The #NairaLife Of A Graduate Assistant Managing Her Frustrations with ₦120k/Month

June 7, 2021

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 week’s Naira Life is brought to you by Quick credit. With Quick credit, you not only get the funds you need instantly, but you also get to pay back at the lowest interest rate in Nigeria.


The 25-year-old graduate assistant in this story worries about two things: her salary and her low job satisfaction. It’s also unlikely that either will improve in the next few years if she stays at her current job. So what does her #NairaLife look like?

What’s your oldest memory of money?

Handling money for the first time when I went off to boarding school in 2005. I was nine years old at the time. My parents put about ₦2k in my school account per term and gave me an extra ₦500 cash to hold. 

What was it like growing up, pre-boarding school?

My parents work in civil service. I’d say it was comfortable, although there was a time we were moving between upper and lower middle class. At some point, my parents struggled to pay the school fees and we got sent out of school But not for long. The longest we were out was a week. However, there was always food and accommodation and things got better over the years. 

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

Does doing chores for my mum and getting money count? I got between ₦50 and ₦100 from my mum as an incentive to do some chores. But there was a time I got ₦1500. I started working and earning money actively after uni. 

So how did uni go?

I was 15 when I got into uni. My parents opened a bank account for me and topped it up with ₦50k. But they also gave me an extra ₦25k. They wanted me to have at least ₦50k in my account at all times. Subsequently, I got between ₦10k and 15k every month.

But one day, I found out that one of my friends was getting ₦100k in allowances from her parents. She randomly showed me her account balance and it ran into millions of naira. I felt so poor at that moment but I won’t say I found it intimidating. It was just a realisation that there are people who will always have more than me. 

I tried to leverage this information to negotiate a new allowance with my parents. It didn’t work the way I hoped — they didn’t increase my allowance from ₦10k – ₦15k, but the money started coming more frequently. Sometimes weekly. Sometimes biweekly. This worked for me. 

I never got broke in school until my third year. 

Tell me about that.

My parents were upset with me — I don’t remember why. The allowance still came but the frequency went back to once a month. I was mostly living on vibes because the timing was wrong. I was writing an external exam and most of my resources were going into my transportation expenses.  My boyfriend at the time helped me get through it. He paid for a lot of my meals and randomly sent me money too. This lasted for a semester. 

I went for my IT during the second semester and things got worse. I interned at a research lab and they were supposed to pay ₦25k every month. But I got in and they started giving excuses about how funding had stopped coming from their headquarters in Abuja. During the six months I spent there, I wasn’t paid once. 

Ah. 

Also, I wasn’t getting anything from my parents. They had been transferred to different states and I didn’t tell them what was going on, so they thought I was earning money. I was living with an uncle at the time and he would sometimes drop me at work or give me ₦5k once a month. I had to figure out how to stretch ₦5k for 30 days.

Close to the end of my IT, I spoke to my mum and complained about the whole situation. She looked at me and said it was a lesson in learning how to communicate when I need help. 

I graduated from university in 2016 and served in a government agency. My parents wanted me to save my ₦19,800 allawee so they put me on an allowance again. ₦20k per month. Also, my mum kept about ₦700k with me and instructed me not to touch it except in an emergency. Somehow, I spent everything on my boyfriend. 

Ehn?

It’s very funny in hindsight. He started by asking me to loan him small amounts of money. ₦5k here. ₦10k there. He would make purchases and ask me to pay for them with a promise to refund me later. I felt compelled because he came through for me when I was broke during my third year. In my head, he wouldn’t betray my trust. So I paid for these things. 

Then one time, he said he needed to invest ₦200k in a business. I was so trusting that I gave him everything he asked for without asking questions. He ghosted me after he got the money. 

Uh-oh.

He returned after a couple of weeks and apologised for his disappearance. After that, he needed money for something else and I gave him another ₦200k. 

I didn’t start panicking until my mum requested my account statement and I realised that I had just ₦40k in the account. 

I called and texted him to return the money. Nothing. There was even a time I travelled to the state he lived in. I was at the car park from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. waiting for him to pick me up. This man didn’t show up. After chasing him for some more time, I was like “fuck it” and came clean to my parents. 

How did they take it?

My mum was heartbroken, and I don’t think I forgave myself for betraying her trust. But she forgave me. My dad, on the other hand, wasn’t forgiving. It didn’t help when they found out that I wasn’t saving my allawee either — that money also went to my ex. Fortunately for me, he has a soft spot for me too, so he slowly started to come around. It took close to a year though. 

Phew. You had finished your service year by that time, right?

Yeah. I finished my service year in 2017. My aunt is a DG at the agency where I worked. I thought Nigeria’s nepotism would work for me and I’d get a full-time offer. Besides, she had promised me a job at the agency. On my last week at the job, I went to see her and she said “Ah, I’ve employed many of your cousins.  I don’t have any slots anymore.”

Hopes dashed. 

Nigerian uncles and aunts, right?

Haha. I was home for close to a year. At first, I wanted to return to school for my masters but the process was long and expensive. In December, my parents and I agreed that I’d enrol in a tailoring school. I paid ₦25k for the course and I got good enough that I started making clothes for people. On average, I was earning ₦9k per month from that. 

I lived on that until I got a job in February 2018. 

Whoop! How did it happen?

A cousin reached out to me in September 2017 and asked me if I’d be interested in a research assistant role at a company. I told her I was interested but when I didn’t hear from her after a couple of weeks, I forgot about it. 

In March, she popped up again and asked if I was still interested and open to resuming work the following week. There was no formal interview or negotiation. I was offered ₦80k per month. 

The salary never came on time even though it was owned by a politician. We got our salaries two weeks into the new month. This meant that we got paid for only eleven months in a year.

Ah. 

I was working but living hand to mouth. Because my salary wasn’t coming frequently, I was borrowing money to fund my running costs every month. Yet the workload was crazy — I was the research assistant, the front desk representative, the tea girl. At some point, I was putting the gen on and off.

Omo. 

On the plus side, the politician always had visitors who sometimes tipped us between ₦5k and ₦10k.

Still, I knew I needed to leave in 2019.

What happened?

He travelled in January for an election campaign. Before he left, we told the CEO to talk to him and get him to leave a standing order with the bank so we would get our salaries. Nothing happened. The man was gone from January to April and we didn’t get paid once. Guess the first thing he did when he returned?

I can’t. We’re talking about a politician here

He bought a new car for his second wife. 

That’s actually on-brand.

There’s something else — the wife was an employee who worked with us before he married her. I was so miserable watching him spend money without caring about the welfare of his staff. I would see the company’s statement of account and find out that he was taking out the company’s money.  He had seven staff; he needed to spend only ₦750k every month to settle all of us. He could afford to pay us. He just didn’t want to.

By the time I left in May 2019, I was owed ₦240k. When I asked the new CEO he’d just hired, he removed me from the office group chat and blocked me. 

I’m sorry about that. You left because you’d gotten a new job, right?

Yes. My mum works with a couple of influential people and she called in favours to get me the job. It was as a laboratory assistant job at a military university in Kaduna state. My starting salary was ₦77k. 

Five months into the job, I got a proper placement and was promoted to a graduate assistant. I joined the academic staff and started teaching students. My salary got bumped to ₦120k.

Nice.

It got complicated though. The commandant who promoted us was transferred and they brought in a new one. Some staff members were disgruntled with the promotion process. They claimed that due process wasn’t followed so they signed a petition. As a result, the new commandant directed that the new batches of promotion should be reversed. I was one of those people who was affected. And no, they didn’t return me to my old salary. Between March and August 2020, I was earning between ₦60k and ₦80k.

Ah, I’m confused. Why did that happen?

It’s part of the ritual of working in the civil service. There’s a lot of politics behind the scenes. The salary thing happened because IPPIS couldn’t find a proper pattern to use in paying us because of the promotion situation, so they just paid everyone affected what they felt was right. 

The situation was fixed in August and the promotion stood. From September, I went back to earning ₦120k.

Lit.  How do promotions and salaries happen in the university?

First, you’re due for confirmation after your first two years at the university. I haven’t even been confirmed as a full staff year.

After confirmation, the academic and non-academic staff are due for promotions every three years. But the people in academic staff need certain qualifications to stand a chance of being promoted. I’m currently doing my masters programme and when I get my results, I can expect to be promoted to an assistant lecturer. But again, it doesn’t always happen like that because of the politics involved. 

In an ideal situation, If I get my PhD, I’ll move from assistant lecturer to lecturer II. I could wait three years to be promoted to lecturer II or get research papers published in academic journals. Each published work will earn me points and as I get more points, I move up the academic ladder. Every promotion comes with a ₦15k increase. 

I think professors in the university I work at earn about ₦600k. But it’s a lot of years of teaching and research. I’m not sure I want to be an academic for the rest of my life when job satisfaction is this low. 

Why do you think that is?

For starters, I don’t get any allowances — no 13th-month allowance or any other welfare benefits. My monthly salary is the only thing I get from this job. Besides, while I love teaching, I’m more interested in scientific research. I took this job because I wanted to be motivated to start my master’s programme. My job satisfaction is 3/10 and that’s because of the breaks when school is not in session. 

That sounds intense. What’s your monthly running costs like these days?

I don’t do well with savings, so I started this contribution thing with six other people at work. Each person drops ₦50k and one person takes it all at the end of the month. 

Whatever remains after I settle my bills goes into buying study materials for school. Luckily, my parents are doing well and I’m not obligated to pay black tax. I send money to my siblings only when I can. 

Great. How much do you have in your savings account right now?

₦20k. I had ₦200k in October last year but rent took ₦150k. I started the contribution thing at work shortly after. I’m getting ₦350k in July. At least, I know rent for next year is sorted. 

How has your relationship with money evolved in the past few years?

I’ve moved from making money and blowing it to breaking down in tears when an unexpected expense comes up. The other day I wanted to leave work and my car refused to start. I sat in the car for an hour and cried before I called a mechanic. It’s very draining. 

I’ve realised that I’m not even in the middle class. I’m poor. I feel terrible saying this because I understand that there are lots of people who don’t earn as much as I do. It’s just really difficult to get by. 

How has all of this shaped your perspective about money?

Money is very fleeting and can put you in trouble. What really helps is the relationships you build over the years. I got my first job because of my cousin. My mum’s connections got me my current job. I also have a feeling that when I finish my masters and start looking for another job, relationships and friendships will help me get it. 

Where do you see all of this in five years?

I should finish my master’s degree later this year or next year. I would like to start my PhD immediately after. I’m not sure I’ll be working in academics five years from now, at least not full time. A laboratory research job will be great. But in that time, I want to be earning at least 6x my current income and working at a job I actually like. 

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

A new car? Oh wait — I just need enough money to fix my car and it’s myriads of issues. A month’s salary should be enough for all of it. 

What’s the last thing you paid for that required planning?

Tuition for my master’s degree. I paid ₦100k and an extra ₦30k for lab fees.

When was the last time you felt really broke?

Last week. I didn’t have any money and a friend randomly sent me ₦5k. What did I do with the money? I used it to buy pizza. I just wanted to do something good for myself for once. The bills pile up every month and by the time I settle the ones I can, there’s hardly anything left. 

What part of your finances do you wish you could be better at?

Investing. It would be nice to have a passive source of income. The returns don’t even have to be huge. An extra ₦10k every month is good enough for me. But I’m currently not doing any of that. I was looking at crypto but I don’t want to cry because of money anymore. 

Lmao. Do you have an emergency plan?

My parents. They’ve come through for me so many times and I’m grateful for them. But I know it’s not sustainable. I’m working to have an actual emergency plan I can fall back to. Building a savings nest will be a good place to start. 

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

1/10. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but I could do so much more than I’m currently doing. It’s hard when I want to do something but I can’t do it because of my finances. Or when people reach out to me for help and I can’t do anything. Things like that get to me a lot. I’m not unhappy, I’m just very dissatisfied.


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