The #NairaLife Of A Civil Servant Winging Life At ₦96k/month

December 21, 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.

When you rewind to the very very beginning, what’s your oldest memory of money?

It’s definitely collecting Salah money at my grandparents’ house. Some people would willingly give me, and I’d tax some others. 

Do you remember the first thing you ever did for money?

Does washing snails for my aunty count? Anyway, I started working at my school’s radio station at the university. 

Was it really money if they gave a ₦2,500 stipend for 30 days worth of work?

What year was it, and do you remember how that felt?

This was 2011 or something. I was annoyed because we were doing all the work: news gathering, vox pop. We’ll embarrass ourselves on the roads of campus for ₦2,500.  

No vex. Did you do anything else after that?

There was this radio show I started that was kind of a big deal. It was airing across about four radio stations. I loved the show, and we were waiting for sponsors. When we eventually got some sponsors, I never saw the money. 

My NYSC year and the year after was the period of not knowing if I was going to get a job or not because my result wasn’t great. I started a postgraduate diploma, then I got this job at some accounting firm. The pay was ₦50k, but they owe me to date. 

Those years of drought, what was it like?

I live with my parents, so I don’t pay rent or worry about food. My family is very close, so even when it came to things like hair, makeup and clothing, my aunties were spoiling me to a large extent. There used to be a lot of “Don’t worry, you’ll get a job.” Also, my dad gave me pocket money. 

My feminism will collapse when I say this, but I’m a girl — when I want to socialise, I only have to worry about transporting myself there. I don’t necessarily concern myself with what I’ll do there. 

In all, the real struggle was my mum. We’d get into these fights because she thinks — wait, not think, she is an African mother — she knows that she can tell me what to do. I didn’t have a say in stuff at all. I’d have to ask for her permission before going anywhere and make sure that it worked with her schedule because I was her part-time maid. 

Then my friends started getting jobs, and things got awkward. If they invited me anywhere, I told them I couldn’t afford to be there. Then they start offering to pay for me, which would annoy me. But they were just being good friends. It was a sad time because I felt I had no say in the direction of my life.

 I eventually got a job at the end of 2016 in the civil service. 

That social anxiety that money causes. What’s a particular episode you can’t forget?

My cousins live abroad. There was a time they came back home when I wasn’t working yet. Whether they’re high or low earners, people from America have a strong disrespect for the cost of things in Nigeria because they earn in dollars.

One evening we were hanging out, there was something we wanted to buy; pepper soup and nkwobi. At ₦3k, it felt too expensive and didn’t make sense to me. Especially since I could get it for ₦500 elsewhere. 

Anyway, my cousin was like, “₦3k? That’s so nice. That’s so cool.” And while I was still ranting about the price, they were like, “Oh, we’ll get yours.”

If I was a crying person, I’d have excused myself to go and cry. I felt very bad.

I feel you. Back to you joining the civil service?

I joined December 2016, and my starting net salary was ₦74k — after deductions for pensions and housing (that you never get). I work in the Public Relations and Information Unit at my ministry.

Interesting. How has your salary grown over the years?

I started at level 7, step 4. Every year, you go up one step. Every step is an extra ₦1k to your salary. Some steps can be ₦2k or up to ₦10k the higher you go. I got promoted to a new level this year in the middle of a pandemic. My salary officially became ₦96k since the middle of the year, but that raise hasn’t reflected in my bank account. I haven’t even been paid last month’s salary. 

Ouch. I’m sorry. How do people think about salaries in the civil service? 

Nobody talks about their salaries except new staff or young people. My boss told me recently that the reason young people like to talk about their salary is that we think we’re young and fresh, but that’s how they were too until they began to climb higher. 

Sometimes, based on your job description, your salary might go up more than the people you entered civil service with, then you’ll become secretive.

What’s your current monthly spending breakdown like these days?

As soon as I started getting paid, I stopped asking for assistance from my family. I felt like there was a lot of see-finish happening, so I started squeezing to survive.

I always have small weird jobs that’d come in: I sometimes help my neighbour with research or assembling focus groups. Sometimes, there’d be some weird errand that someone would pay me ₦5k to ₦10k for. That money is for vanity because my actual salary goes to my monthly-running costs.

How has all of this has shaped your perspective on money?

I’m kind of responsible with money. I don’t spend money that I don’t have. Still, I have a very “If I die, I die” philosophy on money that isn’t for savings.

I also feel like not earning as much as my peers and still being reliant on my parents has drilled in that whole mindset of not wanting anything. Maybe because I can’t afford things, I’ve found a way to convince myself that, “Wo, it’s not really that important.” 

Oya, with your full chest, what is something you really want but can’t afford?

There are these shoes that I saw once worth $3,000. They’re considered old school now but I don’t care. I’ve wanted them for three years. The second thing I want to do is live in another country. I like Nigeria, I want to be here, but I want to be able to leave whenever I want.

If I had like ₦40 million now, I’d buy a house or leave the country for good. I like Nigeria, but this country is going down the drain.

How much do you honestly feel like you should be earning at this point? And as a follow up, how much would be great right now?

Like ₦300k-₦350k. ₦250k would be nice. 

When do you think you’ll retire? And what do you think about retirement?

I look forward to it. I’m not one of those people that think they’ll be so bored. I hear about billionaires that have hectic schedules, and I’m like, are you kidding? 

I’ll love to be one of those people who retire at 40 and then have pet projects here and there because they have enough till they’re 90 or 100. I saw my retirement fund, and it’s not looking good. After four years of working, it’s like ₦600k. And the money is in naira, which is going down the drain. As it is, let’s just be looking at the retirement age of 60.

I’d like to retire early, but it’s not realistic. I don’t see it happening unless I leave this country.

Random, but what’s the last thing you paid for that required serious planning?

It’s two things, but they happened around the same time. I bought a washing machine for ₦80k. Then Asoebi for two weddings cost me ₦50k.

When was the last time you felt really broke?

Right now. They’ve not paid since November, and I already made plans for December expenses. So I’m living on fumes, and the thing I don’t want to do is ask my parents for money.

The cost of living in Lagos has increased by a thousand, so I’m not normal-broke. I’m Buhari-broke.

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

Making money. I need to be able to put value to effort. But the truth is, I’m not very business-minded, so I’m not sure how to start. I could never become a CEO, and if I do, it’d be because I have a lot of business people beside me doing the business stuff. 

Also, I wish I understood investments more. I’m not making efforts to understand it because even if I did, I don’t have the funds.

Hmm. Do you have an emergency plan for stuff like emergencies?

If my savings fail to cut it, I have this plan that I can spell out to you: D-A-D-D-Y. The begging I’ve refused to do, I’ll beg.

The question is, what if it’s something that he’s unable to help with? He’s a comfortable man, but he’s not wealthy. So what if it’s something that he cannot cover? Omo.

Ah, that.

I don’t know what happens after that. I saw some tweet that said in Nigeria, we’re all one terrible illness away from poverty. I was like, “God forbid,” but if somebody in my family or I got really sick, we would be able to afford treatment based off of my dad and mum’s safety nets,, but I doubt we’d be able to for a long time.

I’ve also thought about the kidnapper joke: “If you kidnap me, don’t ask for too much else I’ll be stuck here with you.” It’s a common joke, but it’s a reality.

Is there something else you imagine you’d be doing if you weren’t working in the civil service?

That’s the thing. I joined the civil service because I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I decided to stay somewhere and do whatever I’m asked to. I’m still figuring it out. 

But then, what the hell am I figuring out? How long? Three years is long enough to figure out what I want to do. It’s not enough time to do it, but it’s enough time to know. I do not know.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness?

3. I need to earn better. I can speak a lot of English, but at the end of the day, money is all that matters.

What do the next few years look like for you?

I just finished my Masters, and right now, I just want a better paying job. The kicker is that I want a better-paying government job, and they exist. People say “oh don’t get stuck in government work.” But I feel like if we want this country to get better, we have to participate.

I feel like we’re the ones that will have to fix it, eventually.

Fu'ad Lawal

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