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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By 2019, this 23-year-old Naira Life subject didn’t know what to do with her life. Then she met a friend who told her to try UI/UX design. Four jobs later, she’s managed $65k a year. She thinks it would be more if she weren’t such a bad negotiator.
What’s your earliest memory of money?
I know when my friends in school would get picked up in cars, I took bikes or buses home, so that means we weren’t as rich as other people. But I also know we weren’t poor poor. I mean, I got chased out of class because of school fees debts, but I never starved.
What did your parents do?
My mum is a local government worker, caterer and owns a provisions shop. I’m her only child, and my dad isn’t in the picture.
They were never married. He visited from time to time and gave me money when he came. It was even through an aunt I found out he had his own wife and children who are way older than me.
I met his children in secondary school — when I started going to his office to say hi.
My mum eventually got married in 2014.
Do you want to hear how I found out?
I was 15 and in SS 3 in boarding school when she came to my school for PTA. The principal had called a parents meeting to report my set for being the worst SS 3 set ever.
After the meeting, I was going through her phone and next thing, I saw pictures of her in a wedding gown. Ehn? When I confronted her, her response was, “But you were in school. How did you expect me to tell you? Or did you want me to come and pick you up for the wedding?”
Fear Nigerian women.
Did you know the man?
Yes. They’d been friends for a while. After I finished school, we moved to his house. He already had three children from an earlier marriage; one older than me and two younger.
Tell me what that change felt like
I’m shy around adults so me and my step-dad didn’t really have a deep relationship. It’s a not-so-close-to-your-parents-but-you-still-talk kind relationship. He scolded me a few times when my mum was angry at me, but nothing too over the top. When I got into university that year, he gave me money on most weeks. Like ₦5k.
Is that all you survived on?
My dad also gave me ₦10k monthly. I went to Ekiti State University which was like 30 minutes away from home so I would go home to get foodstuff when I ran out. My mum gave me an occasional stipend too.
What did you study?
You wanted a career in Microbiology?
Nope. It’s just what I studied. Throughout university, I was worried about my prospects in life because people in school kept talking about how difficult it was to get a good-paying job with a microbiology degree in Nigeria. My plan was to do a master’s in public health to increase my value and chances.
In fact, after I graduated in 2019 and was waiting for NYSC, I started learning fashion design just so I could do something before I got a job. But I couldn’t be consistent because I had to stay in my mum’s shop too. She paid me like ₦5k every other week. I eventually didn’t learn any fashion design before I got posted to Ogun state for NYSC.
Where did you work?
A haulage company. I was the front desk receptionist. The pay was ₦15k, NYSC paid ₦33k, and I got an extra ₦2k every week from my boss just because he was a nice guy. He never tried anything inappropriate, and I appreciated that. I spent ₦400 daily on transportation and stayed in an apartment my parents rented for me. So it wasn’t difficult managing the salary.
That same year, I met a software developer on Twitter and we became friends. When I told him I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, he advised me to learn UI/UX design and sent me materials and YouTube videos. I had a laptop then so I began to practice. Whenever I did a design, I showed him and he told me what he thought about it and how I could be better. Then I joined online design communities too and made friends. I sha took it very seriously because I was scared of poverty and saw it as an avenue to make good money.
And you got better?
Yep. Four months into NYSC, in March 2020, COVID happened and I had to go home. I spent the entire time designing and posting my work on Twitter and LinkedIn. I was in front of my laptop everywhere, even when I was in my mum’s shop.
In fact, my mum had problems with it. First, it was that people thought I was doing yahoo yahoo. Next, it was that I never came out of my room to spend time with the family. I told her I was learning design, but she just didn’t understand.
By July, I got my first design job.
They reached out to me on Twitter because they saw my work. I was back in Ogun state by this time, so I was working more. It’s probably a great time to say I’m not a good negotiator because tell me why they offered me ₦80k and I said I wanted ₦150k instead, but immediately they said ₦120k, I jumped at it.
But it was good money for me at the time. I could even send money to my mum and siblings from time to time. They paid biweekly.
A few months later, a Senegalese design agency opening a branch in Lagos reached out on LinkedIn to hire me. The pay was ₦200k, and it was a hybrid role. I didn’t have to be in Ogun state for NYSC anymore because of COVID. NYSC had told corpers to return home since COVID started and I wasn’t doing the receptionist job anymore. I was just staying in Ogun state. So I asked my mum if I could move to Lagos to take the job. I lied to her that the pay would be ₦120k. This woman told me she wanted to pray about it and then said her pastor said I shouldn’t take the job. I was sad, and my friends were telling me to just move regardless, but I don’t like wahala so I just accepted my fate.
In September 2020, another design company reached out to me on Twitter saying they wanted to hire me. This time, I was determined to move no matter what, so I created a fake ₦150k job offer that said I had to be in Lagos and showed my mum. Again, she said she had to pray and ask her pastor, but I’d decided in my heart to move no matter what the pastor said.
What did the pastor say?
He said I could go.
Where were you going to stay?
My mum asked this same question, and I already had all the answers. There was a hostel my friend told me about. It cost ₦170k for six months. That’s where I stayed.
I finally got the job in October 2020. It paid ₦120k, and it was hybrid — in-person Mondays to Wednesdays, remote on Thursdays and Fridays. I combined it with my other ₦120k job but quit the fully remote one after a month because I couldn’t cope.
Why that one?
The design agency in Lagos had more clout. People respected them and they had a great portfolio so I wanted to benefit from that. But I eventually only stayed there for six months.
Omo, it was toxic as hell. Well, one person — the design lead — was toxic, and it made work difficult for me. He had a history of being mean to people, as I later got to find out. People shared stories with me about how he made them cry because of the way he spoke.
As time went on, he started speaking badly to me too. His method of giving feedback was so condescending. On Figma — an app UI designers use — there’s a part of the screen that shows when someone else is on the document you’re currently working on. I put black tape over it because whenever he was on the doc with me, I had panic attacks, so I’d rather just not know. On Mondays to Wednesdays, when I had to go to the office, the first thing I did in the morning was cry.
It was terrible. But I’d already been applying for jobs and speaking to friends months before I left. I eventually got one from a friend who worked for a remote company that had one designer and was looking for another. The job interview process wasn’t so long. They saw my work and just asked me to hop on a call and that was it.
When it was time to talk about pay, they offered $750 monthly and I said I wanted $1k. The interviewer said he wanted to pay a naira round figure so he offered me $1050. I took it.
How much was that in naira?
Between ₦450k and ₦500k.
Yes o. I started saving and sending money to everyone — my mum, dad, step-dad, mum’s mum, step-dad’s mum, cousins and siblings. I also moved out of the hostel and got a small self-contained room.
How did mumsi react to you sending money?
She was happy, but she also used to say stuff like, “Hope you’re saving o!” And if she asked me for money and I said I didn’t have, “What are you even using your money for?”
How long were you at that job?
I started in March and left in November 2021. Six months into the job, I asked for a raise because I realised I was doing all the work on the design team. First of all, working in the toxic place had made me a very fast worker, so I met deadlines very quickly and then did more. The other person on the design team was hardly available. They increased my salary to $1500 and that’s how much I earned till I left.
Why did you leave?
I knew I could get more money elsewhere. And I wasn’t challenged. They were accepting everything I was doing without question or asking for improvement. While there, I applied for hundreds of jobs and got L’s. But I finally got an interview in November 2021 — an interview in six stages.
What were the stages?
The first was a “Let’s get to know you” with the CTO. I was asked technical questions in the second. At the third, I joined the company’s weekly show-and-tell meeting where the designers talked about what they’d worked on. I had to sign an NDA before joining. Then, I met with a co-founder, another co-founder, and finally, with the lead engineer.
How much did they offer after that many meetings?
$65k yearly. It’s a UI/UX designer role. That’s a little over $5,400 a month paid in biweekly installments. That’s like ₦3m a month depending on the exchange rates. I didn’t even bargain. If you see the way I jumped on it. I regret that now sha. I definitely should’ve asked for more. If that was their first offer, I’m sure they could’ve offered more.
Probably. ₦3m a month isn’t bad though
No, it’s not. Now, I have a mini-flat and I’m just a baby girl.
What does that look like in monthly expenses?
The rest stays in dollars as savings.
And what does that look like?
My core savings is at $17k now. I invested $2k in crypto, but it has tanked. I also have like $400 in another savings account.
Do you think you’ll leave this job soon?
No, I want to stay for at least a year for my CV. It’d be good for getting more remote jobs — probably one that can even relocate me abroad.
What do you want but can’t afford right now?
A foreign passport, please. I want to be able to travel freely. And maybe, a car. Wait… do I actually want a car?
I’m pretty sure you can afford a car
Yes, but I don’t want to just carry money and throw on a car. Seems like a lot.
How happy are you on a scale of 1-10?
I’d say 5, and it’s because I’m still living in this country.