja airport, although small, is a lot better from an infrastructure perspective as it’s relatively new,” adds Andre.

In terms of accommodation choices, internationally recognised brand hotels, with secure access, are best policy.

Driving is not recommended. It is safer to have a qualified security company to provide a driver who will ensure that you get to your destination safely.

“Roads are poor, traffic volumes are high and the quality of driving is bad,” says Andre. “It rains regularly here and that’s a recipe for disaster, with potholes and non-tarred roads, no traffic lights and little or no traffic officials assisting.”

Having a tried and tested travel management company to ease the way through the challenging logistics is essential. Wings has had a whollyowned operation in Nigeria for around four years, but has been doing business in the area for around 20 years.

Most travel policies aim to strike a balance between costs without hindering safety. Frank Palapies, COO, Wings Africa & Middle East, lists best practice:

• Exhaustive pre-trip information
• Dedicated guards
• Drivers with local expertise as there is often no GPS
• Secure apartment buildings in Lagos and staff compounds elsewhere, both of which are access controlled
• A protocol service at the airport so travellers know where to queue and when to give their passport as nothing is signposted.

“The trick is to know the shortcuts,” he says. “We book travellers on certain flights which arrive at quieter times so it only takes them 30 minutes to get through immigration and not three hours.

“Our business is repetitive, with crew rotations every 28 days so we can plan to a large degree. We rely on a tried and trusted supply chain which is constantly checked and updated; any with a number of customer complaints against them on our customer portal are immediately replaced.”
Travellers benefit from the use of Wings’ VIMA™ app which tracks their movements, provides instant risk alerts plus itinerary services such as checkin and flight information. In addition, Wings’ goSecure™ is a rich source of pre trip information and warnings of no-go areas. A Wings24® emergency call centre assists clients in emergencies and, if a traveller’s life is in danger, risk management partner At Risk steps in to activate evacuation.

“It gives travellers peace of mind,” says Frank Palapies. Wings clearly has it all covered.


Top tips for business travellers:

• Chronic fuel shortages translate to regular flight delays; best to opt for early morning flights
• Carry a satellite phone to ensure an alternative means of communication
• Carry passport and travel documents at all times and take photocopies of all documents as backup
• Avoid taxis as they are unsafe
• English is the official and business language
• The economy is cash based using naira (NGN) and foreigners are expected to pay in local currency although US dollars are accepted
• Only use ATMs located within bank branches
• Avoid criticising the country’s politics, religions or ethnic divisions
• Smoking is banned in public places



• Shaking hands and the exchange of business cards is common practice
• Respect titles, particularly with tribal or religious leaders
• Lack of punctuality is commonplace
• Negotiations are slow
• Business attire is formal
• Pack an umbrella for the rainy season between May-October in Lagos
• Carry passport and travel documents at all times and take photocopies of all documents as backup
• Tipping is expected, at about 10% of the bill
• Office and banking hours are 8am-4pm
• Activate a roaming agreement with your telecom provider and use a data dongle


Article first published in 2018 in Wings’ BLUE magazine. To subscribe click here

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