The Firstborn Who’s Playing Breadwinner On A ₦104k/month Salary

February 25, 2019

You’d think a struggle as common as finances would be easy to understand. It’s not. 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 lives for one purpose; making sure all is well at home. 

Age: 29

Occupation: Designer

Net Income: ₦104,000/month

When did the hustle start?

My first teaching salary came during the 8 months ASUU strike in my final year. I spent the first four months waiting for ASUU to “call off the strike next week”. Then by the end of the fourth month, I just went looking for a job, and I found a teaching job.

I got paid ₦10k per month to teach Maths, Further Maths, and Physics.  

When did you start to learn to design proper?

There was this moment of realisation that came in 400-level second semester. I had one more year in Uni and I knew I wasn’t going to graduate with a 2-1. So I started looking for how to complement my drawing skills.

Interestingly, 2 years earlier, one of these organisations came to school saying they were going to teach us graphic design and all of that. Some of us were going to take a test, and those who passed would get a 50% scholarship.

I passed, but that scholarship still meant I was going to pay 36k, but I couldn’t even afford that. So I fashied it.

Back to 400-level again, I met this guy who already knew how to design. And one day he goes, “you sketch really well, you know you can colour that in Photoshop, right?”

He taught me, free of charge.


To be honest, I had already lost hope of becoming a graphic designer at some point. I mean, the oldest prayer I can remember from when I was in SS3 was how I want to make a living with my pencils. So I wanted to study Computer Science, you know, to see how it can aid my art. The school gave me Physics to study instead.

So, this person teaching me made all the difference.

Okay, back to making a living.

Let’s not forget that I spent 7 years in school for a 5-year course because of ASUU. Okay, so the next time I earned after that teaching job was during NYSC. I dunno the 19,800 NYSC was paying other people, but I was collecting 19,600 sha. Bank charges and all that. There was one month that 19,500 entered sef.

I served at a Parish House in a village, and the Reverend paid in cash and kind. Cash at ₦5,000 a month. Kind in loads of free food and chicken.

30 days after NYSC in 2015, I got my first job as a designer. It was a perfect 26th birthday. Got a message on that Sunday–my birthday–telling me to resume on Monday. My first post-NYSC salary was 70k. I was on probation, so no tax, pension and all of that. But by the time I collected my 7th salary, the money go cut down.

Ah, the taxes.

Yep, all of that came in and I started to earn ₦63,800. Currently, my take-home is at ₦104k.

Let’s break that money down.

First of all, as the first born child of a not-financially-gallant family, I get to actually spend less than 50% on myself.

What’s the current household income back home?

40k monthly. 30k from my dad’s pension. 10k from my mum’s teaching job–she teaches at a primary school. Then my two sisters are currently serving. I guess we can count their own 19,800 at least.

When did you start paying the ‘Black Tax’?

See, immediately my first salary entered, most of it went straight to my family, and it wasn’t because of all that first salary ritual. My brother had just gained admission into University, and I had to collabo with my dad to pay his fees.

Since then, it has been making sure no one stays sick for long or goes hungry.

What’s the hardest part?

It’s knowing that there’s always something waiting for the salary to come. It’s an endless loop, but that’s not all. Also hoping that nothing happens back at home that will now touch the sacred ₦45k that feeds me and transports me to and from work. On the tough months, I don’t even get to save up to ₦15k.

What are some things that can go wrong?

One time, I fell sick and it cost me ₦15k to get back on my feet. Another time, my dad called that his brother had been arrested. Apparently, my uncle ran into someone he was owing. In the bid to “get him to pay back”, a fight started and he hit his creditor. That cost me 30k, One day, my dad’s vehicle was impounded. The fine was ₦80k, I raised ₦50k.

Have you ever reached a breaking point?

There was a time I had ₦60k in my account. My brother called me like “ASUU has called off the strike o.” They’ve increased our school fees to ₦120k. Do you know how much he used to pay before the strike? ₦40k. It knocked me out. Took me three days to get my senses back. But I survived it sha. Borrowed here and there for the fees, and to survive that month.

Do you ever enter “I can’t kill myself” mode?

Ah yes, when I don’t find any solutions. But it never really fixes anything. It mostly turns into a fight between my dad and me.

Another thing is, my dad has a drinking problem. I sent money home once, and my mum called me to say they’d run out of money for food. I went mad, because I know he spent part of that money drinking. It ended up in my dad and I shouting at each other, and my mum watching, helpless.

You and your dad seem to have an interesting relationship.

I used to hate him a lot, argh. He retired from the Army as a Corporal. I was a stubborn kid, and his methods felt too rigid. I thought he was a demon. Like, you put your leg in the wrong place, and you get a slap. There were no second chances with him. My mum, on the other hand, was kind and never hit us. That dynamic used to confuse me a lot.

It’s weird, but I kind of appreciate my father now. Growing up in the barracks, I’m not sure I want to live like most of the people I grew up with. Something he said once that I can’t ever forget; “I can’t let my children grow up in the barracks. Barracks children don’t prosper.” So it’s like he thought the only way he could make sure of this was to beat the barracks out of our psyche.


As soon as he came back from his peace-keeping mission Sierra Leone, 2002, he retired. He was 42 at the time. This was also about three months after that Ikeja Bomb Blast. So we moved out of the Barracks and he started working as a driver for a flour distribution company. His military pension was also coming in at the time, ₦27k. That money increased to ₦30k in 2013, and he’s been collecting 30 since then.

What did your parents think about you wanting to become a designer?

Once, my teacher beat me for tearing my books and using it to draw comics. My mum came to school the next day to fight the teacher. “For your life, no beat am again! Na you buy the book for am?” Special woman; born of a soldier, married to a soldier.

It’s interesting, but they’ve always supported my talent and dream. At every stage.

Let’s talk about now. How much do you feel like you should be earning?

See, I shouldn’t be earning less than ₦200k. My workload is crazy. I know people earning twice my current income, who don’t have half my skillset. I tried speaking to my boss about a raise once, but he said I have to wait till it’s ‘increment season’ because the company has a salary structure.

Okay, what will be great money for you right now?

₦300k. I’ve thought deeply about this and analysed it. With 300, I’ll marry, put my children through school and build a house in 10 years. It’s not like I have a shayo budget that will drain my money or anything. I really don’t live beyond work and going back home.


I’ll pull this off easy in Ibadan, which is where I know I’m going back to full time when this Lagos hustle is over.

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

An apartment. A better apartment. ₦400-450k will get me the apartment I need now, but I can’t afford it. I’d have said a car too, but even if I had a car and all I had to do was maintain it, I still won’t be able to afford it, not to talk of buying one.

What type of apartment do you currently have?

It’s a single room in the boys quarters of a compound of many single rooms–with about six families. It’s a pretty small room and my rent is about ₦36k a year. When I first came to Lagos and was going to get a place, I told myself that I needed one that won’t be difficult to pay from my ₦70k salary. So I got a room. It was a win for me.


I have a bed, shoe rack, cloth hanger, shelf, table, and a cabinet. Then I share a bathroom with the compound. I don’t cook, so I don’t even need a kitchen.


Let’s talk about saving.

My saving is my emergency fund. I save for eventualities of all kinds, but to be honest, my brother’s school bills is what literally takes my savings. That’s why I lost my mind when the issue of my brother’s school fees came. It’s the major thing I constantly have to plan for the long term.

It’s also why I can’t invest, even though I’d love to. If I had earned more, I’d definitely be investing. It’s the only way to immortalise money.

Tell me something that’s currently on your mind?

“When will you marry?” It has started ringing in my head. I have a plan too and in fact, I’m already famzing my girlfriend’s mum.

You know – my ex-girlfriend – she’s married with a kid now, and it didn’t end because we didn’t like each other. But I couldn’t keep up – we were the same age. Our struggles were also at the same stage. Within one year after NYSC, she married. My current girlfriend is at a less advanced stage – she’s still in school. So I’m looking to marry within the next two years, she’ll be done by then. The babe makes me happy.

Awwn. Let’s talk about happiness, generally now.

To be honest, I think it’s a blessing to get to a point where I can actually come through for my family. My mum’s prayer is always “God bless the person that led you to the person who hired you.” When the twins got admission, there was no one to pay for their admission. That was when I got the teaching job to hustle. My brother won’t have even gone to Uni at all. It’s quite fulfilling, and I believe things will fall into place.

Most of all, I have an interesting job and amazing colleagues.  

But my salary? That one is just annoying.

Click here to go straight MyCashEstate.


Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people. If you’d love to share your Naira Life with us, tell us here. You’ll be anon of course 🙂

Fu'ad Lawal

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