The Resilient #NairaLife Of An Apprentice

July 13, 2020

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.

When did you first know money? 

E done tey. I can’t even put an age to it, but I know I’ve been hustling since I was small. 

What’s the first hustle you ever did? 

I used to sell tiny pieces of firewood. When I lived in Warri with my grandma, my uncle and I used to sell everything. We’d make like ₦100. I was still too small then to carry the wood, so I just used to pack the tiny pieces of wood. If I gathered 10 small pieces, I could sell it for ₦15. This was in 2004, and I was about 6. 

Tell me about an average day in those years. 

Behind my grandfather’s house, there was a garden, after that garden is where the forest was. That’s where we used to go fetch firewood with my grandma and cousins. Early in the morning, we’d first of all go to the farm. No farm, no school. Then we’d reach school late, jump the fence to enter, hahaha, then sneak into class. After school, we go back to the farm to help them. 

When I was a child, I wasn’t scared of forests. But now, I’m not sure I can even try it. I just wish my grandma was still alive, so I can start doing all those things I promised her. She died in 2010.

Eish. Sorry about that man. What did you promise her?

All those promises we made as children about buying cars and building them houses. If she was alive now, I know that at least, I’d be able to buy wrappers. 

Where was your mum at this time? 

She was hustling in Lagos. I started staying with my mum for the first time in 2012. She actually gave birth to me in Lagos, then took me back home one year later in 1999.  

Her first job was as a waiter for a woman selling pepper soup. Then she was a house cleaner. She was the first person in her family to come to Lagos. I didn’t really know her when I was small. What I remember is that whenever she came home, she’d just look at me and cry. I used to just look at her like, “wetin dey worry this one sef?”

What about your dad?

He used to work Aluminium in Warri, but I didn’t live with him. My grandfather didn’t approve of him, so I wasn’t allowed to live with him. It was after my younger sister was born that my grandfather finally agreed.

So, I stayed with my grandma, selling wood. I started doing farm work proper in 2005. We’d go, plant corn, and carry wood. That time? I was very very strong. Pako children dey strong die.

We used to get these leaves at the farm – I can’t remember the name now – then take salt and Maggi. We’d then put the leaves inside a small clay pot, then my grandma would add dawadawa. Then she’d use a small pestle to grind everything together, and next thing we have soup. We’d make Eba there, then we’d all sit together under a tree and eat. 

Then we’d go to the river and drink water. That’s all.

You know the best thing about that forest we used to go?

What? 

There was a day, I saw a giant field of sunflowers. The ground under the flowers was so clean. It was like an American film. 

When did you finish primary school? 

I finished primary school in 2010. It’s also the year my grandma died. This life is just funny, sometimes you have moments of enjoyment. Other times, you go just dey hustle. 

When did you have enjoyment? 

The time I went to live with my parents after my grandma died. We’d wake up in the morning and drink custard with milk. My body took some time to adjust to some of the food they were eating sef.

Example?

Meat pie. Egusi soup. Even Jollof Rice. The rice we used to eat before then, they used to sell them inside tiny nylons, and we used to buy it for ₦10.

Anyway, that was how Ajebutter life started entering my body. When I wanted to go downstairs to play, they didn’t let me.

I was enrolled in a private school. At the school, I was the don. Everybody put me in front. I hated bullying, so if anyone was getting bullied, they came to call me. All of them were Ajebutters, me I was the Ajepako. People wanted to sit beside me in class, and all those rich girls were always buying me things. 

Hahaha.

After secondary, I had to re-learn hustle and continue from where I stopped. 

What year?

2016. I first worked for three months in Warri, learning how to make building foundations. I used to make about ₦700 per day, the highest money I was making in a day up to that point. Before then, the highest money anyone had given me was ₦50. 

Then I came to Lagos. 

Ah, Lagos. 

Yeah, when I first came to Lagos, the first job I got was doing lithography. It’s this thing where you use metal plates and film for printing. 

How much was it paying?

Nothing. My boss would buy four wraps of Amala and plenty of meat. Then he’d eat and give us the remnants. That was our food for the day. Omo, I dey drink water die. I used to be short and small ehn. 

What did you really want to do when you finished secondary school? 

Ah, I wanted to study Physics at a University. I really liked Sciences then from what I learned in secondary school. 

When did you realise that you weren’t going to University? 

One day, my dad was not around; my mum came inside the room and said, “Oya pack your clothes, pack your clothes!” 

I wasn’t surprised, because all they did was fight every night. So it was even better for me, because that noise used to stress me. To be honest, that time I didn’t really care about anybody. But now, I can’t afford that, I have to think about other people. 

Do you know what caused their fight?

Another woman. Now, he’s married again and has three more children, and he’s given me work. 

Work as in? 

I’m the first child and only son, with three younger sisters and my mother. Na the work be that. The boy that my father is looking for sef, he’s not found because his new wife has three daughters. 

It was because of all these people depending on me that I started learning work. But another thing that made me want to learn a skill, let me not lie, was one girl.

Ahhhh. 

This girl I liked told me that I don’t have money. As an Igbo man, I vexed by going to learn work. That’s what made me go to that lithography place. Right beside the lithography place, I started learning Graphic Design in 2017. Corel Draw. 

My madam started paying me ₦3,000. She actually started paying me ₦3,000 when I designed one Redeemed Church flyer. In fact, the man that I designed it for dashed me ₦1,500. 

What did your madam say?

She was yabbing me. You know how these Ogas behave, they won’t praise you when you’re doing the work well. That thing was just a simple design; I used only two colours. Whenever I got paid, I’d give my mum ₦1,500. I stopped working there in June. I did Graphic Design for only 3 months sha, but I really liked it. 

Why did you leave? 

As the woman started paying me, any small thing, “I’m not doing this well,” “I’m not doing that well.”  But when she called me a thief was when I knew I was not doing again. When my mum found out I left the job, she told me to go back to the job or leave the house. So I left the house. 

This was July 2017. I was 19. 

Woah.

Someone took me to a shop. The owner of the shop was selling clothes. That day, I knelt down to beg for the job. He wasn’t interested in hiring someone. Eventually, he told me to start working for him, but he had doubts. 

He started giving me ₦200 every day and after one month when he saw that I was serious, he gave me my first salary. ₦10k once. Ah! 

Nice!

That’s the highest money I’d ever received up till that point at once. That ₦10k big die! 

What’s the first thing you did with that 10k?

I first gave my mother ₦5k. Then I used the remaining for food and transport. 

How old is your mum?

42 – she had me when she was 20. Whenever we’re together, people always think she’s my older sister. 

Anyway, the next salary, she told me to bring it. 

Ah, why? 

She said her sister – my aunty, two years older than me – wanted to use it pay for vocational training. I gave her sha. ₦10k. 

And that’s how I started dropping money at home. By 2018, I’d started contributing to school fees. School fees always came from me and my papa. 

The last time I called him was when I was learning design. I called him to help me contribute to my laptop money. I wanted to buy a laptop and take the thing seriously. He said he’d call me back. He never called. 

Then I called him later and told him that I’d never, ever ask him for anything in my life. He was on the phone shouting, “What is that nonsense talk? Don’t you know I’m your father?” I’ve never called him since that day. I know hunger can’t kill me. I’m stronger than that. 

Let’s talk about these shirts.

These shirts are by American and European fashion companies, but they’re made in India and Bangladesh. So, when these companies tell the contractors to make, say 10,000 shirts, they’ll make like 10,500. The remaining 500, they sell it in the shirt black market. That black market also has clothes that didn’t make it through Quality Control. Maybe they had a missing button or a bad collar. 

My Oga used to travel to India and Bangladesh to buy these shirts, but he stopped going in 2016. 

Why? 

When Buhari entered and the naira crashed. Also, Indian visas have gotten hard for Nigeria. But his brother is in India so that one buys for him and sends it to Nigeria. A good week will see us sell about 40 shirts. But the best day here was when we sold 45 shirts in one day. One of our customers comes to buy, then he goes to resell on Instagram. He even taught me how to do it, that I should take photos, upload and promote. But when I checked the price, like $5 to reach 1,000 people? Ah.

Interesting. Tell me how your salary has grown since you started working here?

Besides the daily transport money and my ₦10k salary, I used to make some money from tips from customers. After one year when he didn’t give me a raise, my mother called him to talk to him. Then he increased my salary to ₦15k. 

Let’s break down this ₦15k and how you spend it every month.

I drop ₦7k at home. Then I save ₦5k with all my might! The remaining 3k is what I use to sustain myself, along with whatever money I make, the extra that my Oga gives me, or that a customer dashes me as jara. But every month, the money doesn’t last till the end of the month. It was my savings that sustained me when I left here sef. 

You left? 

Yes. My Oga told me no one stays with him for longer than 2 years, but I didn’t really know until 2019. So I started saving aggressively in July 2019. Then I left in January 2020.

Where did you go? 

I went to join someone at another shop, but it didn’t work out. He wasn’t like my Oga here. There wasn’t any room to grow, so I came back. My Oga was already tired of the new boy that joined him, so as he left, my Oga told me to come back. See, my Oga dey try. He even does it in a way that, if I do more work, I can earn more. 

Also, I also buy internet data. 

How much per month?

Per week. ₦1,000. I can’t do a monthly subscription. 

Tell me about your biggest miscellaneous.

₦120k. It’s the highest money I’ve ever spent at once. When I wanted to break out to start in January, my mother needed money for rent, so I gave her from my ₦150k savings. But she didn’t even use it to rent a new place sef. She used it to buy things for her shop instead.

Have you had any financial regrets?

There was one period when I first started selling shirts that I didn’t have any money. So I sold one shirt, and instead of me to record it, I pocketed the money. When my Oga found out, he told me to leave and never come back. 

When I begged, he hired me. Since then, I’ve never touched any money in this business that isn’t mine. It wasn’t worth it.

Have you ever imagined what you’d be doing if you weren’t selling shirts? 

Graphic Design. I really liked Graphic Design that year. 

What’s the highest you’ve ever made in a month?

About ₦15k off jara here, hustle there. But as the money came, it went again. As I got home, that day only ₦4k was left. Every time serious money enters my hand, I know that a serious expense is coming. But I’m not rushing sha. Everything get plan. 

Talking about plans, do you have long term plans? 

See ehn, I done reason this thing. First of all, I believe that one day, my Oga will hand over this shop to me to manage. So I’m working towards that. But also, I want to know that once I hit 25, I’ll have like ₦2 million in my account. That ₦2 million? I want to use it to leave Nigeria. 

Ah, japa? 

No. I want to enter this clothing business.

Let’s say I travel to China and buy shirts, and the landing price is 2k – including my flight money. Let’s say I buy 1k pieces, and sell at ₦3k, that’s ₦1 million in profit. If I do 5 trips in one year, that’s 5 million in profit. 

If I do it like that for 5 years, by 30, I would have made ₦25 million. Between 30 and 40, I’ll start two more businesses. 

Which businesses? 

Maybe tiles business. Or tyres. People are always buying tyres for their cars because they must change it to drive. That’s the kind of business I want.

See, I’m in it for the money o!

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your happiness levels? 

4. Or maybe 5. I’m fine sha, but after everything I’ve told you, I’m sure you now know that my journey is still far.


The next Naira Life drops on Monday next week at 9 am. This is what you get when you subscribe to Zikoko’s Money Newsletter:

  • You get it before everybody else, plus all the things that didn’t make the cut.
  • You also get a #NairaLife throwback, where we check in with someone from the past, and see how they’re doing now.

Find all the past Naira Life stories here.

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