How I built valuable relationships in northern Nigeria


On the 18th of October, 2018, I received my call up letter for the mandatory youth service, NYSC. It wasn’t long after my return from Ghana after my graduation ceremony. I didn’t even have to check the letter before my friend Wisdom said, “You’ve been posted to Yobe state”. I snatched the letter from his hands and there it was, boldly written; Yobe state. For a moment, my head was blank. I simply couldn’t understand why it had to be Yobe state of all the 36 states in Nigeria!

To begin my worries, I did not go to school in Nigeria and most of my colleagues in school did not enroll for service last year, which means I wouldn’t know anybody. Also, I had never been to any northern state before; so I was in for some culture shock. I knew the language predominantly spoken was Hausa, which I couldn’t speak. I knew I would have problems communicating as well.

I quickly admitted to myself that I needed people if I wanted a comfortable stay in the north. Well, maybe not a lot of people but somebody, at least. Honestly, I can be an introvert who sometimes finds it difficult to initiate and maintain relationships with people. I usually prefer to stay alone and do whatever pleases me. However, this scenario was totally different; I needed to build a stable network base with people who could help me develop new skills and relationships which would be beneficial to my career and personal life.

Long story short, I’ve currently spent about 7 months in the north (Yobe state) and I’ve built / still building successful relationships with people here. I’ve also been able to maintain my personality without it having a negative effect on my network base.

These are the few steps I took in building successful relationships since my stay in the north.

Being adaptable: I know it can be a little difficult trying to adapt to new cultures especially when the values and system of living totally contrast with yours. When I got to the north, the weather and food were things I wasn’t so comfortable with. It wasn’t easy for me to communicate as well because the majority of the indigenous people would only prefer to communicate in Hausa. However, I was able to adapt by showing a positive interest towards the northern culture. Developing a positive attitude towards the culture helped my relationship with the indigenous people. I usually would engage them in conversations that made them talk about their culture while I listened with enthusiasm. This way I was able to quickly adapt while building solid relationships with people.  

Being observational: Allow me to commend myself for “doing my homework” well. The main thing I did before I started building valuable relationships was studying people. I took my time to study the people around me before I decided who was going to be in my network circle. This is not to say that I threw everyone who didn’t fall in my network circle away, I just decided to focus my energy more on the people who mattered. Allowing too many people into my personal space would make me uncomfortable, so studying people made it easier for me to decide who would fall in my network circle.

Being objective: I’ve come to understand that people generally have their squad and network circle. So, in trying to manage my relationships with others, I usually try to balance my relationships with other people by staying neutral. What I mean by staying neutral is not getting involved in disagreements unless necessary. In a scenario where party A and B are having a disagreement, I try my best not to get myself involved unless necessary. Trying to hurriedly pick sides and turn against the other party will only ruin the relationship and spoil the chances I might have to other valuable relationships. It is not always easy trying to find a balance but it is always worth it in the long run.

Being conservative: In words, actions and speech, I try to be cautious because I do not want people to have a negative reaction towards me. I refrain from tribalistic and other forms of derogatory comments. It’s important to understand that people usually hold their values to heart and derogatory comments would make them have a negative attitude towards our relationship so I avoid the use of such statements not even as a joke. I achieve this by paying attention to people when they speak and taking time to craft a good statement in my head before speaking.

Being patient: I understand that if I am to build solid relationships, it’s going to take time and patience so I don’t even bother rushing. There was no need to try forcing myself to fit in. Although relationships with other people are really important, I already knew the type of personality I had so if I tried so hard to fit in I would never really have succeeded. I had to give myself time to adjust and get along with others so that I do not lose myself in the process. I knew I didn’t need everybody in the end, I only needed a few valuable friends so why the rush?

So, these are the steps I took in building successful relationships in the north. I’m also positive that they are also applicable wherever we find ourselves in the world. If you find it difficult to build valuable relationships with others, I’ll simply advise you to take things step by step. Honestly, you do not have to know anybody initially; you just have to understand your personality while you gradually work towards building relationships with people you are comfortable with. Sincerely, I don’t think I would ever have a comfortable stay without the friends I made here. I’ve learnt new skills and built valuable networks because of the people I met so far.

"Pulling a good network together takes effort, sincerity and time." - Alan Collins