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.
If you shed a tear while reading this #NairaLife, you’re not alone. This subject went from sleeping on the floor with her family to going days without eating to sleeping outside. Then she decided she was going to make money, and nothing has stopped her ever since.
Tell me about your earliest memory of money
A specific memory isn’t coming to mind, but one thing is certain — I grew up in abject poverty, and I knew it. I’m the third of four kids. We lived in a mini flat where the room was storage for our clothes, and everyone slept on the living room floor.
I’m talking poor as per we didn’t go to school for a whole year because our parents couldn’t afford the fees. We couldn’t afford medical bills. We barely ate. It was normal for my mum to take us to hang around in church and pray until someone gave us money or food.
Our parents even taught us to lie that they weren’t around when the landlord came to ask for rent.
Because everyone was frustrated, there was constant emotional abuse from my parents on us. They also constantly fought over money. During one of their fights, there were threats of pouring acid on one another.
Thankfully, they got jobs the year I turned 10.
Did that change anything?
Yes. My mum got a job at the church as an administrative employee, and my dad joined the technical staff of a hospital.
In the space of five years, we moved out of the mini flat into our own house. My mum got a car as a giift from someone who was leaving the country and gave it to my dad, then bought her own car. We were eating multiple meals a day. But we were still being sent out of school for defaulting on fees.
My mum made more money than my dad from her salary and people giving her gifts, but she insisted she wouldn’t pay our fees. She contributed most to building the house and feeding us, so it was on my dad to pay the school fees for all four of us.
But at this point, my older brother was in a private university, so it was difficult for my dad. Every time I was sent out of school, I ‘d cook up a lie because my classmates couldn’t understand why my parents seemed well-to-do, but I was owing fees.
“My parents forgot to pay.”
“They’ve paid. I just forgot to bring the teller.”
You learn to lie a lot when you grow up poor.
When I turned 15, things got bad again.
Both my parents stopped working.
First, my mum resigned because of office politics and people saying she was overly favoured by her boss. We lived on my dad’s salary for a while. And then, he lost his job.
My parents didn’t have any money kept anywhere because they used their salaries for those five years to build the house and send us to school. We had a house and cars but went hungry for days again. We eventually had to sell the cars to survive.
When I turned 16, in 2014, my parents couldn’t afford the ₦15k university fees. It’s not like they were trying to find it o. They straight up said I should sit at home and maybe learn computers for a year.
Is that what you did?
After many tears, they gathered money from family members, and I went to school.
In my first year, I was the broke roommate, and it was obvious. I wore trash clothes, never had money and hardly ate. In fact, a roommate pulled me aside one day and asked if everything was okay at home because other people in the room were asking why I was so haggard.
One four-day Muslim holiday, all my roommates went home, but I didn’t have any money, so I stayed back. When I say I didn’t have money, I mean I had just ₦100. I bought a bag of pure water on Thursday of the long weekend, and that’s all I had until Monday. I’d wake up, drink water, sit around in the room and go back to bed.
When a roommate came back on Monday morning, I was half dead. She had to rush to the shops to get a bottle of soft drink to pour into my mouth before buying me food.
Beginning of my second year, my parents were blunt: “You can’t keep calling us for money. You know the situation at home.” I had to start looking out for myself.
What did you do?
I helped people sell stuff, cooked for boys who had apartments and didn’t want to make their own food and ushered at birthday parties and offic events. I was making about ₦5k every week, so at least, I could eat. But I was also missing classes and tests because I had work to do. People thought I was unserious, but they didn’t get that I literally wouldn’t have anything to eat if I didn’t do those jobs. And it’s not like I was enjoying the jobs. Ushering is hell.
Don’t even let me start. Is it the standing for hours? Or the uncomfortable dresses? Or having to smile while people throw food at you, insult, threaten and sexually harass you? My eyes have seen shege.
Towards the end of my second year, I saw an ad for an internship at a PR company. I was a business administration student, but I didn’t mind doing social media marketing work. I just needed money, and this was going to pay ₦40k.
The day before the interview, I had zero money. I couldn’t call my parents because I knew how that was going to end, so I went for church fellowship and just hoped somehow someone would give me money.
Long story short, I didn’t get any money. Thankfully though, the interview was postponed at the last minute to the holiday period when I would be at home. At least there was a small chance I could get money from home.
One week before the interview, they called to say it was just a formality and I’d resume that day either way. Every day, I reminded my parents that I’d need money for transportation. They said, “God will provide”. On the day of the interview, they said, “We don’t have money.” I cried, rolled on the floor, begged; no money. I lost the job opportunity.
When I resumed for my third year, I packed everything I owned. I called home and told them I wasn’t returning until I made money.
They thought I was joking.
Year three was bad too. Because I was squatting in the hostel, I literally had to sleep outside many nights when the security guards didn’t let me in. One of those nights, I called my mum to tell her my situation, and her response was, “What should I do?”
I think it was on one of those nights I told myself I had to be rich in this life.
After year three, I got a job as the social media manager of a boutique. It paid ₦50k. I stayed with my friends during the holiday and saved most of my salary. By the time I resumed my final year in 2018, I had enough money to pay my school and hostel fees, and to feed myself.
Were you still ushering in this period?
Yep. But after university, I moved in with my boyfriend, and he told me to stop ushering because I always came home crying and exhausted. We started dating when I was in my final year, and he knew everything I’d been through. He had money, so he made sure I never lacked. There was no more hunger or sleeping outside. I was also doing more social media management gigs and building my CV, so things looked good.
A few months later, I moved out because we didn’t want to live together for too long since we were not married. He paid the monthly rent for my apartment.
What was your plan for making money after university?
I didn’t have specific plans. I just knew I wanted to graduate with good grades and get a corporate job where I could get promoted. Maybe a banking job.
My first job after graduation was as a social media assistant at a PR firm. It paid ₦70k.
I was only there for five months. It was a fast-paced environment where my boss shouted and used swear words. I left because it reminded me of home — the shouting and insults.
Sorry about that
Thanks. My next job was for NYSC. This was from July 2019 to July 2020. It was also social media management at an advertising agency and paid ₦100k. Just like the last job, it was fast-paced, but I decided to stay this time because it wasn’t as toxic, and I needed to learn the ropes. I worked on social media for bigger, world-renowned brands. Did I know what I was doing? Not really, no. I had a burner Instagram account where I stalked competitor brands’ pages for inspiration. That’s how I got better. And whenever I worked on a new brand, I added it to my CV.
First time making consistent money. What was that like?
I was relieved, but I started paying black tax immediately. I was also saving up for my own apartment. My boyfriend and I broke up amicably in 2019, and he still paid for my apartment, so I didn’t have to worry about rent. I also started dressing better because I was now meeting with clients.
In July 2020, I got a new job. Same social media manager role, but this time, it was on the in-house marketing team of a competitor of one of the brands I used to work for. This job paid ₦258k and was remote. I moved out, so I could become responsible for my own rent.
After 11 months at this job, I left, for two reasons.
First of all, they wanted us to come back to the office. I’d tasted the remote work life and wasn’t looking forward to returning to in-person work any time soon. Secondly, and more importantly, I needed to switch from being a social media manager to being a full-on marketing manager. I didn’t see a career in social media management long term.
I took a pay cut and switched to a tech company. My salary was ₦200k, but I knew it was the price I needed to pay to become a marketing manager. Also, shortly after I got the job, I got a marketing strategy side gig that paid ₦200k, so I didn’t mind.
But this new job triggered me.
It was very customer-facing, so once more, I had to endure insults, threatened violence and slurs. It was like I was back at university, doing ushering jobs. If not that I liked my boss and the company, I would’ve left immediately. Enduring all that took me to a dark period in my life, and I hated it.
I stayed for a year. In 2022, I got a new job in the marketing department of another tech company. It paid ₦550k. I also got two side gigs. One that paid ₦300k and another that paid $1k.
How do you get jobs and side gigs?
Mostly through referrals from friends, former colleagues and bosses. And during interviews, I’m very convincing because I sabi the work. I had to learn most of the things I know myself.
Are you still at the job from earlier this year?
Yep. It now pays ₦700k. I still have my ₦300k and $1k side jobs. These days, my monthly income is about ₦2m.
Love it for you
For the first time in my life, I can say I’m genuinely happy. And omo, I’ve spoilt myself this year. I got a nice new apartment furnished to my taste, and I treat myself to whatever I want. I deserve it. The only thing I haven’t done this year is travel, and it’s because the naira is bad.
For some time, I had something I called poverty trauma. I found it hard to spend on myself because I was scared I’d go back to being poor. Now, I spend. Money is utility. It’s for me to increase the quality of my life. I believe I’ll make back whatever I spend, so why not?
If you had to break down your finances in this moment, what would it look like?
I have ₦600k in cash, over ₦1m in my PiggyVest and about $3k in my dollar account. I’m looking to go big on investments. It’s one of my goals for next year.
Another is to apply for big-paying jobs so I don’t have to have multiple jobs. Just one is fine, as long as it pays in millions.
Looking back, how do you feel about what you’ve accomplished?
If someone told me at the beginning of the year that this is what my finances would look like now, I wouldn’t have believed them. I don’t know how I did it, but I’m here. I now hang out with people I used to serve as an usher. I was having drinks with one of them recently and laughing in my head because this guy once shouted at me to bring him champagne.
I know it’s only going to get better from here. But sometimes, I hear stories of people who make it young and one sickness or emergency takes it all away. I don’t want that.
I reject it for you. How would you break down your monthly expenses?
I try to spend only my main salary, ₦700k. Here’s how I break it down.
Money from freelance jobs go straight to savings for big-ticket items and emergencies. For example, I’m saving to travel next year. Oftentimes, I have to dip into those savings for family and to manage increases in expenses due to inflation, but I try not to when I can help it.
Your black tax. E choke
E choke o. Both parents don’t work. I’m now the breadwinner, so everything is on my head. My parents are separated — money-inspired, of course — so I’m sending allowances both ways and fully financially responsible for my younger sister. My older siblings are still trying to find their feet, so nobody bothers them for money. Also, because it’s visible that I earn proper money, people just assume I should take care of everyone else.
I’m looking to set my parents up financially soon. I don’t know how yet, but I’m tired of having them call me every day for one thing or another. I need to help them get back on their feet so I can be the owner of my money.
I’ll assume your financial happiness is a 10
I’d say a 7. You know what they say; people always want more money. I think the number can increase once I stop paying black tax.