Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
The 29-year-old in this story lives on ₦35k/month, but that’s not everything there is to him. It’s also about how he’s trying to make things work for his family. His biggest challenge though? Job security.
When did the hustle start for you?
It was after my dad died in 2005. He was a retired soldier and married many wives. After he died, we saw that we didn’t know the number of children he had. This one would come and say he was his son. Another one would come and say she was his wife. Trouble started when they started sharing his property, and I knew I had to start my own life.
My mother had already warned my three brothers and me not to drag anything with them. She said it would cause a fight. True true, that fight started. One person would say, “Na me be the second born. You know when them born me?” Another person would also talk about their age and how it should decide what they got. That’s how they started carrying knives to wound themselves. My father had some boats, cows, and pieces of land. I didn’t take anything.
I left his house with my things.
My mother had a piece of land she farmed on. That’s where I started to farm.
If you didn’t want to farm, what were your options?
School. I was in JSS 3 when my father died. His plan for me was to go to NDA and join the Army. I wanted it too, and I continued school for a while. But there was nobody to pay my school fees again, so I dropped out in SS 1.
And you faced farming.
Yes. I started my hustle at the farm and was planting guinea corn and rice. I didn’t need money like that in the village, so we ate most of the goods. If someone needed money or one person was sick, I would just carry one or two bags of goods to sell. One bag of corn was ₦6500, and one bag of rice was ₦5500 that year.
By 2012, my mother was already telling me to go and marry.
That’s how things work in my village. If you spend a lot of time on the farm, you marry a wife to take care of things at home. My mother was tired of how hard I was working. After spending all day on the farm, I would return home, to still fetch water and cook food. The stress was too much, and my brothers weren’t helpful.
I see. I imagine getting married cost money.
Yes. I started working on people’s farms and helping them make ridges. I got ₦3500 for every 2000 ridges I made. Within a month, I got the money I needed to buy the things my in-laws asked for. I think I spent about ₦35k on that but there were additional expenses.
That’s how I got a wife, we gave birth to our first child in 2014 but he died about a year after. He fell sick and didn’t survive it. It hurt but life had to continue.
Damn. I’m sorry.
In 2016, I started thinking about leaving the village.
I thought I could hustle better in a big city like Abuja or Lagos. I went to Abuja first because someone from my village was there and he told me that there was work. When I got to Abuja, he took me to his boss, and that one asked for my CV. Before the end of my first week, I got a job as a security man in an estate. My salary was ₦15k.
How did that go?
The money wasn’t bad. But the job? Very bad. From midnight, we would start blowing whistle every hour. That’s how they knew we were working. When it’s morning, they still won’t allow anyone to sleep. If they saw you trying to close your eyes, they would book and fine you. The mosquitoes were doing their own too. After two months, I left the place.
Did you find another job in Abuja?
No, I returned to my farm in Jos. But one time in 2017, I travelled to Taraba state with a group of five people from my village to work on rice plantations. They plant rice very well there, so it was easy to find work on someone’s farm when it was time to harvest them. The job took like three weeks, and at the end of it, each person got ₦30k. I went back home but I didn’t stay for long this time. In 2018, I moved to Lagos.
Because there were better opportunities there?
Many of my people from the village who had come to Lagos always told us about how the place was good and how the jobs paid more. They said I could be earning up to ₦50k in a month. So I thought I could achieve something here. I left my mother and wife again and came here. I returned to bring my wife in 2019.
You found a job in Lagos then?
I have an in-law here. I’m living with him and his family. He helped me find a job. He knew a supervisor at a security company and he took me there. Sharp sharp, they did an interview for me and gave me a uniform. Then they assigned me to a house on the Island. That was the first place I worked in Lagos.
₦45k. I liked the job and the money was enough for everything I wanted to do. But I quit in 2020.
Covid. Before it started, if I slept at work this night, I would sleep in my house the following night. But because of Covid, my boss said I had to be sleeping at work everyday. My wife was pregnant at the time, so I told her that it wouldn’t work for me. We spoke to the security company and they transferred me to a bank. That’s where I’m still working now. I’m managing this one because the work is too much and the money is less.
How much are you being paid?
₦35k. The only good thing now is that I’m not spending a lot of money on transportation. When I was working on the island, I used to spend about ₦600 on transport everyday, but now I’m spending ₦150. However, I prefer my previous job because it wasn’t as stressful as this one. The only thing I had to do was open the gate when my boss wanted to go out. It’s not that way at the bank — you have to be everywhere all the time.
What does ₦35k do for you now?
I give my wife ₦15k to buy food in the house, but she recently travelled back to the village to visit her family. I save ₦20k every month and put it inside an Ajo with five other people at work and one person takes it all at the end of the month. I also try to send money home, but that’s not fixed.
Where do you find money to take care of other daily expenses?
Everyday, I hope some of the bank customers give us money. On a very good day, I can get up to ₦1500. I also do another Ajo with the same people, and that one is ₦500 every day. At the end of the week, someone takes ₦15k. That’s how I manage every month.
But I don’t like working at the bank because of the way people treat us — from the bank manager, to the supervisor, to the customers. If anything happens, they will blame the security men even if it’s not our fault. You can tell a customer to use a face mask and they will start cursing you. If you react and it gets to the manager, they can report you to the supervisor and tell them to change you. I’ve seen it happen to people and every time, I always wonder when it’s going to be my turn.
Did I tell you that I give my supervisor ₦1k out of my salary every month?
No. What’s it for?
That’s the way things are done. The supervisors are the ones making the money. They collect at least ₦1k from each person they are managing. Some people even pay more than ₦1k.
I’m curious, what happens if you don’t pay?
I don’t want to know. They can transfer you to another place over any small matter or even sack you. They have the power to do that, so the money is for them to help you keep your job. That’s why I want to leave and find something else where I won’t have to fear every day like this.
Omo. But how much do you have in your bank account right now?
I’ve saved about ₦180k, and it’s for the house I want to get. I’ve seen a one room and parlour apartment and they said it’s ₦250k. When I get my money from the Ajo I’m doing in two months, I’ll use the money to settle that and start all over again.
How much will be enough for you as salary right now?
₦50k will be good for me. There’ll be enough left after taking care of the house and saving.
Do you ever think about how much you want to earn in five years?
I don’t know. I hope I’ll be earning more, but also, anything can happen. But I’ll be so happy if I have saved up to ₦800k by that time. My biggest fear is someone falling sick because I know how hospitals take all your money. It won’t matter how much the job is paying. I even forgot to talk about my wife’s second delivery.
We registered her at a hospital close to the house. In my mind, I thought ₦40k would be enough for delivery. When it was time, the baby refused to come out. When the hospital got tired, they transferred us to a hospital on the island, and that one was more expensive. The baby finally came but we spent about ₦135k. The money I had wasn’t enough and I had to borrow ₦50k from my neighbour to pay them. So anything that involves the hospital like this, I don’t pray for it.
Do you have a plan for when anyone falls sick?
Ah, I pray it doesn’t happen. But if it happens, it’s my savings. The only problem is that it will affect other plans.
How has all of this shaped your perspective about money?
Money is important. For me now, it’s how to manage and save what I make in a way that I will always have something to take care of my wife and my boy. He’s a year and five months now, and every day, I’m thinking about what I can do to make sure that he won’t meet things the way they are when he grows up. I’ve suffered for money, and I don’t want him to suffer like this. But as I’ve not made it yet, the little I make, I try to save it. It’s hard but I know that God will do it and things will get better.
Rooting for you. What’s the last thing you spent money on that made you feel good?
Sometimes, I tell my wife not to cook and take her out to a restaurant. That makes me feel good. But in December last year, I bought clothes for my wife and my boy. I spent about ₦50k on that, but I happy die. I didn’t care that it took me months to save the money.
What was the last thing you bought that required serious planning?
I sent money home to the village and asked them to buy me a cow and three sheep. I didn’t have the ₦65k I sent like that, but I wanted to have something waiting for me if God forbid something happens and I lose this job.
This fear you have about losing your job, where’s it from?
Oga, many things happen at this job. For example now, because of Covid, we’ve reduced the number of people inside the bank at a time. So when a customer comes and the bank is too full, we tell them to take a number and sit down outside until those inside the bank come out.
A few weeks ago, some customers got angry because we asked them to take a number and they forced their way into the bank. When the manager heard about it, he called the supervisor and told him to remove all of us. When they eventually realised that it wasn’t our fault, they died the matter. But I know we won’t always be lucky.
I was recently transferred to a new branch and I know I’m here to replace someone who had been sacked. It can happen to anyone. As I am now, I won’t mind going back to working at a residence. Those ones are not this hard. But as I’ve not seen one yet, I have to manage this one.
Omo. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness?
5. I’ve only spent about three years in Lagos and I have some money saved up and already thinking about getting my own place. I hope it gets better from here so I can move to the next level, which is having enough to send my boy to school when he grows older. As long as nobody falls sick and I don’t lose my job, I know I’ll reach 10 one day.
UPDATE: Upon request from readers, we’ve added a payment link for people interested in sending him some love and light here.