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 32-year-old was able to afford rent for the first time after working for 18 years. He was going to build on that momentum, but a series of unlucky events resulted in a job loss that set him back. Now, he’s at level zero. But you see hope? He’s got plenty of it
What’s your earliest memory of money?
1999. I was 9 and on the bus to school, I’d given the driver ₦10 so he’d give me ₦5 change, but he told me to relax because he didn’t have. Because I was seated with him at the front, I watched us go past multiple police checkpoints where he gave them ₦5 each and at some point, I got angry. He told me he didn’t have ₦5. Why was he giving them my change?
When I challenged him, he said, “God will not allow you to collect this kind of money.” He then explained to me that he had cursed all the money he was giving policemen. If a policeman collected money from him, his children would experience a terrible life.
I froze. My father was a policeman.
Throughout school and when I got home that day, I was inconsolable. I knew my dad was collecting all of those monies on the roadside, and I automatically assumed that meant I was going to have a terrible life. When my parents noticed I was crying nonstop, they tried to find out what was going on, and although I kept the information for a bit, some persuasion and beating brought it out of me.
How did they react?
My dad brushed off the topic and said I was overreacting, but my mum became almost as scared as me. From that day on, every chance she got, she brought up the matter with my dad.
Shortly after, it was New Year’s day and my family had the tradition of talking about our achievements in the past year and plans for the new year. When it was my dad’s turn to speak, he stood in the centre of our living room and announced that he would no longer collect roadside bribes. What this meant was that our family’s finances were going to take a terrible nosedive. My mum barely made any money selling planks at the market, and the regular policeman’s salary is terrible. For context, his salary when he retired in 2018 after 35 years of service was 110k. If they combined the money to take care of four children, it would be almost nothing. He told us that it didn’t matter what we needed any money for, we had to wait till the end of the month to ask. If he couldn’t afford it, we would wait till the end of the next month. You could feel the joy in the household, but omo, the financial nosedive was real and fast.
Tell me about it.
Our finances got so bad, I had to start hawking when I got home from school. I was only 10. I’d hawk soap, minerals, kerosene and anything we could buy cheap and move fast. On some days, I stole ₦50 out of the ₦800 profit we were meant to make just so I could buy sweets. Other than that, I wasn’t getting any other money.
I hawked till we moved to our own house in Ibadan. The house was incomplete, so my entire family of six stayed in one room, but it was home. The problem, though, was that it was in the middle of nowhere. There was only bush everywhere, and you had to walk 30 minutes before you saw the next house.
Luckily, shortly after we moved, the area opened up and constructions started happening left, right and centre. Because I was older, I decided to join the workers on the construction site, and that’s how I started working.
What did you do?
I did everything they needed me to do — carried cement, mixed sand, ran errands, fetched water, mixed cement, everything. I got paid ₦500 every day I worked. On rare occasions, I went to flour depots and helped load bags of flour into trucks and off the trucks when we got to the bakeries they were delivered to. That one paid ₦800 per day. I worked mostly on weekends, but sometimes I skipped school to work. I was making money just so I didn’t have to ask my parents for money.
How long did this go for?
I stopped in 2008 when I left home. I finished secondary school in 2006 but didn’t get admission into university immediately. By the time I’d stayed at home for two years, I started to feel like my life wasn’t moving forward, and staying at home made me sad, so I went to stay with a friend who was in university in Abeokuta. I wasn’t making any money, I was just living with him in his school apartment. Sometimes, I went to class with him, other times, I stayed back and slept.
In 2009, I got admitted into university to study philosophy, but because the only thing I’d heard about philosophers was that they didn’t believe in God, I rejected the admission. I was still aiming to study law no matter what. I left my friend’s school and went to stay with another friend. I did this also in 2010 with another friend, and by 2011, I got another admission to study linguistics.
What were your family’s finances like in this period?
They were a bit better. Between 1999 and 2011, my mum went to school, acquired a secondary school leaving certificate and became a teacher, so she was earning a bit more.
I got admitted to a federal university, so my school fees were about ₦4,000 per year, and hostel fees were about ₦5,000. My parents handled the finances in this period. By the time I was done with university, I realised I needed to start making money fast because I was responsible for taking care of myself.
So what did you do?
In the year before NYSC called me, I moved to Lagos to stay with a relative and started a second-hand clothing business. My friends from home would tell me to buy clothes for them because they trusted my fashion taste, so I’d go to Aswani market, buy quality second-hand clothes and send it to them. I was making peanuts, but it was something. The business grew bigger through referrals and for a short period, I even sold online.
What happened next?
NYSC came in 2016 and deployed me to Abuja. Luckily, I’d made some acquaintances in the clothing business that connected me to some Chinese cloth sellers online, so I moved from selling second-hand clothes to new ones. Here’s how my business model worked: I got pictures of what the Chinese people had in their stock, posted the pictures online, and when someone ordered, I told them it would take five to seven days to be delivered. If they agreed, I took their money, sent it to the Chinese guys, they shipped it from China in 4-5 days and someone from the airport helped me dispatch it to its destination. I never saw the goods or stocked them.
I moved from selling just clothes to selling clothes and shoes. I was making about ₦70k a month from the business in addition to NYSC’s ₦19,500 and the ₦50k I got at my PPA for a sales and marketing role. Because I couldn’t afford rent anywhere in Abuja, I stayed in RCCG’s corper’s lodge for the entire year.
Were you saving all of your money?
No. I’m the firstborn, so immediately I started making money, I became the one in charge of taking care of my siblings. Two months before I finished NYSC, I got fired from my job because my boss wanted better results. I wanted to stay in Abuja, but I still couldn’t afford rent, so after NYSC, I moved back to Ibadan and continued the online sales business until 2018.
Why did you stop?
By 2017, everyone was selling shoes and clothes, so the space was saturated and my average monthly income had dropped to about ₦60k. As if that wasn’t enough to discourage me, I hit a big loss in 2018.
I bought ₦350k worth of goods, and the guy who helped me transport and dispatch them got robbed while moving them from the airport. He gave the goods to a cart pusher and the cart pusher disappeared into the crowd.
Thankfully, some of the people that bought the goods were regular customers, so they let the money go when I explained. That totalled about ₦150k. Because I didn’t have so much savings, I had to run around for the extra ₦200k to pay the other people back. When I was done settling the debts, I concluded business wasn’t for me anymore, so I stopped and started looking for jobs.
What kind of job did you find?
I found a facility manager role that paid ₦50k in 2018. It was in Lagos, and I didn’t have anywhere to stay, so I slept in one of the facilities I was managing. It was just a tiny space. In January 2019, I got employed as facility manager by another company that paid ₦90k.
A few months into the job, I supervised a POP installation that came crashing down two days later. My boss told me I didn’t do a good job supervising and pinned the cost on me. ₦600k. I had ₦300k in savings and he added ₦300k for the refund but took it out of my salary. For most of 2019, I earned ₦50k monthly.
To make ends meet, I started telling people I did interior decoration. As a facility manager, I was already in the line of work that involved renovating properties, so I figured it would be easy for me to do those kinds of jobs. By the end of 2019, I got my first gig to renovate some parts of a three-bedroom apartment. They paid upfront, and my profit was meant to be about ₦200k. On the last day, when one of the boys I hired was installing the TV, it fell and broke. The TV was ₦450k. I begged and begged for mercy, and when I told them my profit was only ₦200k, they asked that I transfer it to them. I didn’t make any money from the gig.
That sounds tough. Please tell me 2020 was better.
I was supposed to start earning my ₦90k back at the start of 2020, but by March, lockdown happened, and they cut my salary by half. Throughout 2020, my salary was ₦45k.
In 2021 though, it returned to ₦90k, and that January, I got my second interior decoration gig through a friend of a friend.
Tell me about it.
It was the interior decoration of a duplex on Lagos Island. It was much bigger than the first one. I made ₦1.6m in profit. It felt really good. For the first time in my life, I rented an apartment in May 2021. Rent was ₦350k but agent fees pushed it up to ₦600k. I spent another ₦600k to buy essentials like a bed, a chair, a table, to make the space habitable. From the rest of the money, I bought a laptop to learn programming because I decided that I wanted to go into tech. Making money also put me in a better headspace to look for a new job.
Did you find one?
I found two. They were both facility manager roles. The first one was going to pay ₦150k, but I heard that they owed salaries for months, so I rejected their offer. When I got the second one in August which was also going to pay ₦150k, I rejected it because I had started learning programming and needed all the time I could get to focus. At my current job, I already understood how things worked and how I could avoid work if I wanted to. If I took a new job, I would need to show up every day and be at my best for at least six months before I could start slacking, and I didn’t have that time. Rejecting the offer was the sacrifice I made to become really good at programming.
How’s that going?
On October 20, 2021, I was on my way to work when a group of people cornered me and robbed me. I struggled for my laptop with them, so they stabbed me in the face, took it and left. Because of this, I couldn’t work for the rest of the year, and I had to do a surgery in December.
My boss paid me for November, but after that, he terminated my contract. The surgery cost about ₦300k. I had ₦200k out of it myself and borrowed the other ₦100k.
What are your finances like now?
Haha, I’m at zero. I currently survive solely on the goodwill of others, and whatever money I get, I spend on food and data. My brother sent his laptop to continue my programming training, so I just stay at home and do that. I still look for both facility manager and interior decor jobs too, and if one comes, I’ll take it. When my rent expires, that’s when God will have to step in.
How have your recent experiences shaped the way you think about money?
Going forward, my goal is to earn enough money to save through emergencies. I’m happy that my family is surviving by themselves now that I can’t assist them financially. My parents can take care of themselves, and that makes me happy.
What’s something you want, but can’t afford right now?
Japa money. I’m tired of living in this country.
I hear you. Can you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?
I’d say it’s at a 4, and that’s because of the ₦1.6m I made last year. Every time I remember I made that much money, it makes me happy and hopeful. If not for that, it would probably be a 1.
Update: Upon requests from readers, we’ve created a payment link for people to donate to the subject of this story. Please find it here.
If you’re interested in talking about your Naira Life story, this is a good place to start.
Find all the past Naira Life stories here.