There is no time to eat: Lunch-break in the Nigerian workplace

And the bell goes: ‘lunch break’.

I believe the first time I heard the phrase was way back in Elementary school. It was our time to eat. The eagerness to consume my home-packed lunch was always there, it didn’t matter how many bowls of corn-flakes I consumed at home before coming to school. Usually, it was a sandwich or sausage-roll and some juice. The next most interesting word, then, was ‘Siesta’ – it was our time to take a nap. The problem however was that even though it was the first session in class, and the teacher just spent 5-minutes, all I ‘foolishly’ thought about was ‘lunch break’. Much ado about childhood.

Lunch Break is something I observed and so much enjoyed while employed outside Nigeria’s shores. To say the truth, I always looked forward to Lunch-break. It was a time to relax, take a break, have lunch, talk, make friends and build relationships. During lunch break, we discussed work-related/non-work-related issues, discuss politics, laugh, cracked jokes and went completely offline. One of my previous employers had table-tennis tables(2) and racquets, and an almost-half a basket-ball court where we(staff) had some fun and relaxed during lunch break. It was also the time to ‘do some toasting’. At the end of the hour, everyone felt refreshed, energized, awake and ready to go back to work. The rest of the day was always a breeze due to a resurge of energy for more effectiveness.

I discovered it(lunch break) enhanced friendliness in the workplace and the ‘getting to know one-another’ idea. New staffs didn’t find it hard to integrate, and you could hardly keep an official/non-official misunderstanding between you and a colleague ‘pending’ for a whole-day. It would be settled during the next available lunch break.


Basically the simple idea is/was:
1) there is a set time during which all staff must go for lunch or at least take a break from work. This time/period/interval is compulsory for all staff, and its about 45-minutes to 1-hour, Monday to Friday. If you are not having lunch, take a break, go watch TV, walk around, stretch your legs, take a nap or go find something else to do besides continuing with your work.

2)during lunch break, customers/clients/visitors know and understand that staffs are on lunch break. Their options include going for their own lunch break, or waiting in the ‘reception’ until lunch break is over. They will not be attended to during lunch break.

3) eating at your own desk is prohibited. There is an eating area / mini-restaurant / free-area/space with tables and chairs where staff eat-together and can generally relax.

4)while some staff might bring dishes from home, others go out to buy snacks etc., but generally the ‘sharing’ idea was promoted – where I can have a taste of your dish and vice-versa.

There was a particular organization I worked for, where there was this ‘culture’ of bringing something for someone else. It was done once a week. The idea was this: that you bring your own dish and something for someone else-whom you don’t know. As you unpack your own dish and all commence to sit and eat, prayers are said together, and all the ‘something for someone elses’’ are placed in the center of the table/tables and everyone could freely pick and choose. The Nigerian mentality in me, at first, found it hard to adjust, but soon, I became the master of ceremony.

The above is something I presently miss so much, after some years of relocating to Nigeria and trying to figure out Nigerians in their work and environment. Nigerians are always so busy, busy from 8am to 5pm. Busy while coming to work, busy while arriving at work(some have no time to even say good-morning), busy at work, and so busy that they close very late. Considering the traffic situation in Lagos state, for example, Islanders wake up very early just to beat the traffic and get to work. While at work, the ‘busyness’ level is so much that lunch time is usually for those who have ‘the time’.


Generally, I have observed:
1) there is no set time for lunch / lunch break in the Nigerian workplace. The general idea is 12noon, but its really not defined.

2) while some staff might, under the disguise of going for lunch, disappear from work for the rest of the day, some others sit at their desks and absolutely have no time for lunch. Are these the workaholics, or are they just busy?

3) another set of people take their lunch right there on their desks as they go on working.

4) others say they are not used to it(lunch), although the general perception is that such are trying to manage(save some money) by doing 101 mathematics.

5)a couple of staff in groups of two, three or four could go out to eat together, basically because such are friends etc., while new staff might be(for a couple of weeks/months) left in the cold, as they have not yet made friends, know not where to eat, who to go with., etc.,


I discussed the idea of lunch-break / staff-eating-together with a couple of friends sometime ago and some feedback I got included:
1) how can you tell a husband who works in a bank, and who doesn’t eat together with his wife and kids at home, to come and be eating together with you in the office? When he leaves home, they are still sleeping. When he arrives at night, they are also sleeping. The same is true for bank wives.

2) Lunch Break or no lunch break – Nigerians usually like minding their own business, and even when you try to get friendly, you should still mind your own business, unless!

3) Someone had the idea of promoting laziness by setting an official time for lunch break. My objection to this was: the oyinbos who observe a lunch break period have their countries 10-times more developed that ours, and yet we never go on break. Who then is lazy?

4) Home training: a lot of people have a superstitious mentality, which is inbred right from childhood. Children are thought to be very careful about food right from their young age. They must not allow any classmate to dip a hand in their plate to share their food, and should one of their classmates touch their food with bare hands / without permission, these kids are advised to stop eating, and to go and pour the food/drink away. They are even to be careful about sharing their food with so called ‘friends’. Unfortunately, children carry such a mentality into adulthood.

5) Eating together? exchanging dishes? maybe at a party, wedding or religious environment – where most people know themselves, and their family backgrounds, but not because you and I are staffs of company ABC? – and so what?

6) Nigerians and their quest for privacy – the he/she is Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa mentality.

7) Ehen, somebody that is already sick, after sharing your food will tell you that you poisoned him or her.

My contention however is that Nigerians do not find it hard to mix up, integrate and get used to any society they live in, especially when outside Nigeria’s shores. Nigerians abroad easily adapt to their immediate communities and do not find it hard to ‘share’, as far as eating together is concerned – even among fellow Nigerians in the same workplace. If we can eat together outside the country, why can’t these same Nigerians eat together inside the country?


– is Lunch break observed where you work? Yes? No? how?

– why is lunch break non-existent / not promoted / not observed in the typical Nigerian workplace? Share your views, opinion and experiences.



One response

  1. I’m having problems seeing your site correctlly with the most recent release of Opera. Looks good in IE6 and Firefox though.

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