Debt is just like the proverbial shege — it touches everybody. Almost everyone has had to deal with debt at one point or another, either due to money mistakes or urgent needs. I asked six Nigerians to share how they handled debt and what they learned from the experience. Here’s what they said.

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Akin, 41

I’m a mechanic, and in 2022, one of my regular customers dropped his car in my garage for repairs. His car’s AC system had issues. It wasn’t the first time his car — or even other cars — would spend the night in the garage, but that night, thieves broke into my garage and stole car parts. This customer’s engine — worth about ₦500k — was stolen. 

The man refused to hear any explanation and insisted that I had to replace the engine. We finally agreed that I’d pay him ₦300k in instalments over six months. I paid twice but was broke by the third month and begged for an extension. He refused and got me arrested. I spent four nights in jail before a family member borrowed me money to pay for that month. 

I still went into more debt during the remaining months because I had to keep borrowing from loan apps to meet the customer’s payment and avoid another prison episode. I finally finished paying all the money I owed to several apps in January 2024. 

I don’t pray to experience that kind of situation again. I now try to be careful with the type of cars I allow to sleep over in my garage. If they steal a Benz, what will I do? I also pay for vigilantes in my street for added security. More importantly, I’m now avoiding loan apps. They’re easy to get, but the interest rates will keep you in a borrowing cycle for a long time. It’s better to ask friends and family for loans.

Charles*, 39

I was one of the people who lost their money to MMM in 2016. The worst part was that it wasn’t just my money; I had borrowed people’s money, too.

I was trying to double my profit, so I took my ₦300k life savings, borrowed ₦500k from two other people, and put it into the scheme. When it crashed, I started running away from my creditors. Omo, there’s no swear these people didn’t send to me. I kept blocking their calls, but they always used new numbers to send texts filled with swears and curses.

I only got to pay one of them back in 2019. The other person had died, and I still feel guilty about it today. It’s a bad sign to owe a dead person money. I’ve even seen the person in my dreams a couple of times. I’d have given the person’s relatives the money if I knew any of them. Unfortunately, I don’t, so I just have to live with the guilt. 

The experience has taught me never to borrow money for any investment again. There’s always risk in investment, and losing money is easy.

Titi, 24

I borrowed ₦100k from my mum’s ajo contribution money to buy sneakers to sell online in 2021. 

Before then, I’d been seeing people post items to sell on their WhatsApp and thought it was a good idea. I didn’t know these people didn’t own everything they posted o. They just posted pictures and only bought the items when people paid for them.

My mum kept the contribution money with me for safekeeping, and I thought I could quickly use it for business before she needed it in about six months. That’s how I bought about ten sneakers and started posting on WhatsApp. The business didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, and when the six months came, I only had ₦40k to pay. 

I had to come clean with my mum, and she was very disappointed. She had to borrow money to meet up, and I eventually paid her back after some months, but I know I destroyed her trust in me. I should’ve involved her right from the start. She’d have even warned me about the foolishness of using that much money to start a business I’d never tried before.

Joseph*, 22

I used to have a bit of a gambling problem. I don’t gamble as much now, but the dumbest thing I did was gamble ₦80k out of my school fees on a ticket I thought was “too sure” in 2023. 

I lost the money, and instead of telling my parents, I borrowed ₦10k from a loan app and bet it on another ticket to triple the money. I lost that one, too. I was too scared to tell my parents, so I kept going to school like everything was okay. I missed four exams because of non-payment of school fees, but I still didn’t tell anybody. 

My parents only found out when the loan app called them and told them to make me repay the loan or risk going to prison. I had to tell them everything. They’ve settled the debts now, but I automatically have four carry-overs. Even me, I know I made a series of terrible decisions. 

Lizzy*, 29

I went into debt in 2020 after I trusted a close friend and agreed to stand in as a guarantor for him to collect a ₦700k loan from a microfinance bank. He used the money to japa without telling anyone. We only met his apartment completely empty.

Of course, the bank came to hold me when they didn’t see him. I had to repay that loan monthly for the next two years. Thinking about it still annoys me but I know I’ll catch this “friend” one day. He thinks he’s run away, but hand will still touch him. I can’t stand in as a guarantor for anyone anymore, though. I’ve learned my lesson.

Israel*, 33

I got scammed trying to japa in 2019 and lost about ₦1m. I had borrowed that money from a friend who works at the bank with the promise that I’d repay the money once I started working abroad.

But my agent ran away with my money. I was right back at square one, and I had a debt to settle. Fortunately, my friend was very understanding and told me to pay any amount I was comfortable paying monthly. I used a year to finish repaying that money, and he never once stressed me. He even returned ₦300k to me after I finished paying.

When I later asked him why he was so relaxed, he said it wasn’t the first time I’d borrowed money from him, and I always repaid. He said, “I know this situation isn’t your fault, but I know you and trusted that you’d do the right thing”. 

That left me with something. We can’t always avoid unforeseen situations like debt, but having a good reputation might just make all the difference in how your creditor treats you. 

*Some names have been changed for anonymity.

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