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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The 43-year-old producer in this #NairaLife has had her fair share of highs and lows. Between 2001 and 2017, she worked her way up from ₦21k/month to $4k/month. 2021? She’s at ground zero. Now, she thinks success is a lot of luck before anything else.
What’s your earliest memory of money?
It was the late 80s, and I was a 10-year-old JSS 1 student in a boarding school. The food at the dining hall was never enough because some senior student or greedy classmate always cleared it all. Small, defenceless students like me lived on food from the tuck shop, and this cost money. My allowance was between ₦5 and ₦20.
What was life like pre-boarding school?
My mum was a school principal and my dad was a senior officer in the army. He was in charge of the engineering works the army did across the country. My dad retired when I was 12 or 13, and he found work as an engineer and quantity surveyor. Unfortunately, the economy had started crumbling under Sani Abacha. I can’t tell what the direct effect on him was, but I can tell you the changes I noticed at home.
It started materialising with the small things — we switched from using the gas stove to the kerosene stove. There were periods that there were no pieces of meat in our meals. Then my dad began selling his houses. This affected relationships within the family too. My parents started fighting about everything, and the effect of this trickled down to us kids. It began to feel like me and my three siblings were a bother to them.
I started forming my opinion about money at this point. I knew I needed to have my own money so I wouldn’t need to depend on a man or marriage.
What was the first thing you did for money?
I took a job at a video club. This was 1994, and I had just finished secondary school. Memory fails me, but I think I was paid ₦100 or ₦200. Then I worked as a salesgirl at a trade fair, and I was paid about ₦800.
I took up these jobs because I didn’t want to keep asking my dad for money, but it was also because ASUU was on strike. In 1995, I went off to school. Nothing prepared me for university.
What do you mean?
I was in uni during the peak of the 419 scams and cultism. The cults were usually linked to 419, and my dad used to give me about ₦3k – ₦5k every month. There were times my allowance was slashed without explanation, so I had to figure out a way to earn some extra money on the side.
What did you do?
A couple of things between my third year and my final year. I sold used clothes and shoes and for each one I sold, I made between ₦200 and ₦500 in profit. However, people didn’t always pay on time or at all — and it affected my profit — so I dropped it. After that, I worked as a salesgirl for a consumer goods company. Not much happened after that until I finished university in 2000 and went for youth service. In 2001, I got my first job at a TV station.
The salary was about ₦21k, but I was shown the ugly side of unemployment in Nigeria from the get-go.
I found out that the company was notorious for owing their workers salaries for months. A friend of mine believes that your first job sets the tone for your career. He may be right because I think that job jinxed me. I worked there for six months and wasn’t paid once. I lived on money from my parents and friends.
I tried to get another job after I quit, but it didn’t work out. After a couple of months, I returned to work at the station.
Here’s what happened: a colleague who had also resigned decided to become an independent producer and produce a show for the station with a revenue-sharing agreement. He brought me on board to present. After two episodes, he threw in the towel and walked away. I decided to produce and present the show myself. I wrote a proposal, which the management of the TV station agreed to.
What were the terms?
They were going to pay me what they owed me in salaries, which I would use as a production fee. Also, they would give me an extra ₦5k – ₦10k every two weeks for my production. In return, I would bring in advert revenue and be entitled to 5% of whatever I brought. I had no idea what I was promising.
The show was a lot of work. I covered events for free and made excellent reports out of them. I would sleep in the office at night to edit my show. But I never brought in ad revenue, so I didn’t get much respect from the admin. They gave me the old cameras and studio equipment and tossed my show to whatever time slot they could spare if there was a revenue-generating show.
The good thing was that this show brought me my next job. A colleague saw me working overnight and proposed that we produce another show together. The project was for a foundation, and it ran for several months from 2002 to 2003. By the end of production, I’d earned at least ₦400k.
Must have been huge.
It was. It was even enough to buy a car.
I was sure that the independent producer life was the one for me. My partner and I purchased some production equipment, and I thought I was set. However, we fell out later that year. He had the equipment and never returned them. My dreams began to die again.
A couple of things happened here that also set me back: I‘d paid ₦160k for a new apartment. It turned out that the agent rented the same space to about 39 other people. The police were involved, and the agent was detained. Long story short, we realised that the police were in on it too and the guy had duped about 50 people the year earlier. The last straw was when the police told us to let him go so he could dupe others to pay us.
I don’t even know what to say.
As I was returning from the police station one night, some guy ran into my car from behind, destroying the rear windscreen, tail lights, bumper and paint job. He gave me his vehicle particulars, which contained his address. I found out later that none of it was real. I was set back a bit trying to fix all this mess.
Guess what I did.
What did you do?
I went back to the TV station. I worked there into 2004, struggling to make ends meet. Eventually, I took a long look at myself, decided that I couldn’t do it anymore and resigned.
After I quit, I interned with a couple of filmmakers for a brief period of time. One of them co-opted me into their show and paid me ₦15k per month to produce short documentaries. All of this happened between 2005 and 2006.
I got another big break in 2006.
Tell me about it.
I was introduced to the head of a production company who was in charge of two big international shows and was looking for a runner for one of them. After interviewing for the gig, they decided I couldn’t be a runner. They made me a production manager instead.
The salary was ₦180k/month. Imagine moving from ₦15k to this. The second show was running concurrently with the production I was on, and I worked on it when they needed someone with some local expertise. Working on both shows built my reputation, so when the production I was actually working on was cancelled, I was asked to come work on the second production.
Wait, why was your show cancelled?
The production house was into some shady stuff. They wrote off personal expenses as show expenses and altered the contract of the production team. I noticed the several discrepancies and raised an alarm, not knowing it was an “official” instruction. The showrunners loved me for that, but people in the production house hated my guts. Gradually, I was building a reputation as being “uncooperative and difficult to work with”.
I’ve seen this movie before.
It didn’t matter at the time because I was asked to work on the second show. I was paid an allowance, not a salary because I wasn’t a part of the original crew. My pay was ₦10k for each day I was on set and I worked there for four weeks. By the time I was leaving, I had made about ₦100k in direct payments excluding what I got in lunch and fuel allowances.
Ah, I see. What were your finances looking like at this point?
It was definitely better than the previous year. My main expense was my rent, even though I was rarely at home. I think my apartment cost ₦100k or ₦120k. That was it. Most of the money I was earning at the time went into food, hair and clothes.
Moving on. Shortly after my time on the show, a girl I had helped get a job on the same show told me about another TV station that was hiring. I applied, and they brought me on as a producer and presenter. My salary was ₦100k.
Was it better than the last TV station you worked at?
It was. They paid salaries and were keen on innovation and growth. I was out by the end of 2006 though.
The TV station was bought over by a church. Next thing, there were restrictions on what we could talk about or broadcast on-air. There was also a compulsory prayer service every morning, which I thought was ridiculous.
I was an idealistic person who thought everything must be done a certain way, and these changes were spoilt that. With mounting responsibilities, building frustration and my immense ego from being the “teachers’ pet” at the station, I began acting out. During one night working overtime, I got into an argument with someone in senior management. He hit me, and I insulted him. An investigation was set up and I was asked to resign. I wasn’t sad about losing the job, but I was enraged by the obvious bias. I took the lesson and moved on.
What was moving on like?
I was in between jobs for a while. In March 2007, I was headhunted for the role of a creative head in an experiential marketing agency. The pay was ₦140k but by the time I was leaving a year after, it had increased to ₦155k. Also, there were many avenues to make money outside of office work because I was meeting new people and working with them. In the best months, I took home about ₦400k – ₦500k.
So why did I leave?
Hmm. Why did you leave?
Short answer: my mental health took a hit. We had a major client whose account I was in charge of. I loved the work, but those people were so unpleasant to work with. They blamed us for their errors and turned their nose up at everything we did. I constantly had nightmares about them. I had to leave.
Fair enough. What happened after?
I had already negotiated with a tech company that wanted me to join them in a creative role. The offer was ₦250k per month and a car. By the way, tech at this time meant selling ringtones to GSM networks.
I didn’t work there for more than two months. There was a lot of unnecessary power play, which got irritating and boring. Luckily for me, a producer I had worked with on the two shows from 2006 reached out to me to work as a fixer on a production he was working on. I accepted the offer.
How much did this pay?
₦23k per day, and it ran for 12 days.
By some stroke of luck and diligence on my side, the cable channel that the show was produced for made me a work offer. The pay was $2k per month. This was 2008.
Fast forward to 2009, the landlord of the house I had been living in since 2004 and paying ₦140k in rent decided to sell his house. When the eviction notice came in June 2009, I stalled on moving out because I wanted to see if I could get a loan from the office to pay for a new place to live. In July, they cut off electricity and started demolishing parts of the house. For some reason, my boss refused to have a conversation with me about a house loan. I moved my things to a friend’s house. In August, I started staying in a hotel, which wasn’t sustainable. I left in two weeks. But it was long enough for me to sleep with my then on-and-off boyfriend and get pregnant.
My boyfriend didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I later found out that he had had his traditional wedding two weeks before he came to visit.
Here I was, pregnant and homeless. I was 32-years-old and had health complications, so abortion wasn’t an option. A friend took me in, which was a big relief. While registering for antenatal classes, the third bomb dropped.
What was it?
They tested my blood for HIV, STDs and other significant things. My HIV test came back positive. It was done again and again, and it returned positive every time. I was homeless, pregnant and now, HIV-positive. My village people had finally caught me in a dark alley.
I’m sorry. I can’t imagine how that must have felt.
Oh, it’s fine. This meant that I had to pay for antenatal services and HIV treatment. My doctor provided the antiretroviral drugs, which cost $100 per month — one dollar was ₦116 at the time. On the other hand, the antenatal expenses were about ₦5k – ₦10k per week. I had to figure all of these expenses out on a monthly salary of $2k.
Whew. How was it going on the work front?
Around the time, they brought in a new Head of Talent who seemed to have a problem with me being pregnant. December 2009 came, and it was time to renew my contract. Usually, this was just a routine thing.
The new Head of Talent reached out to me and asked if I would like him to sort it out. I thought that would make things faster, so I said yes.
He asked if there was anything I’d like to see changed, and I was like I could use more money or fewer work hours.
After this, he sent me an email that went, “Hey. Would $2000 a month and working 5 days a week be a dealbreaker?” I wrote back: “Yes. This is what I’m currently earning. They can do better to increase the salary or reduce my workdays.”
At this point, I thought I was still having a friendly conversation with the HR guy. But the next thing he said was, “It was nice working with you.”
In retrospect, I think he wanted written confirmation that he had asked me and I had said no, so he could present the email to the HR department as proof that I was no longer interested in the job. I was shocked and blindsided. More importantly, I was 6 ½ months pregnant.
I received $500 at the end of that month. Afterwards, I had several issues that complicated my situation, including being kicked out of the places I was putting up. Also, being out of a job meant I couldn’t pay for my medical services.
Shortly after I had my baby in 2010, I left the city I was in and went home to my parents. I was there until 2012 before I returned.
Why did you return this time?
A friend from my last job made me an offer to manage his company — a record label cum media company. The basic pay was ₦250k but he also promised me accommodation and a car.
How did it go there?
It was the most abusive job I’ve had to date. I never got the car. It took eight months before I got money to pay for my accommodation — I was sleeping on a mattress in a room in the office. I moved on from that job in 2013.
I stayed for as long as I did because of my daughter. My lifestyle and decision-making had to change when she came along. Not sure the decision to stay at the job was entirely bad because I could afford to put her in a great school and meet my needs.
2013 to 2015 was characterised by small jobs, mostly event and project management. Each job I got paid between ₦200k to ₦300k, which saw me through the years. In 2016, I travelled out of the country for a year — a foundation I worked with sponsored it. I got my next job when I returned to Nigeria in 2017.
An international media company. I was hired as the country manager and my salary was $4k per month. After a few months of business, the board saw the money-making potential the Nigerian office had and they brought in a new CEO. This guy was ruthless. He questioned the purpose of every staff that had been previously employed and fired some.
My salary was even stopped for two months. I had to pass an assessment before he reinstated me and resumed payment. It didn’t help much that the evaluator at my assessment spoke highly of me, the new CEO had other plans. He brought in his people to fill every position available. Gradually, he began firing people until it came to my turn. On the last day of September 2018, I received an email from the CEO that I had been relieved of my appointment. It could have been the stress or the shock of the news, but I fell critically ill shortly after. I had managed to stash away about ₦1.7m in savings. By December 2018, my income and savings were down to 0.
I struggled a bit with work and my health in 2019. The jobs I got were far and in-between and paid nothing more than ₦200k. 2019 was also the year my family house got burnt, killing my dad. What I had managed to save up to that point went into everything that came with this.
I’m so sorry.
2020 was a blur. But I suffered significant health challenges. I think the stress of not having a regular income got to me. The only reason I could afford my rent was because I got a ₦1m gig.
I thought it was time for a new start. I decided to pack it all in and move from the city I had been living in since my first job. The cost of moving cross-country was also something I had to deal with.
What was it like?
Ah, moving property across the country isn’t easy or cheap these days. When they took a survey of my property, I got quotes between ₦300k and ₦500k. They mentioned insecurity as one of the reasons for their charges. They also had to bribe security officials along the way. I didn’t have all that money, so I had to raise money from friends and family, and I supplemented what I got by selling off property. At the end of it, everything I spent came close to ₦210k.
Now, to the real reason why I moved.
My daughter. In the last three years, she had to see me deal with anxiety and depression from the moment she woke up till she slept. She saw it all — the tears, outbursts, and the helplessness of it all. I decided that had to stop this year.
You’re living with your family now. How’s that been going?
So far so good. There’s staff to watch my child and I feel less reluctant to get out of bed these days. I’m hopeful for the future.
I have a feeling that your perspective about money would have changed a lot over the years.
My view on the acquisition of material things has changed a bit. When I moved in with my parents in 2010, I kept my property with a friend in their home storage. By the time I had a home to take it to three years later, most of my things were gone. Yet, I replaced a lot of it a few months later. When I travelled out of the country in 2016, I gave my things out. In 2017, I acquired much more. When I was moving this year, the dance happened again — I sold stuff off and gave others away. All of these things are replaceable.
Over the years, I have learned that holding on to possessions is a futile task. They are tools and they should be used because one of two things will happen: you go or they go. Now, I have no value for any material possession.
What has significantly changed is how I view success.
When people talk about a path to success or berate others for not working hard enough, I laugh. I believed that too, but not anymore. Success is a lot of luck before anything else.
I hear that. So what are things looking like now financially?
I only just got here recently, so my income is still 0. I’m living off my relative here, and they honestly don’t mind. I’m using this time to make a plan and pursue it.
No current income means no expense, but I could give you a ballpark figure of my monthly expenses in the last three years.
I never bought new clothes for either my daughter or me. Our money went to feeding. Or health.
I imagine there’s something you want now but can’t afford.
Oh my! There are so many things. Shoes for my daughter whose feet stretch by an inch every night. A paid-off year for her school. But a little thing would be a JBL Bluetooth speaker. During the last few years, music was therapeutic to me and my daughter. But I had to hold my device close to our ears. Also, because of my background, I’m particular about sound, and this speaker does the job.
What about a part of your finances you wish you would be better at?
Maybe spinning money from nothing. Some people have the uncanny ability to make money anywhere they are from whatever they do. I don’t know how else I can do this except to work at a job or offer a service I’m skilled at.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness at the moment?
It’s a -2. I can’t be happy until my daughter’s future is assured, no matter how good it seems I’m doing. The right scenario would be that if I die today, my child can continue and finish her education at the level and standard she became accustomed to.
Your daughter’s dad is not in her life, is he?
No. He walked away.
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