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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The 26-year-old nurse on this week’s #NairaLife lived in wealth until her dad died mysteriously when she was 12. Since then, she’s sold sweets, bread, eggs and even written love letters to make money. Now, she works at two different hospitals and is saving to japa.
Tell me about your earliest memory of money
When I was five, my mum used to travel to Warri three times a month to buy 33,000 litre tankers of kerosene which she’d then resell. We’d stay up all night counting the cash she brought home. My dad worked with cocoa farmers to produce cocoa exports.
Sounds like money
Oh, we were rich. Me, I was very spoiled. I was the only child for eight years, then my sister was born. My dad always wanted daughters, so he showered us with gifts. I went to the most expensive school and even had my own car and driver.
All of this got to my head and made me unintentionally condescending.I thought everybody had money like us, so if someone in school mentioned that they didn’t have money, I’d say something like, “Go and ask your daddy.” It was only gradually I understood that there were people who didn’t have as much as we did. But everything changed when my dad died.
Oh I’m sorry. What happened?
Strange stuff. He collected money from his foreign business partners for a delivery and sent it to the farmers. They never delivered the products. Because of mounting pressure from his business partners for their products, he went to challenge the farmers. The next day, his body began to harden. It kept hardening for months until he passed away. The doctors never figured out what was wrong.
Wow. How did this affect your family?
Terribly. We spent so much money trying to treat him that we gradually sold off everything we had. The cars, the estate house, everything. We had to move to more humble living conditions.
My mum had already stopped the kerosene job by the time she had my sister and was now a teacher. She wasn’t making so much money anymore. So imagine us going from being very rich to being absolutely poor all because of my dad’s death. We couldn’t even eat well. Amidst all of this, I was also sick a lot.
I live with sickle cell. I woke up one day when I was seven and started limping because I had pains in my joints. At first, my mum thought it was because I was trying to play smart and miss school, but when the limping kept going and coming over a couple of weeks, they took me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with sickle cell. Initially, my parents disagreed. My dad was AS, and my mum, AA, so where did SC come from?
After a few tests, they discovered my mum was actually AC and not AA. Also, my dad’s side of the family has a terrible history of rheumatism, which I inherited. So, I was in a lot of pain growing up. There were times when I couldn’t stand or hold a pen to write. I don’t even want to think about it.
Did your dad’s family help?
First, they gave us ₦50k to cover our house rent, then they disappeared. They abandoned us. After he died, they even tried to steal a plot of land my mum bought, but she didn’t let them. It was only after many years we reconnected with some of his siblings.
Because it was just my mum, my sister and me, we had to look out for ourselves. In addition to her salary as a teacher, she travelled to buy materials like lace, ankara and kampala and sold them to people in her office. When highway robbery became a problem, she started selling plantain chips and groundnuts instead.
We worked all night slicing and frying plantain chips and groundnuts. My mum used her salary to pay off loans and we used whatever profit we made from selling stuff to survive.
You know, for four years after we stopped selling plantain chips, I couldn’t stand the sight or smell of them.
Did you do anything personally to make money?
Ah, yes. Letters. I’ve always had a beautiful handwriting. I was a day student at a school that had boarding students, so whenever the boarders needed to write love letters to their partners in other schools, I helped them for a small fee of ₦200. I collected a ₦200 delivery fee from the receivers too. I delivered about 15 letters a month.
Cupid is shaking
Whenever I needed money to buy school stuff like socks and books, I just used my own money.
After secondary school, I was home for one year because my score was below the cut-off mark to study nursing at the university I wanted. They gave me chemistry instead. The next year, they gave me Zoology. Instead of waiting at home for one extra year, I decided to go to a polytechnic instead.
In 2013, for my OND — first year at polytechnic — I studied science and laboratory technology. Second year, ND, I did biology technology. In ND 2, the school portal closed when I was still owing ₦1k, which meant I had to retake the semester.
You were owing ₦1k?
One thousand naira.
Not long after I started the semester again, my mum advised me to drop the polytechnic programme because polytechnic graduates don’t get good jobs. She told me to go to school of nursing instead. It made sense to me because I knew the chances of getting good jobs after polytechnic were slim, and we didn’t have connections, so I followed her advice. Late 2016, I resumed at the school of nursing.
I was super broke by this time. To make money, I’d go to my uncle’s shoe shop whenever I was free and sell for him. He’d give me ₦2k per day. When things became unbearable, I decided to start a business.
I don’t know why, but I just decided it was bread I wanted to sell. I told my uncle about my plan and he gave me ₦5k. ₦3,500 to start my business and ₦1,500 to eat for that day. Instead of bread, I went to the market and bought eclairs, Butter Mint, Milkose, lollipops and popcorn. The next day, I used what was left to buy a few loaves of bread.
Everyday, I would go around the hostel shouting for people to come out and buy bread or snacks, and slowly, my business became stable.
At some point, someone advised me to start selling eggs too, so I did that.
It’s when I started this business I realised small ₦10 here and there can build up to become something.
Tell me about it
I bought a pack of eclairs for ₦550. By the time I sold each piece, my profit was ₦650. I sold about 12 packs a month. For the other sweets too, I made double of what I bought them for. I bought a crate of eggs at ₦800 and sold each egg for ₦50. So I made ₦700 in profits per crate, and I sold eight crates in a month. My profit from popcorn was ₦4k a month, and bread made me ₦2k a month. I was making about ₦30k monthly all from small ₦10 and ₦20 profit.
Also, whenever I went to the market, I told my customers to bring their grocery lists and money so I could shop for them. The catch here was that each person gave me ₦200 transportation money. I could get as many as 10 people per trip. That’s the money I would use to cook for myself.
How were your mum and sister in this period?
They were surviving. My mum had opened a small provisions shop, so she was able to take caare of herself and my sister.
Did all that physical activity affect your health?
Very badly. I fell sick a lot, but it was either sickness or be broke and hungry. I didn’t want to go hungry.
I graduated as a registered nurse in late 2019. By December, I got a job at a police hospital. The pay was ₦30k. I lived far away, came late to work a few times, and was always getting home late, so I was very stressed. By February, I requested an apartment and they gave me one within the police base compound. By March, they transferred me to the MOPOL base. That’s where I met one of the kindest people ever — the commander. My salary was still ₦30k, but I’m pretty sure he gave me up to ₦30k on top of that every month.
I had to check his blood pressure twice a week, and every single time, he would give me money as a “thank you”. Sometimes, ₦5k, sometimes, ₦3k, sometimes, ₦7k. He never missed.
By April, they increased my salary to ₦35k. So my ₦35k salary was going to my mum — ₦10k for her, ₦20k to put in an ajo for me and ₦1500 for my sister. The remaining ₦3,500 was tithe. I survived fully on the money I was getting from the commander. Transportation was ₦8k, and the rest went into feeding and buying appliances for my apartment.
In October 2020, my mum told me she didn’t want me to waste the year working instead of developing myself and positioning myself for much better jobs, so I needed to find a way to improve my skills.
understood her. I’d already been thinking of training to be an emergency nurse, so her advice was just perfect timing. I eventually found that Igbobi, Lagos, is one of the only places that teaches emergency nursing. I applied, wrote the exams, got in and moved to Lagos.
The entire program cost ₦575k to be paid over a year, but we had to pay a ₦40k acceptance fee. Please, tell me why when I asked my mum to bring all my ajo money, she could only come up with ₦30k instead of ₦200k?
I could not even say anything. I collected it, added my own ₦10k and started school. Then I went to two of my dad’s siblings who checked in once in a while and told them my plans for school. They gave me a total of ₦178k. I had to borrow money to pay the rest.
How did you survive though?
I moved to Lagos thinking the Igbobi campus would have hostels for us. Nope. I had to sleep on class benches before my study partner introduced me to a friend who I’ve lived with ever since.
Moneywise, I got occasional gigs from classmates who wanted me to help them do assignments and projects. ₦2k here, ₦3k there, that’s how I survived. I tried to get jobs but nothing worked out.
After I graduated in 2021, I moved back west to my hometown. Three days later, a hospital in Lekki called me for an interview. When I got there and we spoke, they offered me ₦100k as salary. I rejected it.
What was the lowest you could take as a salary at that point?
₦100k, but not on the island. I’d be spending ₦40k on transport and that’s just not wise. Also, public transportation in Lagos gives me anxiety, so I wasn’t about to be doing long and expensive trips for ₦100k. No.
Because I was already in Lagos, I decided to stay and keep dropping my CV at hospitals. A friend told me a government hospital on the mainland was hiring and I applied. I remember being in church in January  when the message that I’d gotten the job came in. Omo, I danced.
I resumed in February. The pay was ₦95k, and my shifts meant I only had to be at work seven times a month. Shortly after I started the job, one of the private hospitals where I’d dropped my CV reached out to interview me. I told them I already had a job and would be juggling both jobs, and they agreed. They pay ₦100k.
My February salary from the government job and my March salaries from both jobs paid off all my debts. Now, I live on the ₦95k and save the ₦100k every month. I’m trying to japa to the UK.
What do you spend your money on?
On some months, I make an extra ₦10k or more from the private hospital when I fill in for someone when they’re short-staffed.
What’s one thing you want but can’t afford right now?
Sending my sister to a private university so she can have a good and hitch-free education.
Again, how are you managing all this work with your health?
My health has improved over the years. I prayed for it to, and it has. I also make sure I eat well, sleep every chance I get and avoid anything that can stress me emotionally. Because I’ve had the condition for a long time, I can bear the pain to an extent and still work.
I also drink lots of water and take folic acid and a pain reliever once I can’t bear the pain any longer.
My government hospital job has doubled the days I need to come to the office, so it’s getting stressful, but I can still handle it. If it gets too much, I’ll drop the private job.
Why not the one that pays less?
I can always get another private job. Government jobs are difficult to get and they come with better job security.
1-10, how happy are you?
6, because I know I could be in a worse situation. I have it better than others.
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