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.
What’s the oldest memory of money you remember?
My oldest memory is never having enough of it. My parents were civil servants in one of those useless states that owe salaries. I grew up hearing “they’ve not paid us” so much that I grew up making sure I didn’t want to have to wait for that. My parents were laid-back, that’s why they stuck to the civil service. My mum had siblings in the US that I believe she should have joined. But she never did.
My uncles were always bailing her out. The good thing my father did was that he had a house before he married. So we never got to the point where we had no roof, or we didn’t have clothes or food. This was possible because we lived in one of the cheaper states.
We were neat and tidy, but we were poor. I feel like I’ve always had to budget.
My mum had things she could go do in the US.
What was it?
She was a teacher. Special needs. Her brothers used to ask her to come over, but she used to say she couldn’t leave her children. I don’t know if it’s just her selflessness or just our culture. And it’s not like my father was a philanderer.
I feel like this might have pushed you to go look for money yourself.
All I really did was face my books. I was preparing myself for a good job, that’s all I cared about. The first money I earned was during NYSC. I served in Yobe State in 2010.
That was where my awareness of every aspect of my life started. Allowee was ₦9,500.My dad paid my rent which was ₦40,000. I was basically on my own and wasn’t about to bother him again.
I wriggled my way into teaching at the school of nursing. Let me explain how allowee worked then. Doctors were elite, so they got paid ₦22,000. Paramedics and nurses get paid ₦11,000. Everyone else — engineers to whatever — you get paid ₦3,000. But there was a twist to ours.
What was it?
You don’t get your state allowance until you’re about to pass out. So to make money, I started teaching kids. I already knew French at the time, so I started teaching in one school, from JSS 1 to 3, with all their many classes per year. All of that, for ₦5,000 a month, hahaha.
See. There was also another man who had clients from outside the state but couldn’t speak English well, so he paid me about ₦5,000 per month too. That was how I survived NYSC for a year. At the end of it all, I was still able to save about ₦50k.
When I finished NYSC, I went back home to the South. I had this uncle – that type that always sends you money when you call.
The best kind.
Yes. One day, I went to see him, and I think he was really really busy at the time – he was a local politician. I waited in his house for three days, and I couldn’t get to see him. When I finally could, he got a phone call, and had to dismiss me like “I’ll talk to you later”.
It wasn’t his fault – he was actually busy – but that dismissal pained me.
I’m a born again Christian, and so I told God that I wasn’t going to chase anybody for work. I got a call the next day, the person had a Hausa accent, and told me he was calling about a CV I submitted.
It was an NGO in Yobe, and he was calling about an open position. I actually remembered his voice, because he was the one I gave my CV to.
When I told my parents, they didn’t agree o.
“Ah, Yobe State?! It’s bad enough that we allowed you to finish your service there. Now you want to go back?”
Also, it was Yobe in 2011.
Yes. Boko Haram. It was mostly a rumour in Yobe State. But I didn’t have any alternatives. Let me tell you something about that time again.
When my dad had grown in the Civil Service, he suddenly resigned. Now, many of his former colleagues at the time had children my age who were going Abroad for Masters. But I couldn’t. My parents couldn’t even pay for my Nigerian Masters’ at the time.
“I’m an adult now, and I’m going to pick up this job.” That’s what I told them, and I packed my bags and went back to Yobe State. It was a good job and I loved it. My salary was ₦165k.
Nice. So when did you leave?
I returned to Yobe in July 2011, then left in January 2012. Boko Haram. They’d gotten into Yobe.
I didn’t even leave of my own will, my family actually lured me out with one of her US brothers about an NGO. When I got back, they didn’t let me return.
But bombs were literally going off in Yobe.
Yes, but I really loved the job. It was a global NGO, and I had colleagues from all over the world, with interesting perspectives. Anyway, I came back and found out the U.S. NGO was a lie. Another uncle told me he was doing me a favour, so he gave me a Civil Service job.
How much did that pay?
₦35k. Level 6. INEC. The only good thing about the job was that I lived with my uncle, so I didn’t have that many expenses, but still. It’s like I was running from poverty and it was chasing me, hahaha. Do you know the worst part?
I had no one to complain to. Everyone thought I was balling. “Ah ahn, Oga’s daughter.” I was so lonely. That’s how I started calling God again o. I wanted to go back to the North, because that’s where all the NGOs were. An offer came calling eventually. January 2014.
Ah nice! Where?
Sokoto. Of course, my parents didn’t want me to go. This time, my elder brother backed me. And that’s how I ended up in Sokoto.
How much did it pay?
₦150k. Programme Officer. I was so desperate that I didn’t even negotiate. When I got there, I found out that people were getting paid more. I didn’t stay long though, funding ran out. The only funding the organisation had meant that I had to move to Borno. But here’s the thing, I was already thinking of settling down at the time, and I knew I didn’t want to settle down in the North.
How old were you?
28 or 29. So, I turned my sights to Lagos, I ended up staying first with an uncle and his wife.
Ah, the Lagos part.
Hahaha. Interestingly, I saw another opportunity, but this time in Zamfara. But they told me I was too much of an Ajebo to take the job.
My uncle helped me find an opportunity in Lagos, and that one paid ₦112k. I was 30.
How did that make you feel?
Let’s not even talk about how I’d look at myself and be like “Oh God, I’m not where I’m supposed to be.” There’s something demonic about Lagos danfos. One day, I was struggling for danfo and my skirt split into two. Another time, danfo scratched my skin. I felt sick one time and went to the hospital, they told me it was stress.
Lagos was making you sick.
I was losing on every front and always tired. I wasn’t making enough money. Then I started thinking about going back to the North like, “I didn’t suffer in the north na. It was just loneliness. What is this now?”
At this point, my parents were retired, so I had to send money home. As a matter of fact, the money I saved from the North was what supported my income for the first year. I’m not easily pressured by other people’s progress, but I’d look at my cousins and everyone advancing, and feel stuck. I couldn’t even hang out without over-budgeting and overcalculating in my head.
One day, I just woke up and sent in my resignation.
How long were you there for?
18 months. December 2016. The money wasn’t a lot, and when you’ve worked in a place with structure, a one-man business is going to be a struggle. It was also around this period that I started my Masters’. So most of my savings went into that.
I got another job, this time in HR.
₦150k. At this point, I was already asking myself if they’ve sworn for me with 100-and-something. I was there for only six months. It got really really toxic. They were picking on one person in the office. The pay structure wasn’t clear. Six months into the job, I set an email regarding a company policy at the end of work on Friday. When I opened my email on Monday, I was fired.
They then called me into the office asking if I wanted to change it into a resignation. I told them no. A lawyer friend told me that they were asking me because I could sue them for unlawful dismissal.
So I went looking for lawyers. How much were those ones asking for? ₦400k. On top how much? That’s how that one ended. There’s a part I missed.
The one where my baby girl life started. I met this friend who told me about Upwork. She knew I liked teaching from way back, and so I signed up. I put a couple of skills there, and nobody was calling me. Do you know the one people were calling me for? My native language. That’s how I started getting gigs o. In fact, the very first language teaching gig I got was while I was still at the toxic place. It paid ₦16k. I was 31 going 32 at the time.
But this was even a physical class. I was asked to come and teach thrice a week. Home tutoring. Two months later, it was the child of a very rich man. This person paid me 526k to learn a language I’d been speaking for free. Ha.
Haa. How long was it for?
Three months, but this person actually wanted to pay for six months! So by the time they kicked me out of the useless job, I had some stability. Imagine me, working as HR for a staff of 250, for hundred-and-something a month. All the stress.
Interacting with my student and her friends, I realised that there was a need. And so I doubled down.
My first online client was from New York. I was charging $10/hour.
Turn the volume up!
I started full time in April 2018. Haha! I got a lot of requests from people “I’d like to learn my partner’s language,” “I want to speak to my grandmother.” Even white people. All kinds of requests. Then I kept posting across social. I realised that it was a way to build trust. I used to go to people’s houses, and when I realised that it was better online, I stopped offline.
Next, I started writing study materials. But 2018 was just the starting year, I was just building a clientele.
How much did language fetch you that year?
About ₦3 million. I could have made more, but I was still going to school on the weekends, and most people wanted classes on the weekends. But by 2019, I’d finished my Masters’. The thing with this is that people need to, first of all, know that you know what you’re saying. Then I’d make videos and you’d hear that I knew what I was teaching. Then you need to show up consistently.
So when I finally started my online course on one of these platforms, people were waiting. Referrals came from satisfied clients. Someone said she saw my advert in her church Whatsapp group in the US. People abroad are my major clients. They’re the ones who can back up their desire with money.
How much did you generate in 2019?
About ₦8 million. Now, I’m trying to reduce personal online classes and focus on growing my courses, because I need to free up personal time.
Although, I still accepted to teach a class before Corona though, children this time. One hour a week for one term pays me ₦30k per child. At 10 kids, that was ₦300k. The thing about kids is that when they’re interested, their parents are interested. And more kids become interested.
My target this year is ₦20 million, but I’ve been studying for a course, and haven’t put in enough effort to advertise.
And how much have you made so far?
₦6 million. I still want to surpass my target. Passive income drives me crazy. Like, I’m just sitting down and an alert enters. Mad o!
Mad o! Tell me about your best month.
₦1.7 million. April 2020, at the peak of the pandemic hysteria. People were at home. This money was made in dollars sha, but that’s what it is in naira.
I feel like you don’t think about money monthly, as you used to.
I think about money daily, hahaha. Before today ends, someone might pay for my course.
I imagine you have a monthly budget?
Yes. I’ll share my most expensive month with you.
What’s the highest you’ve spent on yourself at a go?
A holiday in January. That cost ₦800k.
What’s something you wish you could get better at?
How would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1 to 10?
On a scale of one to ten, I’ll put myself at 6. And what will give me a 10? If I can hit that 20 million target, but from passive income only.
Do you ever imagine how life would have turned out if you didn’t stumble on that first gig?
Oh my God. I dunno o. Jesus Christ. Do you know I’ve never thought about this? I dunno, but I’m a Christian, and I believe God put me here because he wanted me to excel here. If I didn’t end up here, maybe I’d have ended up somewhere else. You know, I feel like I could have grown in HR too, because I was really trying, networking.
The only problem is that my village people were pegging me at 100-and-something-thousand until I discovered the power of language.
The next Naira Life drops on Monday next week at 9 am. This is what you get when you subscribe to Zikoko’s Money Newsletter:
- You get it before everybody else, plus all the things that didn’t make the cut.
- You also get a #NairaLife throwback, where we check in with someone from the past, and see how they’re doing now.
Find all the past Naira Life stories here.