The #NairaLife of a 32-Year-Old Divorcee With Unpursued Dreams

September 5, 2022

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.



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After seven years, two children and a failed marriage, the 32-year-old subject of this week’s Naira Life returned to her parents’ home with just ₦500 to her name. How have things picked back up for her? 

What’s your earliest memory of money?

Growing up in Kaduna, my parents never gave me and my siblings money for school. Whenever children went out to buy ice cream, I couldn’t because my parents just gave us food. I found it weird and assumed they were mean. 

My next memory is when our names were called out during assembly, and we were sent home for defaulting on school fees. I was 7, and we’d moved to Abuja. 

Why? 

Insecurity in the north. When we moved, my dad didn’t have a job so my mum had to carry the family’s financial burden. She’d always had a shop where she sold provisions, but my dad being out of work meant she also hawked bananas and soft drinks. 

Our names got called out during assembly a couple more times, and I tell you, it was too embarrassing. Imagine standing on the assembly line with your crush and someone shouts out your name for not paying school fees on time. 

By the time I turned 9 in 1999, I went to boarding school, and that was the first time I ever got money from my parents. ₦100 at the beginning of the semester, and ₦100 every time they came to visit.

What could ₦100 do in 1999?

I never even wanted to spend it because I’d gotten used to not having money. I had provisions, so I took them instead of spending money at the tuck shop. I mainly spent the money on notebooks and random stuff like repairing my sandals. At the end of the term, I used the money to buy snacks to take back home and give my siblings. During those holidays, I hawked soft drinks for my mum. 

I think what my parent did helped me remain content. Now, I don’t give my kids money to take to school. I just give them food. 

What did you want to be as an adult?

A lawyer. My dad studied English and had a lot of books lying around the house, so I’d read John Grisham’s books, and I thought law was cool. I finished secondary school in 2005. I wrote JAMB in 2006 but got English at the University of Abuja. I didn’t want it. 

The next year, I got in for law at Nasarawa State University, but the indigenes complained not many of them got in to study law, so they revoked admissions for some non-indigenes. Of course, I was among. 

By 2008, I was ready to study anything to get out of the house. I got English again at the University of Abuja, so I just took it. 

What did you do with the years you were home?

Babysitting. I’m the first born. After my immediate younger sister and me, my parents waited before they had more children. One was born in 2001, and the other, in 2004. Also, my parents discouraged skill acquisition. They thought the only path to wealth was to go to school, get a degree and get a job.

Tell me about uni

I didn’t like the course I studied, so I didn’t enjoy uni. I finished with a second-class lower division. But I sha made money. 

How? 

Let’s rewind to 2006. A neighbour, who was part of the Abuja Carnival planning committee, asked my father if he could invite me to work as an usher. After asking multiple questions, my dad finally let him take me along. I ushered for four days and made ₦40k. The same happened in 2007. 

By 2008, they cut the budget and were looking to pay ₦15k so I stopped working for them. However, I’d made some connections, so people called me for ushering jobs that paid ₦10k for a few hours and ₦20k for a full day. I did that inconsistently throughout uni. My dad didn’t know about it sha. He wouldn’t have let me. 

Omo

In February 2009, when I was in my second year, I decided to try selling stuff. I bought 15 male shirts at ₦1,800 each, to sell at ₦2,500. I could only sell two pieces. I eventually gave the rest out. That same year, I had a boyfriend who gave me the idea to sell underwear. I found someone who sold in packs, but when I broke it down, one piece was ₦200. I sold at ₦300. I marketed by wearing them myself and walking around the hostel.


At some point, I also sold shoes for my mum. She gave me the price she wanted to sell them for, and I added my markup. I returned the ones I couldn’t sell. I didn’t do any business in my third year because the hostel burnt down, and we had to move to another hostel. In my final year, I made up to ₦12k a week selling jewellery like earrings, rings and chains. Throughout uni, I also got ₦5k, sometimes ₦10k, a month from my dad.

Where was all this money going, please?

To my siblings. I wanted them to enjoy life so they didn’t see things like restaurant trips, food and money as a big deal when they eventually got into university. I had zero savings.

Interesting. What happened after uni?

I graduated in late 2011, and the plan was to serve, get a job and make money, just like my dad told me would happen. In 2012, I couldn’t go for NYSC because of a school strike. My department stopped processing graduates for NYSC to participate in the strike. Same thing happened in 2013, and because my parents didn’t understand what was happening, they began to question whether or not I actually graduated from school.

During the waiting period, I tried to learn tailoring, but my dad didn’t let me. Instead, in January 2013, I got a job as a project officer at an NGO that educated young adults. The pay was ₦20k per month. My dad dropped me off at work almost every day, so I saved all my salary. By September, I quit the job and took ₦100k out of my savings to learn tailoring. This time, I didn’t ask my dad. I was sponsoring myself so I just informed him. 

How did that go?

I started learning tailoring in October 2013. Unfortunately, that same month, I met the man I would marry two months later. 

I —

A family friend introduced me to him. He was 40, and I was 23. I liked him and thought I’d grow to love him when we got married. I’ll be honest, the only reason I decided to get married was because I was tired of how stagnant my life felt. My mates had served, gotten good jobs, and some were married. I just wanted something to move my life forward. If I’d been called up to serve, marriage wouldn’t have been on my mind. 

What did your parents think about this? 

My mum was excited her first daughter as getting married. No matter how many questions my dad raised, she had a point to argue against them. So we just moved on with it.

Why did you describe it as unfortunate?

Shortly after we got married, I found out he only married me because of his mum. He’s from Enugu. He was in love with a 32-year-old Imo woman, and his mum disapproved of her. She wanted him to marry from Enugu so she wouldn’t “lose access to him”. She also wanted him to marry a young, “inexperienced” lady. I checked both boxes. 

How did you find this out?

He called his mum during our first fight and all the info came out. That’s how the cheating with his ex and emotional abuse started. Also, I stopped tailoring because the place I was learning was far from where I now stayed.

By February 2014, NYSC called me to serve. On my third day in camp, I began to bleed. I was pregnant and having a threatened miscarriage. I had to be on bed rest until I had my baby in November 2014. NYSC knew I was sick, so they let me come in only once a month for clearance.

Any plans for your career at this point? 

Zero. I was just trying to stay alive. Every time I tried to apply for jobs I saw, or tell people I was looking for work, my ex-husband would shut me down and tell me not to worry. That he’d find work for me at CBN ot FIRS.

May 2015, when my baby was six months old, I moved back to my parents’ place because we kept fighting. Every time, he’d say, “I’ll kick you out of my house.” This time, I took my baby and left. 

When I got there, my dad asked what I wanted. I said I wanted to go back to school. Most schools had closed application for master’s, so we decided I would start preparing for JAMB again so I could study law. I really wanted to study law. 

How did that go? 

My ex-husband came back with his family to beg that he’d turned a new leaf. My dad wasn’t having it, but again, my mum begged me to go back and try to make things work. “What would people say if they saw you at home?”

I returned in July 2015. By August, I was pregnant again. 

Omo 

Thankfully, I wasn’t sick during this pregnancy, so I decided to take on a postgraduate diploma in education. At some point during the diploma in 2016, I had to do teaching practice so I got hired by a school to teach kindergarten. Pay was ₦30k. Even after I finished the diploma, I stayed at the school. I eventually left in October 2018 when they wanted me to teach JSS 3 and primary 5 with no additional salary. 

I’m curious about what the finance dynamics were at home?

My ex-husband never gave me money. He went to the market himself and bought foodstuff. I lived on ₦30k a month, which I used to take care of my children because he also didn’t drop money for them. My only other source of money was the profits from palm oil storage once a year. 

Ehn? 

I started doing this thing in 2014 where I sent money to my grandma in the village to help me buy palm oil in bulk when it was in season, and then, sell at a profit when there was scarcity. I started with ₦100k I got from savings and wedding gifts, and made ₦240k a year later. 

I didn’t tell my ex-husband about it, but he saw the ₦240k bank alert on my phone and asked for a ₦100k loan. He never repaid.

I made small profits from palm oil storage until 2020 when I decided to stop. Food was already scarce and expensive because of COVID and the lockdown, and I didn’t want to take advantage of the situation and overcharge people. 

Aww

LMAO, please. After I left the school in 2018, I visited a friend in another school and saw they had space for a creche with beds for children. We agreed on a ₦100k yearly rent for the space and I set up my creche. 

I didn’t want my ex-husband to find I was the one setting it up, so I told him the creche was for a friend and I was just working there. Somehow, he still found out, and after raising hell with my parents, decided the best solution was to stop contributing even the foodstuff at home since I was now “making money”.

Were you?

For the first two months, I had to do a promo on Facebook for young mothers to bring their children in for free. If they liked my service, they’d keep coming and refer other people. 

Did that work? 

It did, but I didn’t make a dime for those two months. Thankfully, I got 10 children to sign up as consistent members. During the long holiday, the number of children increased. 

How much did they pay?

₦20k per child. 

You were doing ₦200k a month

Yes, but I paid my two employees ₦30k each. The remaining ₦140k was spread across surviving, feeding my children, sending them to school. Then, over time, I had to buy more beds, toys, a TV, a DVD player, air conditioning and study materials for the children. There was never anything left. 

How long did this go on for?

A year. The school decided to turn the creche into an extra room for JAMB CBT exams, and just like that, we were done. I wrote proposals to orgnanisations to allow us rent some part of their space for a creche, but nothing came through until COVID and lockdown hit. 

What happened then?

That’s when I left my marriage. September 2020. 

Was it planned?

Right from 2018 when the creche thing happened and he stopped providing, I knew the marriage had to end. I set a target for 2020, thinking that’s when I’d have made enough money to leave. That didn’t happen, but I still left. 

I called my dad and told him I was coming home. He knew things were bad, but because he he’s hypertensive, I hardly gave him any details. I didn’t tell him my children had to miss school for almost a session because their father wasn’t paying fees. 

He told me I could come back home any time I wanted. So a few days later, I packed everything my daughters and I owned, the last ₦5k I had in this life and got in a cab to my father’s house that cost ₦4,500. 

Man…

I returned home with my daughters and just ₦500. No job, no savings, no investments. At age 30. That’s point zero.

I spent the first few weeks crying. But as time went on, things got better. My dad enrolled my daughters in school and paid for them. The migraines I had daily for years stopped, and I started sleeping without using medication or alcohol. 

What did you do next?

I started applying for whatever jobs I saw, and two companies called me back. One was a hotel where I would be a receptionist for ₦55k a month. The other was a business development executive role at a restaurant. I’d even started the training at the restaurant, but it seemed like it would be chaotic. They were already telling me I would be strict to people and deduct salaries, and I wasn’t mentally ready for that wahala. The pay was ₦70k. I went with the receptionist job. This was December 2020. 

How did that go?

I made more than ₦70k monthly. On the 14th of every month, each employee got something called a service charge. It was a profit sharing arrangement for when the hotel reached it’s revenue targets. The lowest I ever got was ₦23k. Many times, it went up to ₦40k. Oh, and I got tips too. 

It felt so good knowing I could make that much money. Small small, I began to provide a bit more for my daughters so they wouldn’t depend too much on my parents. The tips I got were always enough to cover transportation, so the service charges went directly to my savings. 

In February 2021, a man gave me a lift and we became friends. For some reason, he took it upon himself to send me at least ₦50k every month, all of which I saved. There was no romance involved. He didn’t even live in Abuja. Then in October, he started saying stuff like, “I’m coming to Abuja, and you will come to my hotel and stay with me.” Abeg o. The relationship just faded away like that. We didn’t fight, but I wouldn’t let him speak to me that way. 

Sounds like your savings had become plenty 

By October 2021, I had almost a million in savings because I’d even started saving my entire salary. I was considering investing in crypto, but no matter how much I read about it, I didn’t understand it. I found out my manager at the hotel helped people invest in stocks, so I reached out to him. He helped me invest ₦700k first, then ₦250k, and now, the ₦950k has a yield of ₦1.3m. Sometimes, it goes up; sometimes, it comes down. It depends on the market. 

Anyways, I quit the receptionist job in June 2022. 

Why?

My children started to complain that I wasn’t there to hold them to sleep whenever I did night shifts. They don’t have a father, so they need me to be there for them as much as possible. 

I started taking online courses on IT support, customer service, and becoming a virtual assistant, so I can work from home. 

What are your finances like? 

Apart from the money I had in stock, I also had ₦350k, which I thought would tide me over until I got something new. Omo, every day, my children want me to buy something. Also, I had to pay for driving school, a driver’s licence and an international passport. So yeah, the money is finishing fast. 

Two weeks ago, one of my daughters fell really ill and only wanted to eat pizza. After spending ₦5,500 on pizza for three days straight, I had to beg her to beg her appetite to accept shawarma and Chicken Republic. 

So I’m back to applying for hotel jobs, but this time, more managerial and administrative roles that don’t have night shifts. 

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

A rented apartment so my daughters and I can have our own place. It’d also be useful for the divorce process. The court said the major requirement for a divorce is a two-year separation, but having my own place and a steady job will also make my case stronger. 

What’s your monthly spending like? 

This is what it looked like when I was working and making about ₦100k monthly.

Now, it’s just…

And your financial happiness on a 1-10 scale?

I want to shout 8 because of how far I’ve come, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty, so I’ll just say a 5 or 6. 



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