He Was Headed For Engineering, Then NYSC Happened

December 23, 2019

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.

This week’s #NairaLife is made possible by Premium Pension. What’s their bragging right? They’re one of the first to be licensed in this Pension grind. Over 600,000 people trust them. And their assets under management have crossed 700 billion. Big deal.

The guy in this story is not only 33 years old, he’s also looking for the next big challenge life has to throw at him. Why? Because that’s where the growth happens.


What’s the first impressionable moment of money you remember? 

I can’t remember how old I was, but was one of those times I was sick and at the doctor’s, he was so impressed by my English that he gave me a 50 kobo note.

Ahhhh, a 50 kobo note!

I was crying because of injection, but somehow he still managed to give me money. I gave my mum and she kept –

– Ohhh, I know how this ends. 

Hahaha. She kept it for me, till this day. That’s the earliest memory I have of money that I owned. But a lot of my childhood is filled with memories of understanding what money meant in terms of the things I couldn’t have because we couldn’t afford them. 

I grew up in that time and place where there was always that one house in the neighbourhood with the coloured TV.

Everyone would go and watch from the windows – I was one of the window kids. My deprivation at that early age made me, first of all, understand that; “it’s like we’re not on the same level as these coloured TV people o.”

That gave me a “this thing I can’t have, is because of the money we don’t have” awareness. 

That’s heavy. Tell me about your first paying gig.

My first real income was NYSC. You know, I had all those lofty before-25 goals too. Things like “Oh I want to be an astronaut, so I’m going to study engineering” and all those dumb dreams. Well, not dumb, but then I’m in Nigeria. You can’t be dreaming of being an Astronaut in Nigeria. 

There was this phase in school where everyone in my faculty wanted to work for the oil companies. Well, since we left school, only a tiny fraction work in oil companies. So imagine me in a class of over a hundred people, only 5 or 6 ended up working with oil companies. 

Now, multiply this oil company dream by every engineering faculty in Nigeria. How many openings even exist for starters?

It’s hilarious now because boys then will be like “once I get this degree, na Oil company get me.”

“No be oil company, bro.”

Hahaha. Back to NYSC, I served somewhere in the South-south working in broadcasting. In fact, I had a TV and radio show at some point sef. I first had a segment reporting on technology. Then one day, someone was away and I had to fill in, and that was my first full one hour segment. 

How much were they paying?

₦5k. I worked there from 2012 till 2013. I remember that last month in NYSC very well – a mix of restlessness and a need to rest. Most people just chilled during NYSC, but I actually worked a lot, and never got that post-school break. I felt tired. 

When I finished serving in October, I had some money saved up – I went home with ₦60k saved. 

When I got home in December – home was in the southeast by the way – everyone was like “ahhh congrats” but in my head, I was like “okay what’s next?”

I graduated with a 2-2 – I just knew I wasn’t going to end up in an oil company. So whenever I hear anyone say “2-1 is not important” I just say what an idiot.  

So I started to optimise my life for industries that were not optimised for grades, but for skills instead.

Lucky for me, towards the end of December, a friend reached out telling me that someone needed people to start a radio show. By the 2nd of January, I packed my bags and was off to a new town in the South-south. No time. 

But you needed to rest, still. 

I also needed to make money, somehow. We ended up starting a show – I wasn’t paid in the first month because the owner of the radio show wanted traction first. Within a month, the reception was pretty good. 

How did you know the reception was good? 

I was in a cab one day and listening to a recording of the show. People in the cab were legit talking about it and had no idea it was me. It felt so good. I also started hearing it at some parks on loudspeakers. 

Meanwhile, in all this time, I was still thinking of getting a job in engineering so I wouldn’t waste my engineering degree. 

I did get an engineering gig though – it was the saddest job I ever did in my life. 

Ouch.  

Bruh. It was an oil servicing company. The gig paid me 48k net, and radio was giving me 15k – I was juggling both. I still couldn’t afford a house, so I was squatting with a married cousin who lived with his wife in a mini-flat – living room and one bedroom. This was 2014. 

Then in October of that year, oil prices crashed. 

Ah, I remember that.

Then the layoffs followed. I’d heard of people getting laid off from their jobs before and always thought of it as a super sad thing. But at that point in time when it happened to me, it was a relieving moment. 

You got laid off. 

Yep, February 2015. Everyone on my team. As HR was talking to us, I was just smiling. Why? I said I was relieved. 

Relieved to be relieved. Don’t judge me, man. 

Hahaha. Do you know what I did after I got my letter? I just called one of my friends, and we went to a restaurant. I bought Jollof Rice, Moi-Moi, Chicken. I just ate to relief. 

Hahaha.

I told my cousin, and he started calling people he knew in oil servicing firms. The story was the same, layoffs everywhere. 

Then I turned my sights to Lagos. 

Ghen-ghen.

I started looking for jobs in media agencies, startups, anyone interested in hiring. I got an interview at a startup in Lagos, they told me to show up the next Monday for an interview. Meanwhile, I’d travelled somewhere for a wedding for the weekend. I just showed up with my backpack, and suits, and left all my things in my cousin’s house. 

I never went back there again. 

That is wild.

I got the job, it was a startup. Also, the job paid 80k. It was a sort of admin role as an assistant, but I really needed that foot in the door. I got my KPIs and smashed all of them from my probation-ish period.

Energy. 

Then it was time to renegotiate the salary after a few months. I got moved to another team, marketing. I asked for double. To be honest, the only reason I could afford the commute and life on that salary, compared to where I was staying, was because I was sleeping at the office sometimes. 

We did the back and forth, and I got the 160k. 

It was the first time in my life that I wasn’t living from salary to salary, ever. I took a loan and rented a room close to work. I bought a fridge – it cost 51k – and I felt the quality of my life improve drastically. 

How? 

I grew up in a house with a fridge, but I think I took it for granted. This was the first time since I moved to Lagos that I didn’t have to go out to buy cold water, I could also preserve things. At work, 2016 was also a lot of growth for me. But by the end of the year, some layoffs were happening, and it was one of those “leave or get laid off” scenarios.

I didn’t see that coming.

Roles evolve in startups. A role might exist now, and become redundant later. Mine got redundant. Also, they were trying to cut costs. I got a severance, which was basically about my salary. I spent that December 2016 just sleeping, fuelling my generator and watching shows and movies. 

Towards the end of the month is when I was like, okay, I need to get a job. It was like that subtle panic I had after NYSC. The difference this time was that I wasn’t at home, so I had no safety net and free food. 

By January, I was flat broke. My folks at home didn’t even know I had lost a job, and I couldn’t ask them to send me money or anything. My parents are retired, and they’re too old for me to be a burden on them. So I just had to wing it by myself. 

By February though, I was back at a new job, except I actually took a pay cut. 

How?

When I was leaving my last job, my last monthly salary was ₦200k, but now I was at ₦120k. I needed the money badly. Anyway, the new job was at an advertising agency. I gave myself 6 months, but then an exciting project came. That kept me for longer. 

The best part of that year was that I was the one who got thrown to the difficult projects. That felt good. That year pushed me more than ever, I even started a side project. It all started to pay off in 2018. 

How did it pay off? 

People started calling me in 2018 for work, and for the first time, I realised I’d been taking for granted all the things I knew. People had actually been paying attention. I started to feel desired, and that felt so good. 

I could have a decent conversation about salaries for the first time. The gig I finally settled for tripled my salary. 

₦360k? 

Yeah, at the time. It also came with Health Insurance and a Pension. Office goodies helped shrink my feeding budget.  You know, it’s incredible how much has changed between that first ₦15k and now. I also moved to a more spacious place, a 2-bedroom apartment.

Man. Money gives you the freedom to do things, and freedom to not do the things you don’t want. Money gives you agency. The pay cut I took when I was moving to my previous job was because I couldn’t afford to reject it. Scarcity taught me the value of money, relative abundance taught me the value of agency. 

Let’s talk about your monthly spending. 

First of all, I try to keep my expenses below ₦100k. I’m mostly indoors. Food doesn’t cost so much. There’s the occasional movie with the babe. My routine is work, occasional relationship outings, church. My goal last year was to not live above 100k, and I succeeded mostly. This year though, most of it went kaput. 

What changed? 

I had to make a choice about wanting money in the bank or wanting to own things. I chose the latter. This year, I bought land. My folks found one at a very good deal. 

Another thing is that, because my spending power has increased, I can pay for things even when I don’t have the money immediately. People are more willing to even give you loans because they know you can pay back.

The more money you have, the more people are likely to give you money? 

Yes, that’s what I think. It cost me about 900k. The value, based on the area it was, actually means it should have been up to 1.5 million ideally. As I was done paying for the land, I bought a car – that cost 1.6 million. I have a few months left on the car payment. The thing is, if I was going to save to buy these things, they’d probably be useless by the time I can afford them. 

Back to monthly spending.

I’m a little over 100k these days. I’ve been lucky enough to not have to worry too much about black tax, even though I send some money home to my mum, mostly upkeeps. Although, I’ve had to pay for life-threatening illness in the past before. The rest of my money goes into paying for the car.

How much do you honestly feel like you should be earning, and why?

The next gig I take should not offer me less than 800k. I actually believe I deserve more with the experience I have. But if I’m being realistic, coupled with the realities of being in Lagos, 800k net is good enough to live comfortably in most of Lagos. 

In the context of forex, that’d be $4k per month. I’m thinking about what someone like me would be earning outside Nigeria. We’re doing a lot of the same things in different markets.

Anyway, I need to unlock the level of spending power where you can afford to own things and still have money left to save or invest. Not like I’ll buy a car and suddenly be unable to save. 

What’s something you really want but can’t afford right now? 

A decent house in a good and much safer neighbourhood. To be upwardly mobile in Nigeria is to be at risk. On one hand, the guys in the neighbourhood suddenly see you as fruit ripe for plucking. On the other hand, you’re not earning enough to be able to afford to leave that neighbourhood. 

I was robbed this year. 

Woah.

Petty crime, mostly. They broke in, stole my laptop, phone, and some pocket change. My house is decent, but if I could afford to after that incident, I’d have moved. I know I stick out in the neighbourhood as the guy who lives in a 2-bed flat all by himself and owns a nice car. 

There’s also the police to worry about because you’re suddenly suspect because you have a car. 

Sorry about that man. Thought about retirement? 

I don’t really believe in the concept of “oh stop working at sixty”. I’m more interested in Financial Freedom when I can reach the point of making work an option. 

Life expectancy is changing across the world, so I think what people call retirement age is not retirement age anymore. 

Eventually, retirement for me will be when I have financial freedom and access to places and people that money won’t fetch me. 

So where does this leave pensions for you? 

Rainy day money. If all of this goes wrong, there’s this kpim kpim entering your pension account every month that you know will potentially cover you in the future. 

As an end-of-year question, what’s 2020 looking like for you? 

I need to move houses next year, for starters. Again, it’s mostly because I want to get married next year.

Hmmnnnn. Marriage. 

Hahaha. I’d love a simple wedding, but those things are super expensive here in Nigeria. Back to the house part, my house is mostly at the bare minimum now, and I know setting it up to be able to live with a partner is going to cost money.

Also, next year, I’m looking for projects or challenges that will trigger my next level, just like it happened in 2017. 

What’s something you wish you were good at?

Investing. I have friends who know how money works. I think we generally have a basic understanding of how money works. But there are people who know trends and how money moves around the world, they know when to take advantage of these things. Earning well is good, but knowing how to maximise it is even better. 

Random, but when was the last time you felt really broke? 

Remember that January 2017 when I was so broke? My last money was spent on transport money back from a job interview. I don’t even know how, but one of my friends sensed that I needed money. He just called me, asked for my account number, and sent 10k. That was priceless. 

On a scale of 1-10, let’s rate your financial happiness. 

With the level of agency money gives me now, I’ll say a 6. I’m not rich, but when I think of where I’m coming from, I’m not doing badly. But with this 6, I’ve reached the point where I need to take on new challenges again and scale up fast.

It’s been an interesting decade for you.

Yeah, I think it has been. It’s the decade I’m learning to hold my own in the world. Moved out of my parents’ house, and it’s been a long, winding journey in self-discovery and generally trying to be my own person. I think I’ve gotten much better at navigating life at the end of the decade now than I was at the beginning of it. I’m also just older now and have clocked in the hours so that one sef dey.


Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people.
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