The Exhausting #NairaLife Of An Outlier Struggling At ₦100k/month

September 14, 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.

What’s your oldest memory of money?

It’s stealing a ₦5 note from my mum and after she beat me, she asked my cousin to bring a knife. My cousin and I were a bit in love with each other, so he brought a blunt knife, and she cut me with it. 

Uhm, what?!

“You’ll show this to everyone and tell them you stole.” I still have the scars. 

How old were you? 

I don’t remember o. I have a lot of trauma. This one is the least of it. 

Ah.

Another one is my mum losing ₦10 and locking me, my elder sister and my elder brother up in a bedroom. I’m the third of four children.

She kept us there without food and left for the market. I typically do not eat a day old food. That day, we were so hungry we ate stale, cold eba, mixed with oil. When she came back at night, my brother had to lie that he was the one that stole the money, so she’d free us. Also, do you want to hear about that one time I got scammed? 

I’m listening.

I’ve been going to the Seme Border since I was 15 – no – 13. I used to go with my mum, but as soon as she saw that I could talk to drivers and customs officers without fear, I started going alone. By the time I hit 15, it was time to write WAEC, but there was no money. My dad died when I was much younger, and my mum fell sick around the time. 

So my mum gave me ₦15k to go and buy pineapples from Seme Border. I was to buy it and then ask one of the older market sellers to help me sell it, so the buyers won’t rob me blind. 

This one guy came to ask me for directions and started speaking French. I wanted to help him, so I asked someone else for directions and the other person said he would take us to the place. The French speaker then begged me to follow him because he didn’t trust the second guy. I didn’t know they were working together, so I followed. 

Hayyyyy.

On the way, French-speaking guy told me about a machine he had that could print money, and that because I’d helped him, he wanted to help me back. I told him no, but he persisted. That’s how I gave this guy the money o. He said he was coming back. He even gave me his number. And then he disappeared.

Au revoir.

I couldn’t go home. I went and spent the night at a friend’s place. The next morning, I poured sand and dirty water on my body and started crying as soon as I got to our gate. I told my mother that some men kidnapped me. 

Woah. 

The next week, I saw the scammer at the market, casually walking, with his hand on a girl’s neck. I wanted to let it go – the shame of having been scammed – but I no gree. I walked up to him; he didn’t even recognise me. I told him he was a scammer, and he immediately pushed the girl and took off. 

I started shouting Ole! Ole! 

Ah!

Next thing, people caught him. He started crying, saying he didn’t know me. When I said what he did, he said he’d just broken up with my sister, and I was trying to punish him. The men that caught him asked for proof, so I dialled his number. 

And it rang. 

Ah, they beat him o. They beat him and took us to a mini shrine. The babe held him till his brother came to bail him out with ₦15k. So they only gave me ₦10k and took the rest for the boys. I used the money to buy things. 

Your mum didn’t ask where you got the money?

She was really really really sick. As in, I carried her on my back to the bus stop, then to the hospital where she got admitted. Also, maybe she assumed I got the money hawking. 

I’m so sorry. Sigh. What was the diagnosis? 

A bunch of stuff. 

Like? 

A bunch of stuff. 

Fair. What about the hospital bills? 

She stayed in the hospital for three months. We had to beg for money o. As in, carry a placard with her picture and do bambiala. There’s this thing that happens where someone comes to pay the hospital bills of random patients. Someone paid my mum’s. We still needed money for food, blood transfusion and yada yada. So the money we got from begging covered that. 

When she was discharged, my uncle whom I’d never seen before came and said he was taking her to the village. Then they shared me to one aunty, and the other sisters to another aunty. The aunty was tormenting me, so I ran away and went back home to stay alone. Started running errands for neighbours. Selling pure water. Did a voiceover for one photographer. Somehow, my sisters found out I was at home, so they came back too. 

Then my mum sent for me, and my aunty’s husband came and bundled me to the village. Apparently, the uncle who took her to the village had abandoned her. He said if she was going to die, it was better he saved money and just paid for her burial. 

Woah. 

Anyway, we managed to buy her meds and pay some bills, but we still needed to raise money to leave the village. So I went to a site –

A real-life ₦2k site. 

I carried sand, fetched water, broke stones, then raised money for transport to return to Lagos. 

Wait, you eventually wrote WAEC and got into school, right?

I wrote WAEC in 2015, bro. I had to wait for three years. My mum’s medical struggle was in the first year. 

What about the remaining two years? 

They just breezed by. I was selling for my mum and was miserable all the time. I wanted to go to school, I even tried to get a job as a teacher to pay for my lessons, but for the four months I worked there, they only paid for one month. 

How much? 

₦5k. I wanted to fight, but then the owner got sick. So I started working as a lesson teacher. I taught three children at ₦2,500 a child. I can’t remember why I stopped teaching, but I think the parents decided that I was too expensive and got someone else to teach at ₦1k per month. 

You said you were selling for your mum too…?

Pineapples, watermelons, oranges. This is basically what my mum sells. So I helped – which I’m very good at. Even though my other siblings were around, my mum always wanted me to help. 

When my classmates from school started uni, they used to come and say, “How are you?” but I could see their pity. There was this girl I didn’t like. She’d see me at the bus stop selling and dusty, and she’d say, “Hey, you’re here?”

I eventually got into uni, but hunger? Hunger wanted to finish me. My mum used to send me ₦2k a month in my first year. In my second to the fourth year, it oscillated between ₦3k to ₦5k. To earn, I used to help people do assignments and do all the class projects. I’d do the research, type, present and quote a sum and get paid. The highest anyone paid was ₦3k. 

And after uni?

The day I finished my exams in 2019, I went home and cried, while everyone was signing on their t-shirts and later partying.

I was panicking about a lot of things. First of all, I didn’t have money for NYSC clearance. I hadn’t had a smartphone for most of the year, so I’d barely used any social media. There was no network, there seemed to be nothing open for me. I looked at the things I wanted and the doors that were open to me, and it was bleak. Also, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about my feelings, someone who could tell me, “It’ll be alright.”

I didn’t even go for my convocation ceremony. My course mates chucked it up as me being weird, as usual. 

Was there a silver lining in this period? 

Well, still in December, I belonged to a book club, where I met someone who needed me to manage their brand page. I was so happy I didn’t even discuss money. I did some research on how we’d pull it off, and they were impressed. 

Lit!

Next, they were making a group trip in December and needed an assistant to come along. It was just to a neighbouring country. My mother said, “Don’t go. Na cocaine una won go carry. You wan go do prostitution.”

What did you do? 

Look, I don’t know any rich person. My sister graduated the year I got into school, and she’s still at home, unemployed. Man, I wanted to escape. So I told her, “Anyone wey them send me, I go do.” I no want this una situation. 

Wild.

It was Detty December season, a lot of events. All my expenses covered, and I got ₦25k. My mum had a lot to say about it, but I no send. It just felt good to have a straight connection to someone outside my stifling environment. 

Sadly, my phone fell inside water – spoiled and gone. The job followed – no phone to manage pages. When they told me ehn, I felt like I was drowning, felt desperation crawl up my throat. I got tired of surviving on barely anything. I didn’t have the time to be good at anything. 

You just couldn’t catch a break. 

Yes. Anyway, I got on Twitter around that time too. I also started freelance writing. I learned B2B writing by force. In my house, it’s basically every man for himself. The money from freelancing was what I was using to live large, eating noodles every day. 

It was on Twitter that I saw another opportunity, working on a production. If I ever become rich, I’m going to spend my money filmmaking. I will study it and do whatever the heck I want. 

Anyway, I liked their tweets for a while and then messaged them, and got an internship. 

Nice!

I got paid ₦6k. Haha. Then the pandemic hit. I just slowly went mad. I was crying everyday. Here’s the thing, people have support systems. Parents who are understanding and have money or social capital, friends, lovers, old school mates, that they’ve known all their lives. Then there’s me, trying to break out by myself. 

I don’t have friends from primary or secondary school or even university. I’ve only dated one person in this life. That person accused me of being emotionless. The other ones were situationships willing to make it more, but they were as broke as I was, and God forbid. 

I – 

Anyway, I was applying for everything I saw online. I applied for a social media management internship, then sent so many follow ups and even article samples, to the point where they were like okay. It was supposed to be ₦30k, with a data allowance. But then I got another call in the middle of 2020. 

He practically just told me after a conversation: I have a job for you, so I dumped everything and flew. 

Interesting. What do you do at your current job?

It’s a research project, and I do all the day to day running around. But I like to think of it as being a junior product manager – I only just found out about it at my current job. I attended a webinar, and I’ve been reading about it. I think I’m more confident about the direction I want to go. 

How much is it paying? 

₦100k. My boss keeps challenging me and sending things my way, and I finally feel like I’m on an upward trajectory.

What do you see when you think about your financial future? 

I wrote that I’d like to be earning ₦800k monthly in two years, but I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I also don’t know if I’m selling myself short or being too ambitious. Right now, I’m just happy to get through the year. 

But how much would be great right now?

₦300k. Half of the house rent, my siblings’ fees and food. My mother hasn’t been doing anything for a while. Ever since the border closure, she’s been rootless. 

Rootless. That’s heavy. 

She’s extremely tired. 

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

I tend not to dream of things I can’t afford, but I’d like a new phone. I love taking random pictures of things, and I haven’t been able to because of my shitty phone camera. 

What’s something you wish you could be better at? 

I wish I’d wake up one day, be effortlessly smart and good at writing code, prose and scripts. I want to enter writing competitions and win. 
If I have time, I can learn anything and be good at it. I believe I can do anything with constant practise. 

I also wish I’d step into a room and people would just feel the insane urge to dash me money. 

How would you rate your happiness levels, on a scale of 1-10?

Oh wow. 4. I’d like to relax and not have to worry about daily bread. I’d also like my own space. 

It’s like everyone I grew up with is tired of fighting or trying to keep up. So it’s either live one day at a time, hope for marriage or just wait. And it’s easy to assume the world hates you. I feel that way all the time. No money, no connections and well, you have to get everything yourself. Phone, laptop, slippers.

It’s exhausting, but I don’t like staying down. 


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