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.
The guy in this story has literally been trained all his life for one purpose; to fight and defend the sovereignty of his country. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about money or worry about it sometimes.
When did you first earn a salary?
My first salary was ₦2500 per month.
Oh, it was 2000 when I entered JSS 1. I was 11 years old. Every boy soldier received a salary – there was the extra ₦5,500 transport allowance. It increased as we climbed classes, but somehow I can’t remember how much it was increasing by.
What school was this?
N.M.S. – Nigerian Military School.
I think NMS ingrains this spirit of independence in you, because the moment I entered NMS, I never really depended on my parents for money again. Also, it’s like they started grooming us for manhood at such a young age.
At that time, even though I was still tiny, people said I behaved like a 20-year-old.
Right after NMS, I gained admission to a regular University. But that’s not where I wanted to be.
Where did you want to be?
The NDA – Nigerian Defence Academy. I got admitted in 2009 eventually. I remember my first salary – they gathered our money for a few months and paid us ₦120k. When you resume at the NDA in October, you don’t get paid till December.
What happened next?
Moving forward, they paid us ₦28k, then they did a compulsory savings of ₦14k per month for us. When you’re passing out, they give you all the money they saved for you. While passing out, past administrations used to give fresh officers a Peugeot 206. But they were no longer giving that when I graduated.
Anyway, by the time I was graduating, I was given close to a million naira.
Mad. Freshly minted Soldier. One million bucks in the bank. What did you do with it?
Omo, I no know o. I have no idea exactly what I used that money for. I was just buying and buying and buying. I later regretted it sha. I felt I could have used that money productively.
Maybe invest in property? Even if it’s to buy land in one village or something. Then maybe it would have grown in value. I was just buying wristwatches, perfumes and rubbish-rubbish things. But if it happened now, ah man done sharp.
If you no get sense for Nigeria, you no fit get sense for this life.
When did you graduate from the NDA?
2014. I remember looking at my decorated shoulder like, oh boy na me be this? Best day of my life. There’s this sense of joy I feel by just being an officer and the prestige that comes with it. There’s some access you get that even people with money don’t get.
They gave us a two-week break, and the next thing, we were at the frontlines. I was 25.
Yes. In the Northeast, fighting Boko Haram. I’ve spent my entire time as a soldier there. I can’t remember the last time I spent a celebration or festive season with my family. In fact, there was one festive season we were out on an operation. The town we went to was one of those towns that was once captured by Boko Haram before we recaptured it. I’ll tell you what we did: We got a goat, killed it, made barbeque, then danced, and sang. We had a really good time.
To be honest, I think not being dependent has made being away for long periods easy – it’s a mindset.
That’s interesting – the independent part. Especially since the military forces you to conform to a routine.
One thing about the military is that you have to love it. You need to train yourself to love it, irrespective of the outcomes. There will be good days, and there’ll be bitter days.
Talking about bitter, I’m curious, what’s your most bitter experience?
Ah, there’s this superior I respect a lot. We eat together and gist together. He’s also one of the soldiers who trained me – we were really close.
One time, we went on an operation. I can’t give you the full details, but there was Boko Haram, and there was heavy gunfire.
This senior officer got hit 5 times. Like, 5 actual bullets to the torso and thigh. I was watching him bleed out, and was willing to donate, but our blood groups didn’t match. In the end, he got airlifted and made a recovery. Those moments, knowing he could have been dead any moment, were really heavy for me.
Another officer I knew; they went out, and their truck got blown away by an IED. Just like that.
Personally, there’s something about constantly hearing or expecting someone to say “them dey come, them dey come” – Boko Haram that is. It stresses your mind.
In a scenario where he’d died – grateful he didn’t – what would that have meant for his family?
Someone would have made a call to his wife to tell her; the person would tell her how he fought well and died.
Then arrangements would begin for all his benefits.
What are the benefits?
When someone dies, there are different allowances they pay:
- Group life insurance
- Death benefits
- Burial expenses, can’t remember the rest.
Also, there are educational benefits – I can’t remember all the details – for his first three children up to tertiary level. The Nigerian Army pays.
In the end, about five different allowances are accrued to your next of kin. Even if a person gets injured in battle and they have to be dismissed on medical grounds, they still get insurance benefits
You know, I think I know these things because I have a good sense of how the army works, including a lot of the administrative work that many people don’t care for.
So when I hear people say the Army doesn’t take care of the families of the deceased, I know it’s mostly lies and ignorance.
I’ve helped a friend’s family process their benefits after he died in battle.
Okay, back to you about money, what was the first salary the Nigerian Army paid you?
₦165k net. Everything else is deducted – tax, pension and health insurance. I also get an operation allowance of ₦45k every month. It’s an allowance for serving in the Northeast.
There are also other allowances – for example, if you go for a language course, that’s an additional ₦20k. I’m going to learn Spanish.
Spanish? Does this have anything to do with Barca?
Hahaha. No, I just like the language. I’m not really a football fan like that.
How could you be a football fan when you’re constantly out fighting or preparing to fight?
Ah, forget o. Some people go dey frontlines, still dey watch match, dey argue who play pass. Some people even have cable dishes hanging out of their tents when they’re camping out for long periods. You’ll see people finding all sorts of ways to hang their dishes, still watching, still buying subscriptions.
You have to make yourself happy somehow. It’s yours to defend.
Completely random, but what’s your body count?
Seriously, I dunno. I’m in the artillery, and we fire from long distances. So the orders come like, they are in so and so place, drop two there, drop one there, drop three there. My own job is to calculate the ranges and fire and make sure we hit our targets.
There was this time when Boko Haram was advancing towards a town. There was going to be a lot of fighting; we had to evacuate civilians from the place first. In trucks. It had to be quick. We told them to get on the trucks we brought before a particular time. Missing that truck was as good as missing out on life.
Because when the fighting started, artillery first, anyone who was still there after the evacuation: boom, boom, boom. Na one chance.
Wait, I need to take a call. It’s my babe…
…Okay, where did we stop?
Let’s start with her, how does she feel about you being a soldier?
I made her understand that this is my life. This has been the only life I’ve known. And she seems to be fine with it.
Okay, back to money; how has your salary increased every year?
It’s +8k every year, all things being equal.
So you already know what you’ll collect in 10 years time?
Yes. But then this minimum wage conversation might change that. So allowances are where income becomes slightly different.
Let’s talk about your current net?
Currently, my salary is ₦205k, add my operation allowance and that brings it to a total of ₦250k.
Here’s the fun part: How do you spend the money?
The first thing is, the more time you spend on the frontlines, the less money you spend. So now, the expenses tend to be the recurring things: Subscriptions, phone calls, family, and just baby boy stuff. For my savings, my babe was telling me about one of these savings apps, but for now, I use a separate account.
So money doesn’t come in from anywhere else?
Oh, I farm. Let me tell you how it started. A few years ago, I was like, what else can I do besides this my usual salary? So I started a fish pond at my base. But the problem was that, even though I made a profit on my investment, I couldn’t give it the time it needed. My time is not my own.
So I switched to crops and went to get land. I invested 200k in the whole thing: labour, seedlings, fertiliser – minus land, the Local Government gives you land if you want to farm.
I got 3 acres, and in less than 6 months, I harvested 90 bags of corn. Sold it at 8k per bag. Calculate it.
I didn’t even maximise the farm to the max, again because of time.
To be honest, my own was even small. Someone I know – a superior – harvested 150 bags of rice and 200 bags of corn a few years ago. I know a hunter who was sleeping in his farm during planting season. When he came back, he’d harvested 800 bags of beans (35k). Over 4000 bags of corn.
Eventually, I’m going to just buy more land and pay more attention to it. The Bank of Agric has made these things way easier than they were a few years ago.
There’s just so much money that can be made from Agriculture. Take for example, I bought three really big rams before Sallah season – one died – but how much did I buy them each? 10k. I’m going to put them on a trailer to Lagos. Do you know how much each of them will sell for during Sallah? Up to 60k. Remember that I’m not spending a dime on food. They’re just roaming around, eating grass.
Farming looks difficult to start, but when you get a hang of it and put things in place to minimise risk, you go blow.
What’s the last thing you bought that required serious planning?
I did Ajo for 10 months with a few people and bought a car for ₦1.5 million. I generally don’t have big expenses, well until I started planning for marriage.
Ah, Bae and Baello, how’s that going?
It’s really expensive. It’s a constant struggle because one family member makes a decision, and that decision will cost you extra money.
For example, the hall we might be using will cost ₦450k. The photographer is going to cost ₦250k. I’m trying to budget and the money just keeps increasing and increasing, meeting after meeting.
For example, when we did Introduction, her family wanted to do big things like getting an outdoor space, and calling crowd. But we resisted and all that. Do you know how much it cost? ₦500k.
₦500k for ‘Hello?’
Oh boy, it’s not easy. The lifesaver is that my babe is taking care of most of her own expenses, like bag, shoes, makeup and all that. And I’m just grateful because she’s paying for all of these from her own hustle. She told me she wanted to start selling stuff, so I gave her some money to start.
Interesting. How much did you give her to start?
₦50k. And now, na she dey reign. Whenever I need money now, she’s the one that bails me out. It’s funny how it all started. She was in school when she said she dreamt that she was selling stuff. I told her to do her research, and when she was sure she wanted to do it, I was like, I have this ₦50k I’m not using. Oya take. And that’s how it all started.
You know, I’d love to talk to your wife sometime.
Whenever you’re ready. One of the reasons I like her is that for every money she spends, she’s constantly thinking of how she can earn it back. Whenever I’m getting reckless financially, she just says Oga, you done dey do pass yourself.
It doesn’t mean she doesn’t like enjoyment, her discipline is just on point.
If you had to rate your financial happiness now, over 10.
Oh boy, 8 over 10. I can buy anything I want to buy at any time. I pay all my bills. I can afford all my needs. To be honest, the only thing that I really want that I can’t afford is a house.
When do you think you’ll retire?
I’m doing this day by day, I don’t think about it too much. That’s all.
Nobody wants worst-case scenarios, but what happens to your family if disaster strikes on the frontlines?
I think it just feels good to know that my family will be fine.
I hope you don’t have any more questions. I have to leave now. It’s a long night ahead.
That’s all. Thank you man, for everything.
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