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.
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Today’s subject on #NairaLife is motivated to make money for one reason: to be as far away from 2016 as possible. In 2016, she and her husband had to pick between borrowing to save her unborn child and her fractured knee because they couldn’t afford both. Today, they have over $300k in savings.
What’s your earliest memory of money?
Around New Year’s Day when I was five or six, my older sister got a calendar that had a list of years and the animals that represented them, according to the Chinese zodiac. As my siblings and I looked through it, we stopped at the years each of us was born to decide if the animal there matched our personality. Everyone decided none matched until we got to my year — 1984, the Year of the Rat. My siblings burst out laughing because they thought it was accurate. The explanation was people born in that year were frugal, and apparently, that was me.
Were they correct?
They weren’t wrong. At the time, I was the only one who still hadn’t touched all the Christmas money we got from uncles and aunties. I don’t know where I got the habit from, but I saved a lot. I just didn’t think money was for spending. Maybe it’s the Year of the Rat thing.
Was there money at home?
My parents weren’t wealthy, but we were comfortable. They never gave us pocket money for school, but they didn’t need to because we took food to school. I grew up in Edo, and we never really lacked anything.
As a child, I could relate very much with Silas Marner from a book I read. He worked and had a lot of money, but he didn’t spend it. He came home every day to admire it.
You made money as a child too?
Yes o. One day when I was seven and in primary three, I took guavas from the trees in our house to school, and my classmates liked them, so I started selling the guavas — 30 to 50 a day at two to three for 50 kobo. Again, I didn’t spend the money. I just had it in one kolo somewhere. This went on till I finished primary school two years later.
Did this habit change at any point?
After secondary school, I started spending all my money on clothes. For context, I grew up skinny and thought I was ugly. And I was a nerd. But you know that part of the Ugly Duckling story where the duckling realises it’s actually a swan? That’s kind of what happened to me after secondary school. I was still a nerd, but I was beginning to see beauty in myself. I just thought wearing fine clothes would bring out my beauty.
I remember one time on my way to JAMB lesson, my eyes caught the clothes hung on display outside a boutique. I had every single one of them. I still have that problem now.
Where were you getting money from?
Some of it was the money I’d saved over the years; the rest was money I occasionally got from uncles and aunts who visited. My parents still didn’t give me pocket money. In fact, throughout university, my pocket money was ₦2k weekly because my school wasn’t far from home. I went home every weekend for foodstuff. The money was just for transportation and emergencies. I was dressing very pretty, but I was very broke — especially before my third year.
What changed in your third year?
I met my boyfriend, who’s now my husband. He was a part-time student who was also incredibly broke, but we pooled our resources together, and that made things better. He also brought food from home sometimes, so we had enough to eat, and we could use our allowances for other things. It’s not like things were good; they were just better than the previous three years. Then he got a low-paying job in 400 level, and things got slightly better.
I spent six years in university because I studied medicine, so I graduated in May 2009. In August, I moved to Ibadan for my housemanship. They paid me ₦173k a month, and I started saving again — ₦120k monthly.
That’s 70% of your salary
It was Ibadan in 2009/10. My rent for the year was ₦50k. ₦53k was enough to feed and transport me, even with change. Also, I was saving for one of two things: a car or a master’s program abroad. My parents have a policy — once a child graduates from university, they stop giving them money. So I had to sponsor myself. The budget was ₦1.5m or so. By the end of my housemanship year, I had saved ₦1.7m.
Did you buy a car or go for a master’s?
I first went for NYSC in Delta in June 2010. I chose Delta because that’s where my boyfriend worked. I got a job that paid ₦43k monthly, and that’s what I lived on. I didn’t touch my alawee till the end of the year.
That year, my plans changed. I decided to do my residency instead of a master’s. I had friends who graduated at the same time as me and still hadn’t found their feet because they hadn’t started a residency. Residency is a five to seven-year process in which you get paid to work at a hospital and specialise.
I bought a used car for ₦800k and immediately after NYSC, I got a job at a specialist hospital back home in Edo state. It paid ₦214k.
No. I worked as a medical officer. You earn averagely and get promoted, but you don’t specialise. I didn’t want that. I was 27, earning ₦214k two years after school, and I had very basic needs, except when I wanted to buy clothes. Money wasn’t’ a big deal to me. But I wanted to specialise. That’s why I stayed in Nigeria.
I wrote my residency exams and waited for an offer. I got one in Lagos six months after. I reluctantly accepted.
I didn’t like the idea of Lagos. I grew up in a much calmer environment and knew Lagos was fast and rough. In fact, I had a housemanship offer from Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) after uni, and I rejected it.
I tried hard to get a residency in my state, but it didn’t work. So my boyfriend moved with me, and we got married in 2013.
He also started a marine services company. He got a few small jobs that paid $100 a day for a few days. But we never really took it as anything more than a side hustle. Keep this info. It’s important for later.
Got it. What’s a marine services company?
A company that offers services to individuals and companies that need to go offshore. For example, a boat going for oil work might need security operatives on board, a Nigerian chef, or anything. As long as it’s a service, our company finds a way to provide it. Also, some people have idle boats, while others are looking for boats to use for jobs or a cruise. Our company links people like that to each other.
Back to your residency. How much did it pay?
₦200k at the beginning. Then it increased to ₦250k and ₦300k when I became a senior resident doctor in 2016. By the end of my six-and-a-half-year residency, it was ₦400k.
I had my first child in 2014. In July 2016, when I was pregnant with my second child, my husband lost his job that had family health insurance. We’d just used most of our savings to rent a three-bedroom apartment. The rent was ₦1.2m a year, and the landlord said we had to pay for two years. We still had ₦1.6m in savings, and I wanted to have my second baby in the US in October. Things were already looking bleak because we had to survive on my ₦300k salary with a baby and US hospital bills on the way.
In August, three days before I was meant to leave Nigeria, I slipped and fell, and fractured my knee. First of all, we had to shift my flight because the baby was in distress. I was in a lot of pain, but they couldn’t give me painkillers because my baby’s heart rate would drop if they did. It was a terrible time. Financially, things just got much worse.
Oh my. What did you do?
I still travelled but was in a lot of distress. I thought I could have my baby and also do a knee surgery. In Nigeria, they were saying I would need a total replacement and may never walk again, but maybe US doctors would have a shot. As a doctor, when I looked at the X-rays, I knew my chances of walking again were almost non-existent. My knee was gone.
The dollar rates were also going crazy, so our ₦1.6m savings was beginning to look like a joke. We tried to apply for Form A for medical payments at bank rates through CBN, but they frustrated us. To have the child in the US, we needed $5,600. To do the surgery, we needed $7,800. If we knew the dollar exchange rates would climb, we would’ve bought it when it was ₦360 or something. It had climbed to ₦520. We’d spent money on our flight and accommodation, so we had almost nothing. So we had to resort to borrowing. We called every single family member and friend we could think of. It was so humiliating. I’ve never felt that low and terrible in my life. When we borrowed all we could, it still wasn’t enough to do both my knee and the delivery, so we had to choose. Of course, we chose my baby. I came back to Nigeria with my broken knee in November.
So what happened to the knee?
A miracle. My very prayerful mother forced me to try physiotherapy. She was sure God would heal me. As a doctor, I knew it was a dead end, but I decided to try anyways. In January, I started, and it was the most painful experience of my life. But in June, I proved six orthopaedic surgeons and myself wrong, and I was walking again.
Love it. Were you still earning ₦300k?
Yes. I was on paid maternity leave until April. Even when I resumed work in a wheelchair and didn’t work much, they paid me. But because of the immense shame we felt when we had to beg and borrow, my husband and I decided we would make proper money. Until my accident, I saw money as something you just had. The accident showed me that money was a means to an end. Money would save you embarrassment.
What did you do?
We decided to start offering marine services again. My husband had done a few oil and gas jobs in the past, so he had contacts. We put out the word that we’d do anything: wash boats, hire a chef, anything. He didn’t have a job, so he was able to chase these leads with energy.
He went back to the first people we did business with. They had a boat just lying there, so my husband met his former colleagues in the industry to ask for a job for the boat. What happens is you make contacts, apply a lot of pressure, pray and apply more pressure. A job will come. We started by providing security escort services for big ships. Those are the smaller, easier jobs that paid us $300 to $400 daily. When you offer small services well, bigger services will come, and with time, they came for us. The goal is to always have as many vessels on water as possible.
But even as we were making money, I was still scared of getting broke. I was scared to call family members because we were owing them. There’s just something shameful about being in debt. What if they thought we were calling to ask for more money? I think I stopped being scared sometime in 2018 when we paid off our debts and did a big security escort job worth $40k in profit. That’s when I relaxed.
Apart from co-running the company with my husband, I also manage the business and family finances. This year, we looked through our finances and saw the $40k in an account we hadn’t touched in a long time. I, a saver, had kept the money, and honestly, we’d both forgotten about it. It was hilarious.
Oh, after that job, business got really good. At one point in 2019, we had five vessels offshore that each brought at least $1k daily for five months straight.
When I saw money coming in like that, I decided it was time we built our house, so we bought land, then spent about ₦98m building the house to our taste. And then, we furnished it. That cost many millions too.
Do you still practice medicine?
Yes, I do. Since I finished my residency in 2019, I’ve earned ₦650k monthly. My husband and I jokingly call it my side hustle, but the reason I still do it is because I find fulfillment in being a doctor.
What does an average month look like for the business?
A good month is $4k daily. Many times, it’s much lower when we don’t have as many vessels working. Sometimes, we act as middlemen. For example, I was looking at our business account recently, and I saw we’d received ₦250m in the past three months. However, only ₦50m of that was for us and the business directly. If we get a boat for a company, they pay us, but the money is technically for the boat owner. We just keep a cut. We also pay a lot of people on a contract basis rather than hiring them. Our office engages only essential employees longterm.
How do you approach savings these days?
My husband and I do everything together. We have a ₦10m limit in our accounts. We try not to exceed it because naira depreciates fast. Most of our savings are in dollars, both in and outside Nigeria.
About $300k in total.
What of investments?
We try to invest in repairing abandoned boats and putting them back to work, but many times, the owner comes to reclaim them.
Let’s talk about your lifestyle now that you’re rich rich
I think we’re still pretty conservative for the amount of money we have. I have a new car, but I still drive a 2012 car to work. I’ve never been a big spender on non-essentials… apart from clothes. But I’ve travelled on vacation three times this year, and I still love shopping for clothes I won’t wear.
Is there something you want but can’t afford right now?
It’s not like we can’t outrightly afford it, but it’ll require heavy money. It’s a second passport for my husband and me. We’ve been making inquiries and it’ll cost us about $170k.
We’ve discussed relocating because Nigeria is scary at the moment. To do that, you either have to spend money or time.
Let me see how you spend money every month
What’s the last thing you bought that required planning?
The house. We had to plan because we needed it to be in an estate and close to the kids’ school. We wanted it to have a pool and other features. It took a long time to get it close to what we wanted.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you put your financial happiness?
6. I need to be as far away as possible from 2016. I also want to sort out my kids’ college fund as early as I can, and I want to get a second passport. So it’s 6 over 10 for me.
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