“I became the third parent” — Tola, 27
I’m a first-born daughter and that meant that from an early age, I had to fill in for my mum who had a full-time job. I hated every minute of it because I didn’t even know what I was doing. I learned to cook at age 7 and I was in charge of all house chores. I thought it’d get better when I left for university, and it did for a while. But then I graduated from school and got an awesome job. I started making my own money, and requests for financial assistance have been pouring in from everyone. I’m back here, living my life for them, and it feels like there’ll never be an end to it.
“Losing my dad forced me to grow up” — Daniel, 24
I had a sheltered background, but everything changed when I lost my dad. I was 16 at the time, and I had two other siblings. My mum was a petty trader, so we quickly went from being relatively comfortable to very poor. What made it worse was that we weren’t close to the extended family, and my parents were all I had.
I had to make money to survive somehow because my mother still had two kids (14 and 12) to take care of. I started with the easiest thing I could think of — laundry. I was washing clothes for my classmates for ₦200 a piece, even missing classes sometimes. I quickly became popular for this and soon started my own laundromat in school. My grades weren’t bad, but I’d gotten too preoccupied with making money that I’d lost interest in school.
Eventually, I discovered tech through a friend and started learning how to code. I was 19 at this point and I already had a lot of money saved up from my business. I shut it down to focus on school and coding. I graduated at 20 and got my first job two months before graduation. In many ways, losing my dad forced me to grow up faster. Even though I’m sad that he’s gone, I’m still grateful for the road that brought me here.
“I wasn’t ready to go to the university when I did” — Feyi, 29
Growing up, I was the ideal child. I was well-behaved, got good grades, and made my parents proud. I even skipped two classes in secondary school and got into the university at 14. It’s not that I was done with secondary school, but I’d taken JAMB and GCE in SS2 and passed really well. I got admitted to study medicine and my life pretty much looked like a straight line towards becoming a doctor at 20.
I got into school and quickly found out how brutal it was. I wasn’t used to the long classes. I’d never lived outside of home, and I didn’t even know how to take care of myself outside the influence of my parents. But that was easy to learn. The hardest part was blending in with people who were several years older than me.
I had classmates who had boyfriends, and who’d talk about sex like it wasn’t a big deal. Meanwhile, the closest thing I ever had to a boyfriend was a class crush that lasted one term. I didn’t even know “Netflix and Chill” meant something else until my third year in school.
Even though I’ve always been proud of the fact that I grew up fast and had excellent grades, I realized that I had poor social skills.Growing up too fast had done nothing to prepare me for life in school.
“My parents were never around so I had no choice” — Ibrahim, 22
My parents worked late every day, and they went to parties on weekends. It also didn’t help that I was the first of five kids. We used to have a maid, but she was sent away after she had a physical fight with my mum. Somehow, all her duties were transferred to me when I was only 8.
I’d take care of my siblings after school and wash their uniforms. I cooked most of the food we ate, and I did most of the chores around the house, with my siblings doing as little as possible because they were really young. The worst part was that I had mischievous siblings, who made sure I always got into trouble with our parents for things they did. That gave me a huge sense of responsibility to keep them in check. It’s probably why I’m such a control freak now. But looking back, the experience gave me invaluable life skills.
“I started working when I was 15” — Amaka, 25
My family fell on hard times after my father died, and my mum didn’t have enough money to support all four of us through school. After I graduated from secondary school, my mum told me to wait a few years and work before going to university. This was so she could have enough money to support my two other siblings through school.
I started out working as a waiter at a nearby restaurant for ₦15,000 monthly when I should have been in school. A lot of it was demeaning and I was sacked two years later when I slapped a customer who tried to harass me. With the help of someone I met at the restaurant, I went on to learn how to import shoes from China and sell them for huge profits. In my first round of sales, I made ₦90,000 in profit. That was the highest amount of money I’d ever seen in my life at that time.
I continued with the business and used the money to support the family and enrol in school. It wasn’t the most horrible experience, but it forced me to grow up and learn to fend for myself.