While talking to friends at an event about how the increasingly high costs of living in Nigeria mean you’re either rich or poor — no middle-class or in-betweens — Kunle* (28) shared his probably all-too-familiar situation: Pushing through life and a crazy economy as a man who’s tired of the money chase, but feels his value is directly proportional to how much he provides.

This is Kunle’s story, as told to Boluwatife

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As a Nigerian man, I grew up believing my worth was tied to how much I made.

I saw it in how my mother’s smile widened when my dad gave her money before leaving for work. How my parents quickly brushed off my ten-year-old self’s declaration that I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. Their reason was based on: “How much do you think vets make? Don’t you know you’re a man, and you’ll need to make money?”

It’s why, even though I got an allowance from my parents while in university, I was always doing one form of hustle or the other so I could make my own money. I didn’t need it; it just felt good to have money in my account.

I started writing notes and assignments for my coursemates in third year. With my charges averaging around ₦500 to ₦1k per course and my uni’s abundance of unserious students, I made a cool average of ₦30k in a good month. A very decent amount in 2014.

In final year, I graduated to helping my mates write their projects and charged each client ₦15k. By the time I was done with school in 2016, I could afford to be independent. I rented an apartment with a friend during my service year, got a couple of gadgets and even became a recipient of “billing” from my younger sister and parents. I was doing my part as a man, and life was good. Or so I thought.

No one prepared me for the fact that I’d just entered a life-long rat race.

In 2017, I got my first official job after job hunting for three months. The pay was ₦95k/month, and I thought it was a good deal. 

It would have been, but transportation costs and saving for house rent became the weapons fashioned against me every month.

Let’s not forget black tax, feeding and data. On paper, I was earning reasonably well for an entry-level 9-5er, but I was living from paycheck to paycheck. I was always broke by salary day.

In 2018, I added love to the mix, and my problems tripled. Suddenly, I had the responsibility of being an “intentional man” by randomly sending my girlfriend money and taking her on dates. No one needed to tell me that I had to start making more money.

My search yielded success in late 2019 when I found another job, increasing my salary to ₦120k/month. For the first few months, it seemed like I was finally making enough to comfortably splurge on one or two things without worrying too much about it. But then the pandemic came in 2020 and took my job with it. 

The six months I spent unemployed were one of the most uncertain periods of my life. Strangely enough, I also felt pockets of peace. There was this kind of relief that came with knowing I didn’t have to spend long days pretending to like work and my coworkers just because I needed money in my account. 

I was broke, but it was the closest I’d been to peace in a long while. Maybe it was because I had my roommate to rely on or the fact that everyone became homebodies due to COVID, but I didn’t always feel the crushing need to have money to prove myself.

In late 2020, I got another job, and I’ve been at it since then. My monthly income has grown from ₦200k to ₦350k, but I still live from paycheck to paycheck. And no, I’m not living above my means. I’m a 28-year-old unmarried man living alone in a ₦450k/year Lagos apartment. I have only one girlfriend, and my black tax is not crazy. Yet I still feel poor.

The Nigerian economy has gotten so bad that I can’t even appreciate that I’m a slightly above-average earner. By the time monthly expenses attack my salary, it becomes a struggle to save ₦50k. I’m constantly on the lookout for better job and income opportunities, but when does it end?

There has to be more to life than pursuing money. I’ve chased money all my life, but I’m not happy, fulfilled or at peace. It’s as if money laughs at my efforts and has a thing against staying in my account.

Honestly, I’m tired. Sometimes I envy people in a coma — no struggle to make money. They can just be. I want to just be, too. But I can’t even tell my friends or partner because I’m a man. My worth is tied to how much I make and can provide.

*Name has been changed for the sake of anonymity.

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