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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This 27-year-old lawyer is the last of six children in a family that grew up very poor. Now that she’s making money, her family looks to her for their daily bread, and she’s tired.
This is #NairaLife 200.
What’s the earliest memory of money you have?
I used to collect ₦50 for breakfast and ₦20 for snacks every day in primary school. I grew up in the east, so I’d normally buy okpa. If it wasn’t okpa, it was bread and then maybe a beverage or pap at home. But most times, I kept the money and spent it on biscuits during break time.
You got money for breakfast and snacks? Wealth. Why didn’t you have breakfast at home?
Haha… who wants to cook it? I’m the last of six children, and three of my older siblings were in secondary school. My mum was a teacher, so she left the house early. It just made sense for them to give us money.
And your dad?
He was a businessman, so he wasn’t always around. He sold oil and gas.
Is that… wealth?
No o. Not that type of oil and gas. He bought cooking gas and retailed to people in the community, and he imported olive oil to sell to churches for anointing.
You almost had us there. But things were good at home?
I have limited memory of when things were good, but I guess I can say they were at some point compared to when they became terrible.
Let’s get into that
The first thing I noticed was that we weren’t eating as many meals as we normally would at home. We still got the money in the mornings, but provisions in the house disappeared and we occasionally skipped meals. But when it became bad was in Primary 4. The school started calling my brother and me out for not paying fees.
School was less than a minute from my house, and we lived in a small community, so the teachers knew everyone’s families. My teacher liked me, so whenever they were sending students out, she didn’t let me leave the class. You know what she did instead? Any time my dad walked by the school, she’d run up behind him to shout, “Pay your children’s school fees o!” and some petty insults. I witnessed it a few times.
You know what’s even funnier? My dad never heard her. He’s the type of person to face where he’s going and ignore every other thing around him. So as she was shouting, it probably sounded like background noise to him.
Do you know what happened to your dad’s business?
His shop stopped getting business. That’s what I know.
Things continued like that for a while and my mum made the big mistake of working even harder to support him. She started feeding us and paying our school fees, and this made my dad relax. She’d even lie and tell us it was my dad that bought this or bought that, but we had eyes and ears. We knew it was all her.
By the time I was leaving primary school, two of my sisters were in university, and the other two were in secondary school. My dad said it was time to marry all of them off because they were old enough for marriage.
According to him, some family members and the people in the community where we lived, there was no point in training five daughters if they were just going to go to a husband’s house. Thankfully, my mum fought it. She was university educated; he never finished secondary school.
After that entire thing, he told my mum he was washing his hands off taking care of us. If she didn’t want to marry us off, she should carry the burden of taking care of us herself.
And he kept to his word?
If we went to meet him for money for school fees or whatever, he’d look at us and say he didn’t have. If we pestered, he’d say, “Go and bring a gun and rob me.”
From then to when I graduated from law school, I don’t think I got more than ₦20k in total from him.
How did your mum do it?
It was grace. I don’t know how else to say it. There was a lot of borrowing and begging, but she also got a lot of gifts. At different times, when my older siblings came home from university, they taught in my primary school so they could also make money to help the family.
When I was about to enter secondary school, extended family members started suggesting my mum sent me to do an apprenticeship or become a maid because the money she was spending was too much. But she refused. I went to a military secondary school where being a civilian’s child meant I had to pay way more than military officials’ kids. But with borrowing and begging and gifts, my mum singlehandedly saw me through secondary school.
I never got new clothes. It was hand-me-downs from my older siblings all through. And there was no food at home, so even when my mum increased my daily allowance to ₦100, I used all of it to buy biscuits so I could save some for later. Till today, I can go a week without eating, as long as I have biscuits.
By the time I was wrapping up secondary school at 17 in 2012, things started getting better. My mum got a job at the ministry of education, and money started flowing in. Still, the suggestion to marry me off came.
From your dad?
This time, from extended family. Again, my mum said no. She could afford to send me to university to study law. In fact, she could afford to move us from our two-bedroom apartment, where we’d stayed all our lives to a five-bedroom duplex where she paid ₦250k a year. Our former rent was ₦10k a year. She also bought a car and made sure there was always food at home. I even remember one time when I was cleaning the house, and I saw ₦30k lying around. Things were good.
In university, it’s not like I had plenty of money o, but at least I could eat, and my clothes were mine for the first time. My sister was also doing her master’s in my uni, so I had my mum and sister to depend on.
That’s how things went until I was in my third year, when things got bad again. Even worse.
Office politics happened, and my mum got fired. We had nothing to fall back on and came crashing down. When my mum couldn’t pay the rent that year, and my dad said, “Did I beg you to move?” We eventually moved to a worse apartment in a worse area.
School was a struggle. After every vacation, I went back in tears because all I heard was that there was no money. My mum would say she was trying to find money; my dad would simply say he had no money. I was surviving on my biscuits and occasional meals.
My worst memory from that period was in 500 level when my mum was in too much debt to pay my fees. She and my dad are elders in our church, so she went to meet the pastor to help her with fees. The pastor had one request: let your husband come and ask for how much you need. I can’t remember how much it was I needed for my project, accommodation and school fees, but let’s just use a hypothetical figure — ₦150k. We told this to my dad, and when he got there, he asked for way less. Like ₦50k. And that’s what he got.
I have no clue. He didn’t explain why he did it. On my way back to school, he gave me two Beefie sausage rolls to eat on the bus.
My mum had to do more borrowing to see me through the final year.
Damn. I’m curious about your older siblings’ role in helping your family
Life doesn’t always turn out how you want it. My siblings were doing their own things and trying to come up in life, but things weren’t working out. Some relationships were also strained. My eldest sister, for example, is complicated. We stay clear of her unless it’s an emergency. If she gives you money, she’ll hold it over your head until you pay her back. At some point, she had a clash with our parents and ghosted. The rest of my siblings were just hustling and struggling.
Gotcha. When did you take your first step into fending for yourself?
April 2018, after university. My mum hated the concept of her children working while in school. She didn’t want to hear of it. It was just, “Focus on your books and come out with a first-class.” And that’s what I did.
After uni, I moved to Lagos to look for internship opportunities so I could save up for law school. We didn’t have family there, so I stayed with a friend’s sister. The plan was to stay with her for one month, but I ended up staying for three. After that, she asked me to move out. She was very nice to me o, she just didn’t like staying with people. She even had siblings who were shocked she was letting a stranger stay with her for three months while they were staying with relatives in the same Lagos.
Did you get that internship?
Yes. I started a six-month internship in my first month in Lagos. It started in April and paid ₦30k. I survived and transported myself with ₦10k and saved ₦20k. As usual, I skipped many meals, but I sometimes saw free food with my friend’s sister.
After I left her place, I spoke with a senior colleague at my office who housed me for a month.
For the last two months of my six-month internship, I stayed with another friend’s boyfriend. He had an apartment with a few of his guys, and they had an extra room, so they let me stay there.
Towards the end of my internship, I’d saved ₦100k. But a friend brought an “investment” opportunity to me where I would make 50% profit in a short time, so I put the ₦100k in it. It wasn’t going to cover the cost of law school, but it was something. Of course, it crashed, and all my money went.
I sha worked one extra month so I could see money to take me back home in October. Back home, my mum started borrowing money to send me to law school which was starting the next month. Shortly before I was to go, her mum died.
Now, in addition to taking care of her children, my mum also takes care of all her siblings and my dad’s siblings too. So when her mum died, everyone looked to her to sponsor the funeral. She told them the money was for my law school, and they said they didn’t care. That was the first time I stood my ground and told my mum she had to choose me. She sent me the money and told her siblings she’d paid for my law school, and that was it.
How was law school?
My law school was in Enugu, and in that same period, my sister got a federal government job in Enugu too, so I went to her house frequently to get food and provisions. The sister that ghosted also came back and sent me money occasionally. So the year was okay.
I graduated in August 2019 and returned to Lagos to look for a job. I stayed with my friend’s boyfriend again. This time, the plan was to secure a job so I’d already have a place of primary assignment for NYSC once I was done with call to bar. I sent out over 50 applications and did tons of interviews. But I only got two offers.
One law firm offered to pay ₦150k on the condition that I finished law school with a first class. They took away the offer when the results came out, and I had a second class upper.
And the second?
Their offer came one day before my call to bar. They didn’t care about a first class, and the salary was ₦200k. Because I was in Abuja doing all my call to bar wahala, I told them I’d give them feedback about the offer the next day. I also wanted to call my mum so she could pray and find out if it was the right move for me. By the time I reached out to them the next day to take the job, the offer was off the table. They felt insulted that I made them wait.
Luckily for me, one of the companies I applied to was a consulting firm that was looking to hire me as an intern, but they hadn’t made an official offer. I called them the day after the call to bar and asked if it was still open. They said yes. Their offer was ₦100k, and I was to resume in January 2020.
So from Abuja, I went back to my home town to stay with my family for Christmas. Then I left to process my NYSC posting to the consulting firm.
Where did you stay this time?
I have a friend from law school who said her parents wouldn’t mind housing me for however long I wanted. They’re an old couple with a big house. So I moved in with them in January with a plan to stay there for the whole year.
January was tough. I came to Lagos with almost no money, so I could only eat what I saw at home or whatever I saw in the office kitchen.
What did the first salary feel like?
It felt great, but I knew I wouldn’t use it for anything. I used ₦30k for feeding and transportation, and saved ₦70k towards renting an apartment. My entire NYSC alawee went to my parents for the whole year.
When COVID struck, my only expense became the ₦33k to my parents. I more or less saved the entire ₦100k every month, except when I wanted to buy foodstuff for the house. By December, I had ₦350k saved for rent and ₦500k as personal savings.
Where did you plan to move to?
I thought I could get a nice place in Lagos Island for ₦350k.
I moved out of the couple’s house in January 2021 and hopped from friend’s apartment to apartment while I was househunting.
By May, I finally got my own place for ₦700k — ₦350k from my savings and a ₦350k loan from my office. I didn’t want to touch my personal savings.
My salary also moved to ₦230k that January because the firm retained me, and ₦300k in March after performance reviews.
Boss. What did this new money mean to you?
It didn’t affect me o. I just dey save dey go. I found it hard to spend on anything more than feeding, transportation and ₦50k monthly for my parents. I was still used to not having money. Or maybe it’s because I was saving to furnish my apartment that I didn’t think of spending money on myself.
Did this change at any point?
Yes. Midway through 2021, a few friends who I share similar backgrounds with decided that since we were individually climbing out of poverty, we needed to do things that made us happy, like going out together and buying nice stuff for ourselves. We all noticed that we were all finding it hard to spend money.
Nice. What did you buy?
I got a phone for ₦100k and a laptop for ₦290k. The laptop I had was what I’d been using since my first year in university, so I thought I deserved a new one. Also, I didn’t want to keep using my office laptop for my side gigs.
What side gigs?
I enjoy research and writing. So in 2020, I tried copywriting, but I didn’t get any jobs online. Then I tried doing virtual assistant gigs on Fiverr, but I also didn’t get many jobs.
In 2021, a friend introduced me to someone who does academic research and writing, and I got jobs from them.
It became a lot of work, so in February this year, I stopped, and now my only side gig is virtual assistance to someone that used to work at my company. She pays me ₦150k.
So you make ₦550k a month?
I got a raise to ₦500k this year. So it’s more like ₦750k.
It’s beautiful, until the requests start coming in.
Tell me about it
I promised myself that because of the sacrifices my mum made for me, I’d try my best to send money home and make their lives easier. But it seems like nothing I do is enough.
My family isn’t doing so well right now. One sister is out of a job. My brother also just got out of a two-year medical crisis, and he’s just getting back to his feet. My parents are old and sick, and they don’t work anymore.
On a normal month, I send my parents at least ₦50k, but there’s hardly a normal month. These days, I can spend up to ₦250k a month on my family, and still, everyone is always asking.
In March this year, I visited home and spent over ₦500k on stocking up and fixing the house. I also paid off debts for my mum because these days, she’s almost always in debt. Maybe it’s become a habit. When I was leaving, she asked for more money because she knew I’d just been promoted. After spending over ₦500k in a month. I don’t even spend up to ₦50k on myself in a month, even if I go out.
It’s December, and she’s already called to say I should send Christmas money, even though I’ve sent them more than ₦1m since September.
My siblings too are always asking for money. One sister even demanded I put her on a monthly allowance. My brother wants me to pay his rent. I spent last December and January paying the hospital bills of one of my married sister’s children. I’ve spent this December doing the same thing. She recently called me to say, “Hope the hospital bills you paid won’t cancel out the money you’ll send us for Christmas.”
Apart from one of my sisters who I have an actual relationship with, the rest of my family see me as a source of money. I’m scared to pick their calls because I know what they’re calling for. And that’s the most painful part for me. At least, let them check on me. I’ve had an overwhelming, stressful year at work. But it’s like nobody cares. I lost ₦1m to Agropartnerships this year. Nobody wants to know. I’ve tried to tell my mum to call me to check on me and not just to ask for money. Nothing has changed. I’m tired of being their financial backup plan.
This is… a lot. I’m so sorry.
I hope this gets better soon
*I donate to an orphanage every month.
You must save a lot. What are your finances like?
I have different savings for different things. This is what it looks like.
Sweet. Tell me something you want but can’t afford
I want to travel. Maybe if I dig into my other savings buckets, I’ll be able to afford it, but I can’t right now.
How happy are you? The scale is 1-10
5. If you asked me a month ago, it’d have been much lower, but I’m mentally getting to a place where I’m like, it is what it is. But I’d be much happier if I wasn’t catering to my family’s needs.
Do you think that’ll end anytime soon?
It ends this year. I’m planning for graduate school abroad, and I need to save towards it. From next year, I’m only taking care of my parents. Everyone else should sort themselves out. We’re all adults.
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