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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When today’s subject on Naira Life was 27, he received a ₦50k paycheck and tried to return it because he’d never made that much before so he thought it was a mistake. From working at age 12 to taking care of five siblings at 20, how did this man survive?
What’s your earliest memory of money?
When former president Olusegun Obasanjo banned the importation of frozen foods into the country in 2003, my dad lost his means of livelihood, and things got difficult for our family. By 2004, when I was 12, things got so bad I had to stay out of school for a short period. That same year, I got my first job as a salesperson at a soap-making factory. The pay was ₦6k monthly. Every month, I would give my mum all the money and she would give me ₦500 to keep for myself. She used the rest, in addition to whatever she was making from her small soft drinks shop, to feed me and my five younger siblings.
About a year later, I heard that another factory was paying ₦8k to offload trailers and unbox goods, so I left my ₦6k job and went there.
How did you find these jobs?
My friends in school told me about them. These people mainly hired secondary school students. When I finished school by 2 p.m., I would go to work till 8 p.m. This went on until my mum died of cancer in 2012.
I’m so sorry, man.
Thank you. A year before she died, my dad left home because a friend had a job opportunity for him. This meant my mum had to step up even more to take care of us. And she still sent most of the money she made to him as the head of the house. After she died, we found out my dad had gone to start another family elsewhere. Before he died in 2016, he had five children with the other woman.
When my mum was still sick, her family members used to come to the house to collect some of our home appliances and even money. When she died, I thought those same people were going to take care of me and my siblings. It turns out they were just trying to get what they could. After the funeral in the village, there was a family meeting about what was going to happen to us, and the decision was that they’d split us and send us to different family members. The last time that happened was when my mum was still alive and things weren’t good. She sent two of my siblings to stay with her friend who maltreated them. She used them as maids, didn’t send them to school and made them lie to us that they were going to school.
I wasn’t going to let anything like that happen again, so I called a friend back home in Lagos to send me some money for transportation. Before anybody woke up the next morning, I took all my siblings to the bus park and we returned to Lagos to stay with another friend.
On the day we got there, they had a pastor visiting. When he heard our story, he offered to move us into one of the church’s apartments — a room and parlour — and we accepted.
This time, I found a job at an ice block factory that paid ₦15k monthly. My supervisor had a laptop, so he taught me graphics design. As time went on, I got myself a cheap laptop and started designing documents, letterheads and presentations for people. I charged between ₦200 to ₦1k. From the ₦15k and design money, I registered my younger twin brothers for WAEC, put the twin girls back in senior secondary school and took the last born to primary school. We also moved into our own face-me-I-face-you where we paid ₦2,500 a month. There’s a funny story from when I tried to register my youngest sister in school.
It was the last day of registration and everyone was rushing to get their children in. When it got to my turn, the man in charge told me I couldn’t register her because I wasn’t her parent. When I told him I was her guardian, he burst into laughter and told us to leave the premises. There and then, something broke in me and I just started wailing. When my sister saw me, she started crying too. I eventually had to get an affidavit that said I was her brother and I was older than 18.
How long did this phase go on for?
Five years. In that period, all the money I made was for feeding my siblings and sending them to school. My brothers had already started hustling too. One was a sales assistant and the other was a primary school teacher. Their combined monthly income was about ₦15k. It went a long way in our survival. On weekends, we went out and found parties where we could eat for free.
In early 2017, I did a design for a Lagos State civil servant, and he liked it, so he offered me a job at the commission where he worked. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t have a university degree, but he said it didn’t matter. Shortly after, my laptop spoilt so I couldn’t design anymore. I also lost contact with the man.
Shortly after, someone started building their house on my street, and because I was trying to make more money, I went there to find out if I could do labour. When he saw me, he didn’t think I could do the work because of my small stature so he offered to make me the supervisor. My job was to make sure the workers were using the right number of cement bags, coming to work on time, making progress, etc. When I found out the workers themselves were earning ₦2k per day, I decided to join them, so that my daily income would be ₦3k.
What was that like?
When I woke up the day after I first joined them to work, I couldn’t move a muscle for a while. But I had to be back on the site by 5 a.m. so I somehow dragged myself there. I didn’t do any physical labour that day. When the other workers found out it was my first time, they were empathetic. Apparently, if they’d known, they’d have bought agbo for me. That day, they gave me the agbo some with tablets, and I became completely fine. That’s how I survived seven months of daily physical labour until we completed the house. I made ₦3k a day for seven months straight. The money went into feeding myself and my siblings, as usual.
We finished the house in late 2017. In early 2018, I met the civil servant again and he told me he’d been looking for me. That same day, he gave me a letter. He told me to take it to an office and tell them he sent me.
Yes, but let me tell you the drama that happened first. Outside the office, I met a woman, and I can’t remember what happened, but we ended up insulting each other. By the time the receptionist asked me to go in to see oga, it turned out to be the same woman.
She just collected my letter and told me to resume work.
What was the job?
Office assistant. I helped with letter entry, paperwork, bookkeeping, printing stuff, etc. Basically, anything that had to do with technology or filing.
How much did they pay?
They told me my salary was going to be ₦15k. I wouldn’t spend any money on transportation because there was a staff bus, so it was good pay for me. They paid salary in cash. When they gave me my first envelope, I put it in my bag and went home. At home, I counted it and saw ₦50k. I wanted to go crazy. The next day, I went to my boss and told her that it must have been some kind of mistake. She just hissed and told me to get out of her office. We still weren’t on speaking terms. In fact, we weren’t on speaking terms for the first three months I worked there.
I didn’t get any explanation as to why I got ₦50k so I just assumed it was a test. I removed my ₦15k, and kept the rest so if they asked for it, I’d give them back without any issue. As the month went by, I got broke again, so I removed another ₦15k. My thinking was that if they asked me to return their money, I’d just return the remaining ₦20k and tell them not to pay me for the second month.
By the end of my second month, they paid me ₦50k again. This time, I went to my boss’ PA to ask why. She told me it was because my boss — who wasn’t on speaking terms with me — told them to pay me ₦50k instead of ₦15k.
I was so grateful. The money changed our lives significantly. For the first time, I took my siblings to eat at a restaurant. We ate better, bought a fan, a small TV and a new mattress. I saved ₦20k, and because my brothers were earning about ₦30k each too, collected ₦10k from each of them to save.
I also registered them for university, registered myself to write GCE, linked my sisters up to learn some trade and still paid my youngest sister’s school fees. By February 2019, something totally unexpected happened.
Give me the gist.
Beside our face-me-I-face-you, there was a plot of land with a house that had one parlour and five rooms. It was owned by a man who was hardly around. He didn’t have family that we knew of, he wasn’t married and he didn’t socialise with many people, but he was my friend. Whenever he was around, I would go to say hi to him, and we would gist a lot.
In February 2019, he came and said he was moving to the village and he wanted to sell the house to me, so I should give him whatever amount I had.
I was confused, but he insisted he didn’t want to sell it to any other person but me. After a few days, I brought in a friend from the townplanning department of Lagos, we sorted out the papers and the house was legally transferred to me. All the money I had in savings was ₦400k. I gave him everything.
A Lagos homeowner.
My siblings and I moved in immediately. He’d plastered only one room and the parlour, so we could only sleep in those two places. As time went on, we plastered one room at a time and picked one room each.
In May 2019, I lost my job. They were cutting roles because of the election and change in governance, and mine was impacted. After that, I went online to look for all the jobs I could apply for. Nobody gave me an interview until July when a school called me back for a teaching role.
In the interview, I basically told the principal my life story and begged him to hire me because I had people to feed. I got the job. It paid ₦40k. It was far from home, and my monthly spend on transportation was ₦20k, but it was something.
Did you enjoy the job?
I absolutely loved it. The principal helped me settle in like we’d been friends for a long time. He was super nice to me. When I got there, the school was looking to build a computer lab and they didn’t want to contract it out. The principal and I went to Computer Village, bought computers and I learnt how to create a network of systems with a networking cable. We built the entire computer lab from scratch.
That same year, I bought a laptop for my brothers along with a book on HTML and CSS. They learnt how to code, and started getting small gigs in school. I also built two tiny shops in front of my house and let them out. By January 2020, I got a new job.
What kind of job?
Content creator at an organisation that teaches STEM to children. They partner with schools and individual parents to teach children tech skills. My job was to read through course material and turn them into PowerPoint presentations for classes. The pay was ₦100k. By February, I moved out to get my own small place.
How did that raise change things for you?
For the first time in my life, I could do things for myself. Between January and February, I went to the cinema for the first time in my life, I went to the beach, Chicken Republic, Coldstone and Domino’s. I just wanted to know what it felt like to go into the places I only passed by. It wasn’t easy to spend money without calling to find out if my siblings had eaten first, but thankfully, my brothers were already making a combined ₦140k monthly doing frontend development, so everybody was okay.
At work, I was punching way above my weight. If I was meant to create content for two courses in a month, I’d create 10. By March when lockdown hit, the company downsized from 17 people to five. I was one of the people they retained. It meant I had to do much more work, but I didn’t mind. 2020 was the year I made the most money.
In March and April, I only made my ₦100k salary. By May, parents of pupils we’d taught at a free training before lockdown started reaching out to ask me to take their children private remote lessons. I got so many calls and students that I had to hire some of the people my company fired, and my siblings, to assist me in teaching. Each student paid about ₦60k. After paying everyone who worked for me, I still made between ₦300k and ₦400k a month. My brothers lost their jobs due to the lockdown, so all my siblings moved in with me again. I got them all laptops, and they assisted me with my work. By the end of 2020, I had over ₦1m in savings.
I also went into deep learning mode that year. I learnt UI/UX, drone technology (how to build and fly drones), robotics, and so much more. I was always either working or learning.
Did your organisation know you were teaching kids on the side?
For the first few months, I didn’t think what I was doing was wrong. When it dawned on me, I reached out to my boss to tell him. Apparently, he already knew. Shortly after, we resumed work physically, and I transferred all my personal clients to the company.
By January 2021, I got promoted to be the team lead of the content team, and my salary was increased to ₦120k. Even though I don’t have the teaching side jobs anymore, I still make a decent ₦200k to ₦300k on many months.
I get UI/UX gigs, I fly drones at events almost every weekend, and I get called to schools to speak about stuff like robotics.
How are your siblings?
They’re good. One of my sisters is married, the other is doing good as a fashion designer, one brother works as an AI engineer, and the other has a job as a developer for a UK-based company. The last born is a law student.
That’s amazing. How has your money journey affected your view of money?
Money is so so important. It’s a tool to get what you need, and without it, people suffer. I’m a good example. Now, I can afford most things I want.
What’s one thing you want but can’t afford?
Hmm… Maybe a car.
Can you share your monthly expense breakdown?
What are your plans for the future?
I want to make more money so I can help people in situations like what I faced growing up. People deserve chances at an education. Also, I want to get married. I’m turning 30 this year and all my mates are married.
Did you ever try to reconnect with your dad?
I don’t know how, but he found us sometime in 2014, and I simply told him to leave. He didn’t even come for my mum’s funeral, so what was he looking for in our lives?
What’s your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?
8. Looking at where I came from, I’m quite happy to be where I am now. I can live on a little or a lot, and it won’t make a difference. I want more money, but I’m very happy right now.
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