The Regretful #NairaLife of a Nine-Year Career Spent in a Family Business

September 19, 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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Since 2013, the subject of this week’s #NairaLife has worked for her brother’s publications as a writer, manager, HR and never earned more than ₦100k a month. If she could do it over again, she’d never work for him. But that’s just one of her many regrets.  

Tell me a bit about growing up

I’m the third child of four children. My dad was a civil servant who worked as an engineer, and my mum was a teacher. We weren’t wealthy, but we also weren’t poor. My dad was a strong believer in going to school and getting jobs after — not business. So we went to good schools and lived in a nice small estate. After school, I went to my friends’ houses to play. That’s just how stuff was. 


As a child, I was obsessed with books. They even used to call me “Information Minister” because I knew something about everything. I was sure I wanted to work in the media in some way. 

Did this affect what you studied in university?

I didn’t even go to art class in the first place. I was in commercial class, and by the time I figured that we didn’t do literature in commercial class, it was too late to switch. I finished secondary school in 2003, but I didn’t go to university until 2005, at 18 years old. Even then, I had to restart university in 2006. 

I have so many whys

I couldn’t get into a federal university to study Sociology and Anthropology in 2004 because of my low JAMB scores. In 2005, I applied again and also didn’t get admission, but for some reason I don’t know, I told my dad I did, packed my bags and went to resume. 

Resume where ma?

When I got to school, I didn’t see my name on any admission lists, but I didn’t want to go back to Lagos. I was tired of staying at home. 

I called my dad to tell him I hadn’t been admitted, and he came to school to see a friend in the school’s senate who could help me get admission. The best the person could do was get me in to study a foreign language. I took it. But I wrote JAMB again sha.

The next year, I got in to study international relations in the same school. 

What was money like for you in this period?

My dad paid my fees and gave me between ₦5k and ₦10k monthly as allowance till he passed away in 2009. My mum handled the family’s finances after that. She sold plantain chips, shoes and did other businesses on the side to augment her teaching salary. 

Thankfully, my older sister, the firstborn, had graduated, and my older brother and I graduated a year later. So she didn’t have to spend too long worrying about multiple children’s fees. 

What does an international relations student do after they graduate?

I went for NYSC in a South-South state — the first big mistake of my career. 

Why?

I believe if I’d redeployed to Lagos, my life would be much different now. I’d have started my career with a job at an actual organisation and built a professional network, and that would’ve put me on a different path in life. 

Instead, I stayed in the south because I wanted to experience a new place. This was 2011 when there weren’t so many job opportunities in places outside Lagos. I’m sure it’s different now because people can easily find jobs online, but back then, there just weren’t many opportunities. 

How were you getting fed?

My NYSC teaching job paid ₦5k monthly. NYSC had also just started paying ₦19,800, so that was pretty great too. I could save most of my money because I lived with a friend’s family that fed me. 

I sha tried to build my career from there because I didn’t want to return to Lagos skill-less. I took a physical bead-making class for ₦15k, and a project management course where I had to go for classes on Saturdays for a few months.  

Did you get anything when you got to Lagos?

I returned in June 2012 and just chilled at home till December. Then I made another career mistake.

My older brother had to go abroad on a government-funded scholarship because he finished with a first-class degree. But he’d always wanted to own a business since we were kids, so he decided to set up something, and he involved me. 

What’s that?

An online platform that shared viral fashion, pop, breaking news and gossip content. I thought it was something I could do, so we started in January 2013. 

By watching videos online, I learnt how to distribute content and use WordPress. So I wrote articles and shared them on social media. My salary was between ₦5k and ₦10k monthly, from money the company got from Google AdSense when our articles got views. 

Between January and June, we added two more publications. One was for sports, and the other for entertainment. One of my siblings even quit their job to come and be the writer for the entertainment publication for a brief stint. 

So, family business?

Exactly. Two years into the business, we had to get additional writers because I couldn’t do all the work on my own. So, in addition to writing, I had to train new writers, edit their work and manage the company. My brother was in the UK all the while the company ran, so it was all me running the day-to-day. 

That year, my salary increased to ₦25k, and then ₦50k. But in that same 2014, I had another of my biggest career regrets. 

Tell me

Business with family can be funny like that. My brother had returned to Nigeria, and we got into frequent arguments concerning business operations. He’d always complain that I wasn’t doing enough when he wasn’t even actively involved in the running of the company. Whenever we got into an argument, I threatened to leave the company. One time, I left, and God, I wish I didn’t return. 

Why did you?

The thing is, I was too comfortable. I’d been working from home all along, so I didn’t have many responsibilities, I heard that finding jobs was difficult, and I was working with family. Also, I lived on the outskirts of Lagos, and commuting would have been challenging.

After a month, I went back to work. Again, big mistake. It just meant I was getting more and more stuck.

In what ways did this happen

By 2015, the major publication we started with was growing, and the company was making money from ads. At this point, we’d gotten a workspace and 10 employees. 

I had to grow into my role as the managing editor, head of operations and HR. I was the one that put out applications, interviewed people, hired and onboarded them. At this point, my brother had left the company in my care because he got a really good-paying job offer. My salary was still ₦50k. 

For all of that?

Somebody call HR… Wait, that’s you

2016 to 2017, I started feeling stuck. I knew my career wasn’t growing. It’d been seven years since I graduated, and I was earning ₦50k. Writers that had zero job experience came to the company, got trained by me, stayed three to six months and left for much bigger companies. I was lonely because I couldn’t be friends with my coworkers who I was meant to be managing, and I was working a lot, so I didn’t have time to have a social life. My esteem was so low.

But it felt like there was an internal battle going on in me. While I was feeling all of this, I also felt obligated to stay in my brother’s business and help it grow for the family’s sake. So it was just difficult. 

There was even a short period where I sold second-hand shoes and bags to coworkers, siblings and church members. It didn’t work because I’m just not built for selling. I think I got it from my dad.

2017 again, another incident happened that felt like a sign that it was time to leave, but I didn’t. 

I’m listening

We got a proper office space for the first time. We’d bought furniture, internet, set up everything. It was exciting. The night before we were meant to move in, I was scrolling on Twitter when I saw there was a huge fire somewhere. The address looked familiar.

A factory close by caught fire and our new office space was among the collateral damage. 

You know when they say something is burnt irredeemably? We couldn’t pick out one item from the place the next day. 

That’s horrible

It felt like a good time to leave to find something else. Not because the company wasn’t going to continue running, but just because it was a significant event that meant I could take a step back and assess my options. But because of the fire, it also felt like a bad time to leave. 

So I stayed and worked on the new idea my brother had — an online platform that focused on women in Nigeria. Women’s news, health and wellness, relationships, fashion and lifestyle content. My brother was sure it was going to be a hit because it was niche, specific content, and we didn’t know anyone doing stuff like that. 

Was it a hit?

Yes. We got sponsored posts and ads, and it grew fast, but it just meant more work for me. I was now overseeing three publications. 

In June 2018, I was tired and overwhelmed, so I took a one-month break from work. That month, I applied for jobs, but nobody was going to hire me. 

My only work experience was from my brother’s company. I mean, I’d done a lot of good work, but my CV was a reflection of my esteem, so it was poorly constructed to seem like I’d done nothing. 

See, it was a terrible month. I got so many rejections. I began to think of all the people I’d trained who were doing so well. I thought of my mates from university. They were doing well. I was so overwhelmed with sadness, I just returned to work in July. 

Was anything different?

The publication for women did a content partnership with a top Nigerian bank. That felt fulfilling. It pushed my salary to ₦100k by December. 

Also, my brother had moved abroad, so all our interactions were now online.

That same December, my brother and I had another fight because he still felt I wasn’t doing enough, and I left the company again.

For good?

Nope. Let me just say here that my brother is the best brother anyone can have. He’s always been my biggest supporter — even financially. In January 2019, my CV was better because he’d helped me edit it and added that I worked with the bank too. I got job interviews this time, but nothing clicked. 

By April, the publications weren’t doing well because I wasn’t around, and the writers could do what they wanted — like not publishing on time or at all — so my brother decided to shut things down completely. Instead of watching him shut it down, I decided to take complete ownership of the women’s online platform. We gave the writers a few months’ notice that we were ending things, and I became the sole owner and writer of the publication.

But again, I made a mistake. 

Oh dear

We didn’t discuss finances. So I “owned” the company, but he still handled the financial aspects. So money for sponsored ads was still going to the company account, but I was being paid a ₦60k salary. 

That’s how most of 2019 went. In October, a popular international news agency launching in Nigeria reached out to my company on Twitter for a content partnership. At first, I thought it was a scam, but when I saw other Nigerian publications announcing partnerships with the agency, I decided to give it a try. 

How did it go?

I got to the office, introduced myself, and people were excited to finally know the person behind the publication. Someone even took a picture with me. Me o. It’s not like I was hiding my identity before. I’m just not the type of person to constantly talk about my work publicly. So seeing people react like that was a confidence booster. 

The deal was that they were going to pay ₦15k per article for 15 to 20 articles a month for three months. After that, we’d discuss whether to renew. 

Sweet

A week before we finalised the deal, I rejected a ₦50k monthly job offer from an NGO I applied to as a comms intern. They also were willing to increase the pay to 100k after three months and make me a full-time staff.

Why?

I thought the news agency contract was good enough and that it was going to be renewed. Taking the NGO job would’ve meant I was tied down to it, instead of having time for the news agency contract. 


After three months, the news agency didn’t renew the contract. They couldn’t keep paying so much money to so many partner publications. 

By the end of those three months, I had ₦400k in my account. That was good money for me. But I started regretting rejecting the NGO job. I would’ve gotten to work somewhere else and maybe begun to network and build my career. 

Instead, I was back to square one — writing for the women’s publication, earning ₦60k and feeling stuck. 

2020?

Terrible year. I fell into a deep depression. I was so lonely, I had to go live with my younger brother. There weren’t even any work events to go for. At least, there, I’d see people and network, even for a short period. I considered freelance on Upwork and Fiver, but no luck. Being a beginner — someone who’s never done any work on these platforms — makes it difficult to find jobs. People prefer to hire freelancers who have “experience” on the platforms. 

What was happening with the publication?

I was still working on it. 

Life was frustrating. People that knew me on the surface level thought I was doing okay financially and enjoying my career. 

Has anything changed since then?

In 2021, I got a six-month contract job for an international NGO in Switzerland. I applied for a content role, but the job turned out to be a community manager role. The pay was ₦100k. By December, I was ready to quit because the company culture wasn’t the best. This was my first job as a community manager and I don’t think my manager was patient enough. But my friend advised me to stay. By January, they fired me. They said they saw I was struggling to fit in. It pained me that I didn’t quit first. 

Also, sometime last year, I did a ₦3k per article job but stopped after one month because they only paid after 10 articles and still took out taxes.

Other than that, I’ve been focused on my publication. I’m in the process of taking over completely, finances and all. We’re sorting out documents. 

How do you think things would’ve turned out if you’d left earlier?

I feel I would have had better friendships and relationships and even gotten married if I had switched jobs. It feels like the years are just passing by, and I’m in the same spot. I feel alone professionally, financially and emotionally. 

But I’m also sending CVs out because I desperately need a job. I’m also currently looking at a career switch to product marketing/management. I’m taking online courses and looking out for internships. 

But I also think my life has been a lesson from God, so I can advise younger people around me to get jobs first before they jump into entrepreneurship — just so they understand what starting a career feels like. 

How much do you make on an average month?

Like ₦60k. On some months, my siblings send me money. 

What do you spend money on in an average month?

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

Rent money. My younger brother has moved to the UK, so when our rent here expires later this month, I have to pay. 

And your financial happiness on a 1-10 scale?

Let’s say 4. At this stage of my life, I should be earning more. I just need a big break.


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