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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18 years, two companies, 10 different roles. It’s no wonder the subject on this week’s #NairaLife is looking forward to retiring at 45. His plan? Buy and lease a house in the UK and live off the rent money, then buy another.
Tell me about your earliest memory of money
It’s receiving money from visitors and my mum collecting it to keep for me but never giving me back. I never even tried to ask. I also remember knowing very early in life that we were poor, but not as poor as we should’ve been.
I spent the first five years of my life in the UK. My parents had my sister in Nigeria, moved to the UK to work and go to school, had my brother, then me. At five years old, we moved back to Nigeria and that’s when I noticed things began to change. We didn’t have the freedom and luxury we had in the UK. We didn’t have a car or a generator, and we rationed food.
But my dad was building houses and schools.
I don’t understand
He had a strange obsession with building. That’s where our family money was going. I’m sure we were meant to be above average financially. My dad had worked at the Central Bank of Nigeria, as a lecturer at a university, and at the Securities and Exchange Commission. So there was money; he just wanted to use all of it to build.
First, he built a school for himself. The building had two floors and was already much bigger than the capacity of the students he had. So, why did my dad decide to increase it to four floors? It’s been almost 35 years, and his school still uses only the ground floor.
Our house is a gigantic duplex. He’s the only one that lives there now.
He built another even bigger structure for a secondary school because of a rule that primary and secondary schools can’t be in the same building. It’s abandoned.
In Abuja, he built a bungalow and then, along the line, decided to turn it into a three-storey building. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has been there in 20 years.
Whoa. What about your mum?
She supported him as best as she could. She was a trained teacher, so she became the administrator of the school. As early as age 10, when I finished primary school, I used to help teach younger children maths, english and verbal reasoning. In fact, I taught at intervals until I got my first job at 22.
And what was your relationship with your siblings like?
I’ve always liked to be on my own. My siblings and I were never close. My dad always mentioned that our home didn’t feel like he had kids because nobody was running around and screaming.
We reacted to our upbringing differently. I couldn’t wait to become independent and leave them. My older brother was always a happy, sociable guy who didn’t mind. As for my older sister, well, one day in 1995, she took ₦125k from my parents’ wardrobe and disappeared for three years. She was about 18.
I wasn’t shaken by the experience because, like I said, I didn’t really care. We weren’t friends when she was around, so why should I care that she ran away?
What was your plan to leave home?
I got into boarding house when I was 10 in 1991. Again, I noticed the difference between other kids and myself in little things like the quality of provisions. But at least I was away from home.
Secondary school also brought some changes. I don’t know why, but I began to do very badly in school. I went from being the most brilliant pupil in primary school to being average in junior secondary school and very bad in senior secondary school. It got so bad I had to repeat SS 1.
In SS 2, I took GCE. But I realised I wouldn’t be ready to write SS 3 WAEC in a few months. Of course, I failed that GCE and WAEC, but I passed the next GCE. That one year of intense studying changed me again because I was one of the top students in my department from when I got into UNILAG in 1999 until the end.
What did you study?
My mum had done some insurance work in the past and always had books lying around the house. I used to read them for fun as a kid. So I just thought, “Why not?”
What were your finances like in uni?
I got allowances from home that peaked at about ₦4k a month. That’s what I survived on. My mum used to bring food for my older brother — I didn’t want — and she’d drop my money with him. I tried to make money, but the business failed catastrophically.
Tell me about it
In 2001, my friend was starting a comic book business and needed some money to fund it. I gave him ₦5k. There was no gain from it, so I made a bad investment mistake. He was only interested in making the comics beautiful and high quality, but he wasn’t marketing them, so I joined his team to encourage them to market. I couldn’t do it myself because it wasn’t my strong point.
I sha kept pumping money into the business. In 2003, when I got my first salary at my first job, I gave it all to the business. It was ₦15k. When I still didn’t make any profit, I pulled out.
What was this first job?
It was a policy writing role at an insurance company. They poached me and five others right from university because we were top of the class. They wanted us to be the future of the company.
But the job was boring. Insurance is like medicine — you have to do things the exact way you learnt them in school. People used to bring textbooks to work. It was like I was back to doing school work. And to add to that, people began to give me their work when they saw I was good.
About 10 months into the job, NYSC posted me to Enugu, and I left. The company had tried to make me stay and serve under them in Lagos, but I needed a break. It meant I’d lose the job and opportunity to grow within the company, but I didn’t mind.
What did you do in Enugu?
I was a teacher. It was the best year of my life. The school was meant to pay ₦500 monthly, but I don’t think they paid up to three times. I survived on NYSC’s monthly ₦7,500. And I could. It was a village that didn’t have electricity, water or network. I moved around on a bicycle and had to wash at the stream. The students brought fruits for me. There was no fast life, and nobody was rushing me anywhere. Again, best year of my life.
When I returned to Lagos in 2005, my boss from the insurance company reached out to ask if I wanted a job outside the scheme they brought me in for earlier. I would have to compete and come in through the graduate trainee program. I wrote the exam, passed and got in. This time, the pay was ₦73k for the same role.
How long did you stay at the job?
About four months. I let peer pressure get to me. Many of my mates were working in banks, so I decided to apply to a bank too. I got two offers. One was offering ₦1.3m gross per annum and the other, ₦650k. My salary at the time was ₦1.2m gross so I just took the first job. I got in as a transaction officer.
What was this one like?
I stayed at the job for 10 years because my role changed nine times. I get bored easily, so a way to keep me is to make me do new stuff. I started as a transcation officer and ended up leading virtual channels such as eCommerce and Internet Banking. By the time I was leaving in 2016, my salary was ₦9.6m gross — ₦8.2m net. I left because I’d gotten to a mid-senior level where I was a specialist at many things. Many times, companies don’t promote people from positions like that — they leave them at the same level so they can keep doing plenty work. As someone with financial responsibilities to my wife and children, I needed to increase my earnings.
When did you get married?
2009. I met my wife in 2008.
Tell me how marriage affected your relationship with money
It made me understand the pressure my dad may have faced. But I had my own rules. Nobody forced me to marry or have children, so I would ensure that they enjoy life.
I was already living alone before my wife came into my life — I moved out of my parents house in 2007. So I was already paying rent. I pay the children’s school fees, drop 10% of my salary for feeding every month and get my wife gifts. My money is the family’s money, and even though she has a well-paying job too, her money is her money. It’s been like that since we got married, and nothing’s changed.
Where did you go after the bank?
A fintech company. I’d been getting job offers and opportunities before I thought it was time to leave the bank, but I always turned them down. One of those opportunities was at this fintech. I went for the interview, and when they explained the role to me, I told them I didn’t want it. A year later, a business development role opened up, and I thought it was right for me, so I took it.
How much did it pay?
It was slightly lower than my ₦9.6m bank salary, but because it was different, and my wife told me I could, I went for it. But it increased really quickly. By 2019, I was already on ₦19m a year and now, I’m on ₦42.5m a year.
What’s that in a month?
It varies. It can be as low as ₦1.6m on some months and as high as ₦5.7m on some other months. There are bonuses and allowances in my contract that determine how much I get each month.
What’s that money doing for you?
Life is in stages, and some things get more expensive as time goes on. For example, my children are in secondary school now, and I have to pay over ₦3m next month for their fees. I can afford it, and I’m grateful.
In the past few years, life has been easier. I have a car that’s bought, serviced and fueled by the company. I have enough money to travel, buy anything I want and spoil my wife.
From every salary, I pay bills, I give my wife a monthly stipend and money for the house, then save. My savings depend on how much I get, but it’s at least ₦750k every month. In a month when my salary is ₦5.7m, I save ₦4m.
What does that look like, broken down into expenses?
I’ve documented every expense in a spreadsheet for the past five years. Here’s for last month’s ₦1.6m:
Every quarter, I give my wife ₦200k to restock the house with staple foods, but we still spend ₦155k on food monthly.
Do you invest your savings?
All my savings are in mutual funds because I need to be able to easily have access to my money in case a business opportunity comes up. I have about ₦30m saved. It could be more, but I spent £35k on an MBA in 2021. I also have about ₦1m in MTN shares. I don’t have land in Nigeria because I’m not interested in building.
Do you think you’ll stay at this job much longer?
Recently, I’ve been telling my friends, “I missed the mark of retiring at 40. Let’s see what 45 brings.” I’m 41, and I’m exhausted. I want to retire. In the past couple of years, I’ve got job offers that pay 4x what I earn, but because it’s the same role, I don’t want them. If I’m going to leave here, it has to be for a different role, and maybe even in a different industry. I’ve done insurance, banking and tech. Maybe it’s health, construction or consulting that’s next. Who knows?
How much do you need to retire?
There’s no figure. It’s a question of how much I can have. Right now, my plan is to buy a house in the UK, where I’m a citizen, lease it and make my cool pounds monthly while I’m in Nigeria. After a few years of doing that, I’ll have enough to buy another house.
Random: Does your dad still build houses?
I don’t know. We’ve not spoken in three years.
What’s your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?
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If you’re interested in talking about your Naira Life story, this is a good place to start.
Find all the past Naira Life stories here.