The #NairaLife Of A Baby Pilot Managing A Million A Month

August 24, 2020

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.


This weeks’ #Nairalife was made possible by FCMB’s promise of quality medical care from the comfort of your home.

Let’s start from when you were tiny. 

I used to help my mum at her store where she sold perfumes. Then she opened another store for kid’s clothing in the city we lived in. 

What city? 

Delta. My mum used to buy clothes from Dubai, so I’d travel with her, and pick out the kids’ clothes. I think it was at the end of primary school. Then I started scamming my parents in secondary school. 

Ah. How? 

Markups. Whenever we have all those school events, I’d just add money on top. So let’s say I’m supposed to pay ₦10k for something, I’d ask for ₦30k. 

Ehn? Where did you learn that?

My daddy is a spendthrift. He used to say “all my money is in my pocket”, I mean it makes no sense but… hahaha. 

I wonder who else is like that. 

Me, hahaha. I’ve actually had to learn to be different from him because it’s really bad. My daddy can have ₦200k in his pocket, let him reach the gate and come back, pew. My mummy says that I and my dad just carry money and burn it. 

What about uni though, did that change?

Ah, I went to a private uni and they gave me my school fees – about ₦400k. I blew everything and gave my father stories. Like, I can’t even remember the story, but my dad was so upset. I was a very somehow person. This was around 2009. See, I can’t even have a child like me. 

So you learned this from your dad too? 

Where my dad used to work, there were allowances for his children’s school fees. My dad would take all our school fees, markup the amount. He’d put the school fees higher than the maximum amount allocated, so they’d just have to pay him everything. That’s how I learned how to do it.

You’re your father’s daughter. 

Yes, and that’s how I remember money growing up, it was just there in abundance, not something you hoarded. 

Did it ever reach a point where it flipped? 

Yes! It was so bad! I hated that new life. I felt sorry for my younger sibling’s because it hit them while they were still in secondary school. Me and my immediate younger sister – we’re the first two – we’d sailed through and gone to the best secondary schools and universities. 

For me, it hit when I was trying to get my life together. This was around 2012. I’d just dropped out of uni where I was studying computer science. 

How did you find out things had gone south? 

First, my dad was angry with me after I dropped out, so I wasn’t his favourite child anymore. He said I was spoilt and didn’t appreciate the things they did for me. Everything else was going downhill at the time. 

We had up to four or five cars. I’d just come home one day like to find out one had been sold. Then we’d ask for certain things and they’d say, “we can’t do that now.”

I imagine this scarcity triggered a new mindset.

Yes. Before, I always thought that there’d always be money. And it’s not like we were rich-rich o, but my dad made sure we didn’t lack anything at all. We always flew, never went by road. We went to the best schools. 

I know I’m my father’s daughter, but it was this period that made me realise I didn’t want to be like my father. I think I was mad at him because I felt like he could have saved. Or invested. Or something. And all of this was what triggered my enterprising side. 

How did that happen? 

First of all, I changed my mind and decided I wanted to go to do something else. Flight school. But my dad was like, you want to go and waste my money again? So I had to get a job. My cousin’s boyfriend was like “oh she’s really smart” and then he recommended me for a job. They didn’t even ask me for my CV, I just resumed. 

A flex.

It was a real estate company; I was cute, young and could speak plenty of English. They paid ₦50k. This was around 2013. Funny thing is, my dad used to drop me off at work every day. I was there for about four or five months. I got bored. 

So what did you do when you left? 

I started my own company, a cleaning service. It still feels like one of my biggest achievements. I learned that the companies where I was were more into commercial cleaning, so I turned to domestic cleaning. You’d register and a cleaner would come and clean. I was so involved with it. In fact, I actually learned how to clean like a pro, so I was the first cleaner. My biggest staff strength was about 8 or 9 at the time. 

The real money maker was cleaning government offices. When I made my first million, I almost ran mad. 

Mad o!

Funny thing is, when I started, my dad used to troll me. But when he saw that I was serious, my dad was the one hooking me up with clients. “Oh my daughter does this” everywhere. He even gave me his car to use for business runs. 

But the business no longer exists today? 

Yeah, I eventually got money for flight school. 

From the business? 

It was a mix. I got money from family and friends – I don’t deserve any of them. It was a lot of money. One of my dad’s friends gave me ₦1 million – my dad spent that money. This was 2014. 

Inside life.

My dad actually gave me the documents to some land he owned. He asked me to sell it, then take back my money. The land was like ₦4.5 million. 

So when I sold the land, I told the person to pay the money directly into my school’s account. Then he paid some in cash to me. 

You…used your father’s money?

My father threatened fire and brimstone, but I was already out of the country. The good thing about him is that he doesn’t stay angry for too long.

Do you deserve your father or does your father deserve you? 

We deserve each other. I’ll use dollars to explain my school fees. Is that okay? 

Sure.

Everything was supposed to cost about $100k. I left in 2014, just when the naira’s value was beginning to suffer.

I didn’t have the complete cash, so I just paid for what was possible. What I could pay was about 50% of my fees, which was about ₦4-5 million. And by the time I could pay the balance, what was supposed to be 50% was now back at 100% because the naira had crashed. 

I left Nigeria with about ₦4-5 million in just tuition money. This didn’t include accommodation, tickets, feeding. And when I got there, I got stranded. 

Oh wow. How did you un-strand? 

My mum sold her land and sent me money – and that land was precious to her. Then I started writing to my state government. While the bureaucracy was happening, people in government would ask me what my next stage of training would be due for payment, I’d tell them and they’d send me money. We toiled. In fact, there was a year where I had to come home because there was no money to continue. 

So, I’m like a community project. I put in work, but so did my family, my friends and my state government. Finally, in 2018, I got my licence. 

You did it!

I used to dream of wanting it so bad. When you dream of wanting something so bad that you become scared you might never get it, it starts to feel like a nightmare. When I got my licence, I was relieved, but it was quickly followed by a “now what?”

Getting a commercial pilot licence is just the start. You have to get something we call a type rating. It’s a certification to fly only a certain type of plane.

So, like a driver’s licence but for planes. 

Yes! I have only one, but it’s for a small plane. That cost me $30,000. I paid for that in 2018. I got $20k from my state government and $10k from my friends. 

Who are your friends? 

Like! They’ve really come through for me over the years! Someone sent me $2k while I was in flight school and had run out of money! I have a very loyal community. I tend to get a lot of help from people. 

Anyway, I got certified in 2019. Luckily, someone had just bought a plane of the same type I had the type rating for. A private jet. Someone took me to a person, who then took me to a person, who took me to the owner of the plane. I didn’t even start immediately, because there wasn’t an opening. And that was the beginning of my journey into Corporate Aviation.

Well done! What next happened? 

There’s another important aspect of my financial life that I didn’t mention. Someone I was dating. He used to be like, “you can’t keep using that spendthrift excuse. Learn to manage money, it’s a muscle.” So he started teaching me how to save. He calls it the 30/30/30/10 formula.

Also, I get a lot of tips at work, and that’s where flexing money really comes from. 

What’s the highest tip you’ve received? 

$5,000. Anyway as I –

You can’t just say someone tipped you $5,000 and then keep going as if nothing happened.

Buhahaha. We danced and celebrated, and he became our favourite flyer. Oya, back to my ex. 

Back to your ex. 

I didn’t want to save my tips, but because of my ex, now I actually save 70% of it and spend 30%. 

I wanted to start spending money on assets and investments, but he taught me that you have to have at least a year’s worth of living expenses saved. Then you need to build a buffer, which is my actual emergency fund.

So, he was the defining period of my financial life. I have budgets now. Even after we broke up, I still continued learning more. So now, I’m focused on cutting down on my expenses and creating multiple streams of income. Right now, my only stream of income is my salary. 

Talking about salary.

My first salary as a pilot was ₦500k in my observation stage. Then when I started flying, it got upped a little. 

How much was the upping? 

A million naira. 

What an upping.

That’s even low. The problem is that people aren’t talking about their salaries, so you don’t know who’s earning a lot and who isn’t. I know someone in another company with my level of experience who’s earning ₦1.7 million per month. By the time my million came, I’d already flown enough hours to sit on the right seat. But I’m just going to focus on learning more.

How many hours do you think you have in total? 

I got out of school with a little over 200 hours. Now it’s about 500. Progress!

What does 500 flight hours mean? 

It means you’re a baby. I’ve met pilots in Nigeria with 8,000 flight hours. 

What’s a misconception people have about pilots and money?

That pilots are rich. There’s comfort and there’s being rich. Pilots are comfortable, but seven out of ten times, the lifestyle makes them live above their means. 

What happens if you quit your job now? 

I’m fine. I’ll start worrying after about six months. But I’ve also taken on more responsibility, that means I increased my benevolence budget to 15% and cut down on my disposable income by 5%. 

For example, I have a daughter now. 

Adopted. I just really love her. And it was just one night I met her o. I added that 5% because of her and I send it for her welfare.

What’s something you want right now but can’t afford? 

A new passport that’d make it easy for me to quit this current job and see more of the world. My passport budget is about $150k. I just need a passport that makes it possible for me to live wherever I like. 

Do you have any health insurance? 

My emergency fund is my health insurance. It’s currently at $20k sitting in a dom account, but it’s not just for me. It’s for my family too. I also have another $7k I want to use to invest, but I don’t trust high-risk investments. I feel like you need to get money to a certain point before you start thinking too much about investments. Right now, I’m just thinking of how to grow my capital base. Should I sell something online? Should I Airbnb my house? 

I find it interesting, the role your relationship played in all of this.

To be honest, every relationship I’ve been in always has some of that. I tend to gravitate towards people who are smarter than me, more creative than me, well-to-do. I probably don’t even see it inside the relationship, but when I leave, I’m like oh wow. 

What does financial freedom look like to you? 

First of all, my siblings will be sorted. They have their own steady and dependable stream of income. I don’t want to be the only tree in the compound. Once they’re comfortable, my parents will be mostly fine because their needs have become fewer. All my mum ever says is “just take care of your siblings.”

Then be able to afford to live a traveller’s life, comfortably. At this point, I’ll be working because I enjoy it, not because I need it to survive. I won’t be using the money for much else. No kids – they’re too expensive. I already got an IUD that I intend to keep in for 10 years. 

Interesting.

I always play down how much I earn, it saves you stress. This is the first time I’m sharing it with anyone that isn’t my sister. In fact, the only reason my sister knows my details is that if for any reason I die, I want them to be fine. So she knows where all my money is, she’s also my voice of reason. 

On a scale of 1-10, rate your financial happiness. 

8. There was a time before that it got so bad that I didn’t think I’d get a job. Neither did I think I’d be comfortable. I feel like it’ll get to a 10 when I can go and see the world. I just need a passport that will save me from visa stress in one of those island countries. The taxes are lower, the citizenship is cheaper. 

Her whiteboard.

I’m happy with my life right now, and it’s not just about money, it’s my peace of mind.

I feel…grown. 


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