The #NairaLife Of A Prison Warder Trapped In Low Income

August 17, 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.

This weeks’ #Nairalife was made possible by FCMB’s promise of quality medical care from the comfort of your home.

What is your oldest memory of money 

I was on my way to school — I was in JSS 3 at the time — my money was in my breast pocket. I sat inside the danfo, and as I was about to give the conductor money, I checked my pocket and the money was not there.


My pocket had torn. After the conductor yabbed me, one woman pitied me and paid for me. I was 14, and this was 1999.

Now, about that torn uniform…

Life was tough. My mum used to go to a big pharmacy and help them sell drugs. Sometimes, I’d have gone to sleep by the time she got back. The only time I saw her was on weekends.

The only adult who was at home with us was an aunty and she was mean. I couldn’t tell her if I had any problems sef.

Ah, that struggle. What about your dad?

My dad used to work with another family member to do construction work. When it got to a point and things weren’t working out, he decided to leave the country. The thing is, leaving the country to America and Europe was hard if you didn’t have money. So he went to Pakistan. I know he used to go to other Asian countries from there, but Pakistan was his main base.

I know this because I overheard him talking about it with my mum.

What changed when he got there?

At first, nothing. You know there weren’t GSMs then. We used to go to a place to make calls on NITEL phones. So after we, first of all, confirmed that he’d reached Pakistan, we didn’t hear from him for a long time.

How long?

About a year and a half.


Things got hard. So hard that I had to go live with my grandpa. When my father finally called, it was to tell us that he actually got arrested. He was in the wrong place, with the wrong people. But they’d already released him, which was why he was calling.

What did they hold him, or the people he was with for?

The people that helped him travel were into shady stuff over there. He came back in 1996, and I remember everything getting better. In fact, we moved from a ‘face-me-I-face-you’ to a flat. He went back to working in construction. Then people started sending him clothes to sell from Pakistan —  Jalabiyas and all that. When it looked like that was picking up, he travelled to Pakistan again.

Then. Sigh.

Then what?

I went to school and when I came back, there was a crowd inside our house, and people were crying…


Someone walked up to me and said, you’re a man, don’t cry. Your daddy is dead.

I’m so sorry man.

I cried ehn. They said he felt sick, went to the hospital, got admitted, and died there.

What did this mean for you and the family?

It was as if when he died, he went with all the money. We know he had some small investments, but we didn’t know where. We know he had friends owing him, but we didn’t know who. In fact, I remember that one of his friends came in 2007. He said that my dad’s spirit was disturbing him to return his money to his family.

Interesting. How much did he return?

₦100k. He said he was going to bring the rest. He didn’t say the amount sha. The only thing my mother had was her shop. That shop was the only source of income for the family. When the stock went dry, I had to get a job, so I went to work at a video club for two years. That paid me ₦3,500. By the end of the first year, my salary climbed to ₦5k.

You were 18 years old when you started.

Yes. I used to give my mum ₦1,500, then I later added ₦500 to it. The rest was for my upkeep. Later, my sister started her own video club, and I was managing it.

How many people were living in your house at the time?

Like 10 o.


We’re four children, but my mum went to pack her brother’s children. Three of them were staying with us. That harsh aunty too. Then someone else joined.

A lot of mouths to feed.

My mum likes her family more than herself. She was a petty trader and took care of all of them from that petty trading. They left when they could and never looked back. That meant that I had to figure out how to take care of myself. Especially after I entered University in 2006.

Ah, nice.

I had an aunty – my dad’s younger sister – who was trying to take care of us. But she said the pressure was getting too much on her. She had her own kids and suggested that the best thing to do was to get a job. So she helped me get a job in the Civil Service. I entered with my SSCE.

Hmm. Tell me about your first salary.

They paid my 6 months at once for the period I spent in training school. This was 2009.

How much?

₦155k. Total.

What was it like the day it first entered?

Nothing. The people who’d been helping me calculate it were already expecting it. I went to Lagos the next day and I gave my mum ₦50k. I started at Level 5 and the salary was ₦26k then. It’s now about ₦45k.

So, when did you graduate?

December 2011. Computer Science. Now, the way it works is this. When you start with an SSCE and you have a complete result – that is with Maths and English – you get into Level 5. When you don’t have a pass in any of these, you start in level 3 or 4.

But now that I’ve gotten a degree, I should be in Level 8, but I’m not. People are promoting only their people. I’m still stuck in Level 6.

How much is a Level 6 salary?


Tell me how your salary has grown since 2011. Year-on-year.

They add ₦400 yearly to the monthly take-home. But when I got promoted to Level 6 in 2016, it got increased to ₦50k. Then they started adding ₦500 per year.

Between 2009 and now, which responsibilities have you added?

Marriage in 2015, a child in 2016. My wife started working in 2017.

What’s your current household income?

The combination of my salary and my wife’s salary? ₦110k.

Other expenses are emergencies and miscellaneous.

Tell me about those.

My son gets sick sometimes. The last two times, we paid up to  ₦25k for medicine alone.

Don’t you have health insurance?

I have, but I always need to go outside to buy drugs, and my health insurance doesn’t cover that.

How much do you feel like you should be earning right now? After 10 years of experience?

At least ₦130k. But If I get promoted as I should, I’ll be earning ₦70k.

What is something you need but can’t afford right now?

I want to move to either Canada, USA or any European country. I want to leave this country, and try to help from there. People are suffering.

I’m wondering if there’s an actual plan towards this

There’s a plan, but there’s no money. To be honest, I’m cautious too, because I’ve got duped before. I gave someone my NYSC savings of ₦120k. My sister added another ₦120k, and we lost everything. This was in 2013.

Have you ever considered picking up a skill that will fetch you more money on the side?

I’m thinking of learning barbing, I hear it’s very useful when you travel abroad. There are other things I’m interested in learning. I’d like to learn photography, design or programming. The problem is that these ones need money to start.

Do you have a computer?

No. My phone is so bad that a friend even borrowed me his extra phone to use.

What are some things that will make your life feel better if you buy them?

A laptop, because I can do things with photography and learn other stuff. A car, because I can do some side hustling. Also, having my own house, because rent every year is tough.

What’s the last thing you bought that made you feel better?

The food we were supposed to sell. We ended up eating most of it.

You sell food?

My wife and I decided to collect a cooperative loan last year. We rented a shop at ₦4200 monthly, then decided to start selling foodstuff; rice, beans and all that. Now, we can’t even account for most of the money. The original loan was ₦500k, and we used everything to set up for the shop. For example, a freezer cost ₦110k.

We started the business because we were targeting student areas. And then, the lockdown started.

Eish. And they had to go home.

Now, we can barely account for the money, and we intend to shut down the shop by December.

I know it’s all you want, but do you have any back up plans if the travelling abroad doesn’t work out?

Maybe I’ll start a viewing centre, or a farm.

Do you ever think back at a point in your life where things might have turned out differently?

Football. I’ve played everywhere; in school, at work, in the neighbourhood. I’ve always been the MVP, the one everybody picks to play on their team. I wanted to chase football at some point, but my mum didn’t agree.


She banned me from going for training. I used to go to lesson instead. You know what’s paining me? I have a certificate I suffered so much to get, yet I’ve never used it.

I want to ask about your financial happiness, on a scale of 1-10, because it’s an essential question.

3. It’s bad. My financial situation is just really bad. That is all.

Have you ever considered leaving the service?

Yes, but there are no guarantees that I’ll find something else in this country. Also, age is no longer on my side. I’m 35 years old.

UPDATE: Upon request from readers, we’ve added a payment link for people interested in sending him some love and light here.

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The next Naira Life drops on Monday next week at 9 am. This is what you get when you subscribe to Zikoko’s Money Newsletter:

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Find all the past Naira Life stories here.

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