Nigerian firstborns have a familiar love-hate relationship with black tax and the heavy weight of family expectations, but most may not relate to Daniel* (30), who cut his parents off to lessen the responsibility.
He talks about how seeing his mother struggle made him want to take care of his family, but how heavy expectations soon made him decide to focus on himself.
This is Daniel’s story, as told to Boluwatife
Image designed by Freepik
Growing up, eating any type of meat was a taboo in my family.
It wasn’t until I became a teenager that I realised the real “taboo” was poverty, and my mother just made it up to stop my inquisitive eight-year-old self from constantly asking her why we couldn’t have chicken for Christmas like our neighbours.
But we weren’t always poor. The three-bedroom apartment we lived in was built by my father when I was two years old. But he lost his shop to a fire almost immediately after and never really recovered. He started gambling and womanising, and essentially, left the breadwinning responsibility to my petty trader mother.
That wasn’t all he left her. There was also the headache of providing for six children. As the first child, I had a front-row view of all the stress and heartache my mother had to face to put us through school. By the time I was 11, I’d join her in the mornings to prepare the food she needed to hawk before changing into my school uniform. After selling all the food, she’d open her sweets and provision store right around the time when younger children would close from school.
One thing I still don’t understand is how much she tolerated my father. Even when he was gambling away every penny he got from her, she’d make sure he always had something to eat. Even when she knew he was cheating, she’d smile and pray for him to return to his senses, insisting he was still our father. I didn’t share those sentiments. I despised him for all he put her through.
It’s the major reason why I was determined to make money from the minute I got into uni in 2010. I initially didn’t even want to go. In my mind, I needed to hustle to help take care of my siblings and lift the load off of my mum, but she insisted school was the best way for me to help change their story.
There’s almost nothing I didn’t do for money in school. I worked at a photocopy shop, sold sneakers and polo shirts, wrote projects and even helped some lecturers with personal errands for the odd ₦2k. It’s what I used to pay myself through school and how I got introduced to tech.
One of the assistant lecturers saw how determined I was and helped me get into a coding camp in 2014. He even gave me his old HP laptop to practice. That changed my life.
I got an internship through the coding camp around when I graduated in 2015. It paid ₦70k and was the first time I made that much from one source. Of course, I sent most of it home and only kept what I needed for transport. I was squatting with a friend, so I didn’t have to worry about rent.
Around the time I got the job, my mum joyously informed me my dad had given his life to Christ and was now a better man. I didn’t care. He’d been dead to me for a long time.
But that was the beginning of my problem.
My company retained me the following year, and my salary increased to ₦140k, but black tax also increased. I was happy to send money to my mum and siblings, but my dad also began to make requests, which I attended to out of respect for my mother. He grew even bolder. Imagine this man once asked for ₦250k because he saw a land in the village he thought we should get. Anytime I complained to my mum, she’d say, “He’s still your father, and you have to honour him.”
No one told me before I learnt to ignore his calls. After that, I noticed my mum started asking for money more frequently. I didn’t think anything of it until my younger brother informed me the man was actually collecting the money from my mum. I didn’t confront her. In my mind, I was doing my duty to her, and she had the freedom to do whatever she wanted with the money.
In 2018, I got a major job change that increased my salary to ₦500k/monthly. I informed my mum as usual, but she must’ve told my father because the requests tripled. I still followed my regular pattern of sending most of my salary home, sorting out my siblings’ fees and keeping some for transportation and other necessary expenses, so I had zero savings. The friend I was squatting with had to call me aside to speak sense to me. In his words, “How can you be earning this much and have nothing to show for it?”
It was like a lightbulb switched on in my head. I didn’t have a place of my own, no investments and was still jumping danfo. If I lost my job, I’d be completely broke in two weeks. I decided on a fixed amount and started sending ₦100k once monthly to my parents and ₦20k each to my five siblings.
My mum called halfway into the month the second time I did that, saying they had nothing again. Normally, I’d have just sent money home, but this time, I insisted on finding out exactly what they needed it for. It was then she confessed that my dad had gone back to gambling.
I was so angry. There I was, playing a good child and working my behind off to take care of them without ever questioning what they used the money for, and my mum had been using my hard-earned money to cover up for a gambler.
That’s when I decided I’d had enough. I stopped taking my mum’s call entirely or sending money to her for about four years. I didn’t abandon her completely. I sent money every two months through my younger sister who lived nearby, and she got whatever they needed in the house without giving her cash.
I still called her during festive seasons to ensure they got food from my sister, but I made her understand I was done sending them money. Of course, my dad complained and even reported me to our extended family, but I needed to do it for my sanity.
The reduced responsibility meant I could buy a car and rent my own apartment in 2021. I even bought some stocks.
My dad passed away in 2022, and my sister got married and japa early this year, so I’m back to sending my mum money directly. As far as I know, she doesn’t resent me for partially cutting her off. She’s too nice for that, and I feel she was even relieved to no longer be the go-to between me and my dad. I’m now better at balancing my desire to be there for my family and making healthy financial decisions. I can comfortably spend on myself and invest without thinking about how I need to “save” someone from poverty.
If I ever get back to a point where I’m looking out for others at a detriment to myself, I won’t hesitate to cut them off. It’s something I’ll advise every firstborn to do. Don’t be afraid to cut your family off. Sometimes, embrace selfishness.
*Names have been changed for the sake of anonymity.