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.
What’s the first thing you ever did for money?
I was writing my guy’s notes in secondary school. I didn’t even have complete notes for myself.
Haha. What were your going rates?
About ₦250 for the day’s notes, which was about six or so hours of classes.
Why did you do it?
I wanted more money to spend during break time. I was getting ₦50 from my father to spend at school, and I wanted La Casera, which was ₦100.
What could ₦50 get you?
Fruits mostly, sometimes biscuits and water. Anyway, I didn’t do any hustle again until after uni.
What came after Uni?
I got an internship position at a branding firm in Lagos in 2018. I’d just turned 20 and submitted my final year project in school, so I came back home to Lagos to hustle before NYSC. It was nothing fancy or stressful, just long hours and ₦30k at the end of the month.
Tell me about your most stressful day.
We were working on a project for a telco, and I had to work till like 7.30 p.m. Coordinating with painters, carpenters and all kinds of skilled workers. I still had to make the three-hour commute back home – I spent six hours commuting daily. Some days, it was longer.
I live with my parents on the outskirts of Lagos – my mum built a house there.
After a while, I quit the branding firm. I was working in the projects management department, but I wanted to write.
I spent the next two months waiting for NYSC.
Did anything happen in those two months?
Nothing o, just my mum trying to convince me to join the police. It was a nonstarter for me!
Wait, why the police? Was she in the police force before?
Her father was a policeman. She felt that with my BSc and young age, I’d be able to get favourable placement. I just ignored her and was passive-aggressive when it came up.
So, NYSC finally came.
I got a Lagos posting. Because I wanted to write, I wrote to a number of media houses to employ me. No bite. I eventually saw a job posting that said “media house.” I left camp for the interview and got the job. The man said he’ll pay me ₦20k monthly. And so began the hardest year of my life.
It was generally just harder than normal. I was still commuting from Mowe, but I was working every day. Even on Saturdays and Sundays – it was a news aggregation site, and I was on the celebrity gossip beat.
I was miserable.
Man, I’m so sorry.
The ₦20k wasn’t cutting it at all, but my parents were angels. My dad almost always went out with me in the morning. So the morning costs were sorted. But then, I spent ₦600 in the evenings.
What were your daily deliverables?
I was writing 14 articles every day. About 200-300 words each. At a point, I was so good that I’d deliver 14 articles before 4 p.m., then my boss would be on my neck to deliver more.
Ah, I know this grind.
Hahaha. I’m sure you do. My formula was that I’d try to get into the office before 9 a.m., so that by nine, I’d be in the headspace fort writing. I was in charge of compiling our newsletter that went out by 12 p.m.. My goal was to get eight stories by then. Then I’d stagger the pace and write about six or seven for the next six hours.
Interesting. How long were you at that job?
One year – I spent my whole NYSC there. I wanted to leave, but I was stuck because of housing. I knew an even farther office was impractical. By the end of 2019, I finished NYSC.
So, that means throughout your service year, you earned from two streams eh?
Yes. Everything led up to ₦39,800 monthly. I tried to save ₦20k monthly, and my parents are the reason it was possible. By the end of NYSC, I’d saved ₦180k.
Impressive. What came after NYSC?
Another job, and I was determined for it not to be gossip. I applied to another company. I thought I’d get at least 80k, but to Jesus be my glory, I was offered ₦45k.
Is it just me or is this hilarious?
It’s funny now o, but back then I wan mad. I took it sha, but I knew I wasn’t going to last. It meant that I had to start squatting with family members, but I’m never truly comfortable around extended family, so it just hastened my decision to quit. I was there for six months – I quit when the pandemic hit.
When it hit, I knew I wanted to be with my family for a bit. I didn’t expect it to be this long.
For how long were you not earning?
I was always earning haha. I was already freelancing – that’s what gave me the liver to quit sef. My first gig was like 150% of the 45k salary. I also discovered that music PR people always needed someone to write release literature for them.
Interesting. How much were you netting as a freelancer?
I was making ₦140k on two stories monthly and about ₦20-30k from writing copy for PR. Sometimes more. I considered a full-time gig but I’m a bit of a wallflower, so I didn’t have the connections or see any openings in the places I wanted to work at.
Breakdown the ₦140k per two stories. For the culture.
Haha! I was contributing to publications: I always target doing two or more stories monthly. Publications typically pay around $200 for stories. Or more. So the first month I left my work, I did three stories. One was $200, another was $250. There’s only been one month since April 2020 where I haven’t done at least two stories.
Walk me through how you secured your first forex gig.
2019 felt monumental to me for Nigerian journalists and content creators internationally. I saw Nigerian topics being covered contextually by Nigerians in international publications. That inspired me. I said to myself, a foreign byline won’t be bad. One day at the office, I got three British editors’ emails and pitched them an interview. I had just done it to see how it went. By the next Monday, I got emails expressing interest from two editors. That’s when I knew I had to pay some attention to this.
Love to see it. What’s your average income per month now?
Let me first add that I signed a retainer with a PR firm that pays me ₦80k per month. I took it because I was bored when I wasn’t working on stories. A conservative month will see me earn ₦190k/month. In my best month, I made about ₦300k, without factoring in this ₦80k – it was mostly a backlog of invoices coming through. My best invoice ever was for three stories billed together, and it had $750 on it.
How does the money go from your Abroad editor to your wallet?
It’s fairly easy. I submit an invoice with a whole bunch of details that I can pull up if you need specificity. It’s usually a 30-day wait, so in a way, it’s like monthly income. I once had to chase an invoice for like 60 days sha. But basically, it just comes into my bank account like a transfer or any fund will.
How has the general experience shaped your perspective on money?
I used to be so guarded about money because I worked hard and it was literally dripping like a bad tap. But this year, I’ve worked smarter, and it’s been a good year. Ultimately, I feel like money comes and goes jare.
What do you think about all of this in the context of other journalists like you?
I know a couple of people, but I don’t really talk about finance with them, though they hint that it’s not really encouraging. One guy I know worked as a writer with one of those first digital publishers. He was earning less than 85k and working seven days a week. He’s quit now though.
Now, let’s talk about your monthly expenses.
I have no serious black tax from the nuclear family, except that lockdown period sha. Also, I ensure that I have above 20k in my account at all times, just in case. I keep whatever is left inside Piggyvest.
What’s in your Piggyvest these days?
Close to a million. It’s all for my apartment set up sha. A quaint mini-flat somewhere on the mainland. Just one couch, a big ass TV and gaming system.
How much do you imagine your ideal set up will cost?
Uhm, realistically, ₦2 million, but I’ll never blow that on my apartment because japa bells are ringing at the back of my mind too.
Tell me about the japa part.
I was supposed to exit this year – I gained admission and my mum was going to take a loan to pay for the first semester. It was a very wuru-wuru plan sha, but I was gingered to go because nothing was happening for me here.
Then COVID happened.
Masters eh? Are you still as gingered now that you’ve hacked income here?
I’m still gingered o, #EndSARS even solidified my resolve to go.
I feel you. Back to income, how much do you feel like you should be earning at this point?
Make I no lie, 400k monthly. I’m presently netting between ₦140k and ₦220k monthly, which is decent. But between all my hustles, there’s still loads of free days that aren’t filled and could be put to productive use. If I hack how to make them productive, I’ll be on to something.
How many days a week will you say you’re productive?
Less than 50 hours. See, I’m young (and capable of putting in more hours), but this number is me being generous with the hours. I’m almost always in the constant process of ideation, and I consider that work. Core work hours are probably less than 25 hours a week.
Do you ever wonder why you have more productive hours working less, but still earning more?
Capitalism, chief. I know that being plugged into the global economy of content while residing in Nigeria is the simple reason for the change. I keep opening myself up to speak with as many people as I can. It’s a little gesture in the grand scheme of things, but I believe in multiplicity.
If I show A my pitch that got accepted somewhere or help B finetune an essay, they know what’s up and can help person c and d and so on.
Neat. And thoughtful.
When was the last time you felt really broke?
2019 December. Broke meant that by Christmas, I hadn’t been paid and didn’t have any money at all.
Ouch. Must have sucked.
I can’t even put it in words.
Do you have an emergency plan for weird stuff like health emergencies?
At all o. It’s vibes and in shaa Allah. I keep praying because I know myself. I don’t ever want to do GoFundMe.
It’s not pride;I just have never been one to put my problems on another person’s neck. So if it came down to GoFundMe or literal death, I truly don’t know.
Do you have any financial regrets?
Not starting to freelance as a university undergraduate. I would have had more reach, influence and financial safety by now.
What’s a purchase you made recently that improved the quality of your life?
A phone. It cost ₦95k and elevated me from worrying about my phone getting hot or not charging fast enough.
How would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10?
5.5. If I could afford the tuition for a sports management course in a European university, it instantly goes to 8.5. The remaining 1.5 is the residual discontent that gingers my hustle.
Sports management? Interesting.
I’d love to be a football coach someday.
Tell me more.
Growing up, I was football-mad. Of course, playing didn’t work in Nigeria because you must be a doctor or go to school. So I started throwing myself into tactics, football principles and all that. But to progress how I want to, I need to go to Europe to study. That’s the home of the best football.
How much do you think it’d cost?
Roughly ₦10 million.
Is there anything you think I should have asked you but didn’t?
No, we pretty much touched everything. Thank you! Talking about these things is therapeutic lowkey.