In a world where women are ordering ₦16k spaghetti, I couldn’t understand how Chidi* managed to get himself into debt and find love at the same time. Well, if pigs could fly, he would be one of them because the streets are tough. 

As told to Steffi O.

How the journey to debt began

I would’ve never believed that at 21 I’d find my first love and be in the middle of crawling my way out of a debt of ₦7.9 million. But that was me in 2019; broke, failing at school and deeply in love.

It all started when I got into university in 2014. I was 16 and studying a course I didn’t plan to. I didn’t want to be home for an extra year, so I decided to go in but focus on starting some kind of business. I read a lot of marketing and psychology books hoping to learn a few things about money. The main hurdle was raising the actual funds to begin. 

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I didn’t want to ask my parents for help. They were giving me ₦20k every month, and I wanted to find a way to make it work. It helped that items like sardine weren’t priced like gold at the time. Then, there were a few months of getting free food from at least one girl every day. But that lover boy phase crashed when I had two women wanting a lot more than the occasional make-out after a meal.

I was a church boy who’d never had sex. I just had a fine face and a deep voice. When it came down to offing pant, I was a clueless guy. So I fled.

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Getting into forex trading and slowly digging myself into a rabbit hole

By my second year, my GP completely tanked. I was struggling with a second-class lower grade, and honestly, I was more interested in figuring out forex. I’d gotten into social media marketing and made some money after managing my church’s account. The little money I’d saved up from that and my allowance was decent enough to start trading forex with. 

The exchange rate wasn’t bad. I earned $150 in four months from the initial ₦100k I put in. Compounding the interest took it to $1000 by the end of the year. I made enough money to rent an apartment close to uni by 2015. In my mind, I’d struck gold.

The next year, I wanted to expand my capital by getting more people to invest. I had a friend who’d also been trading, so it made sense to work as partners to raise the cash. On a good day, we could both make at least 50% of our capital back. In a month, that stretched into 300% of whatever we put in to trade at the beginning of the month. But the illusion that we were making big money led us down a rabbit hole.

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Expanding the business and doubling profits

In our 19-year-old minds, we’d unlocked something major. We were sure we could get people to invest and guarantee a profit of 120% per year. Compared to bank rates, it was like striking a pot of gold. 

In 10 weeks, we raised ₦4.7 million from 12 people. I got my dad to put in some money, and some clients from my social media management gigs. The rookie mistake? Thinking that more money meant more profit in such a volatile system. 

At first, I was trading $50 a day to make 50% back. But with more money, I was putting in at least $1000 a day with a higher risk of losing money on a bad market day. I was doing that with too little time to recuperate because of the ridiculous profit margin I promised people. I practically built my own death trap.

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But things were going well before I caught on. In a little over a year, we made about ₦11 million and sorted out our investors with a million to spare. A couple of people wanted us to keep their capital and roll it over for the next year. 

I decided to diversify the money into starting a logistics business while we traded on the side. I did a bit of angel investing in small start-ups and bargained for a profit. Life was pretty good in 2018.

We had more people join the investment plan and that took the initial capital from ₦4.7 to ₦7.9 million. With everything going on, in my 20-year-old mind, I was balling. I’d even gotten into a relationship. But she was more of a trophy girlfriend because I’d call like once in three days. I felt the money was good enough to keep her happy. 

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From grace to the absolute ghetto

In a flash, 2018 moved from my best year to a nightmare. First, I found out my girlfriend had been cheating on me with one of my closest friends. Over the next six months, profits drastically dropped on forex. The logistics business was holding up until the biker had an accident and wrecked our bike. I didn’t even know where to start.

The biggest blow was realising my partner had been gambling with the money. It made sense because every time our monthly profits dropped, he would have an excuse for why he couldn’t show me the books. And I was taking the lamba for six months. Eventually, he owned up to putting the money up for bets, hoping to make double for himself.

That’s how I saw myself losing out on all the profit I’d anticipated. No business, my first serving of breakfast and a debt of ₦7.9 million to crawl my way out of.

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Cutting my losses

In 2019, I had to cut back on my big boy spending. I packed my bags back to my family’s house. My grades were completely messed up, so let’s not even talk about school. 

All I had in savings was $1000. And since I’d personally brought in all the investors, I had to ask for a year to figure out how to pay back their capital. Everything was on me. At that point, I wasn’t even going to class anymore. I just wanted to write my exams and leave school. 

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My whole world was practically crumbling, with my integrity on the line. I didn’t want to make the money back through forex because I was traumatised by everything that had already gone down. The only thing I could do was ask my aunt for a job at a firm. But with those earnings, I was looking at paying them back in three years. I felt trapped.

Then, in September, I met her.

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In debt and in love

Look, I knew I couldn’t be thinking about love at that point. But I can’t explain why I wanted to get close to her when we met at my faculty. I just did. I played it safe because I didn’t know how to handle being so broke and trying to get with a babe.

The first thing I did was focus on being her friend. She was smart and probably top of her class. I on the other hand was praying I’d get to graduate and survive what I was going through. But when I finally got her number in December, I probably spoke to her every single day. She made everything better. The long days weren’t as overwhelming and she knew how to get me talking for a long time.

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Broke and being a better lover

The truth is, being so broke made me a better lover. In my previous relationship, I could afford a fancy date that I felt made up for my weeks of absence. But this time, it was down to who I was as a person. It was a lot of work, but with this girl, I didn’t have a choice.

One thing’s for sure, I thank God for Chicken Republic in my life because that’s where I took her on what we could call our first date. To spice things up, I’d switch between places I could spend ₦5k at the most. And on the days I couldn’t afford anything, I’d cook for her — yes, she survived. 

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Maybe that’s the simplicity of university love. Being broke and in love wasn’t impossible if I could balance it out with being present for her.

The issue with this Nollywood spin-off of love in the trenches is I wasn’t willing to commit to the boyfriend tag. I knew she liked me. I mean, who sees a guy flying a bike to almost every date location and sticks around? I just couldn’t imagine dating someone as amazing as her without being able to take her to fast-food chain restaurants. I was too proud, and I knew at some point, she’d want more than I could offer.

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Our first kiss and miss

I hadn’t told her I was in debt and flunking out of school at this point. But after our first kiss, I decided it was time to own up. It had been four weeks of seeing each other non-stop already. But before I could lay it all on the table, she cut in with the biggest blow I’d gotten in a while. It turned out that all the while we were together, this babe was in a relationship. And she was coming clean because of our kiss too.

I’d never been so torn on what to do. But I didn’t want to give my emotions away. I think the dumbest part was that I didn’t actually care she had a boyfriend. Where was he in the last month of us seeing every day? Clearly, she was over the guy.

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I gave her some space to figure things out. And I took the break to crawl my way out of half the money I owed. I was aggressively trading crypto and went ham on freelancing for the whole year. Nothing else mattered at that point. I was 21, barely making any money for myself and felt trapped in my life. If I could get a grip, then her boyfriend didn’t matter.

By the end of 2020, her relationship ended. I wasn’t even applying pressure. Everything just scattered on its own. But I wanted to give her time to heal before jumping in to ask her out. I offered to drop her off at the airport when she needed to travel. I called occasionally but we texted almost every day. I didn’t give her too much space so she’d know I was serious about her.

At this point, I owed my last ₦150k. And I told her about the debt. She didn’t seem unsettled by it, but we talked about how much the next year of my life would be focused on recovering from the loss.

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The uncertainty of loving in your 20s

Honestly, I’m happy I found this woman at the lowest point of my 20s. I don’t know if she’d had any doubts along the way, but being able to gather the  ₦7.9 million in three years makes me trust that I can figure things out and make a life for us. 

I can’t deny that it’s been easy because she’s out of school, and I’m taking one last course to wrap things up. She’s even off for her Master’s soon. It’s been nine months of officially dating and we’ve found some sort of balance. Of course, money is still an integral part of creating memories. But we’re also the type of people who are happy strolling down the crazy streets of Lagos to find perfectly fried yam and akara to pair with a wacky Youtube video.

Can our love stand the test of being in very different phases of life? I’m only 23, so I’m mostly hoping. The only thing I know for now is that I found love when I didn’t think I was worth loving.

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