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.
The subject in this story had his started out in lab coats as a Health Sciences student, but now he seems to have a keen interest in Data Sciences. One thing stays consistent though, his love for enjoyment.
Tell me about the first work you did for money.
JSS 2. Technical drawing class. I used to charge people because they didn’t know how to use compasses. My classmates would go out on break, and I’d make ₦1200 for 6 technical drawings. Then I’d buy ₦100 rice and uncountable meat. Add Tampico.
Ah, I still sabi book that year o. This was 2006 – I was 11. But the very first hard work I did for money was about a year later. I was on holiday at my uncle’s house, and he wanted to fix his gutters. So he asked my sibling and I if we wanted to make money and we were like yeaah yeah!
That’s how we started carrying cement and mixing. And after all the work, he gave us money, I looked at it and asked, “What is this?”
₦500. My uncle gave me ₦500 to carry cement for 6 hours in the sun. Inside life. Maybe that’s when I knew I had to stay in school and not become a bricklayer. I didn’t do any work till I entered 200-level. Someone reached out for a job in a startup.
Tell me about that.
They wanted me to write product descriptions for listings on their website. The goal was to write 10 per day, at ₦100 per description. I did 10 on weekdays, which summed up to ₦20k a month.
But I also had school to worry about – tight deadlines, long reading nights, making class attendance so I could write exams.
I started chasing money, and school work suffered. The problem was that I was not even making my ₦20k per month, more like ₦18k, ₦15k,₦10k. It got tiring. Really nice people, but the job was monotonous. I think I was just excited that someone was paying me to write.
I get you.
Then the “500 words for ₦10k” jobs started coming. The company managing the product website upgraded my deal. They starting paying ₦40k per month.
See, my friends thought of me as the rich kid o.
Because whenever my ₦40k landed, ground dey full. You would see me shopping for provisions. See, I had this idea:
“When you have money, chop it before you die, make next of kin no chop am.” The money also made me confident to borrow. One time, my phone broke, and I needed money, because that was what I was writing with. I asked my sibling for money – and got a ₦60k loan.
“Are you sure you’ll return it?” I was like relaxxxx, I’ll pay back. I did.
How did your sibling have money? Work?
Scholarships. That one faced books squarely. Anyway, I was living fast! I didn’t go home frequently, and my dad was like, if you don’t come back home, I’m not going to give you allowance!
In my head, I was like, who do you think you’re talking to?
At this time sef, he had already cut our allowance to ₦20k per month from ₦42k. At some point, he read me a proper Riot Act, then sent me money. I think he was suspecting that I’d started earning.
When my dad slashed my allowance, I had to double up on looking for money. You know when they say people go to school and lose their way.
Na me them dey talk about bro. To make it harder for me, my sibling was best in class. My dad wasn’t checking our G.P.A and all that. His own was, “Once your 5 years is over, I’ll stop giving you money.”
Anyway, in 400-level, I had to be serious so I could graduate – all books, no work. I had to survive on my allowance. I cut out all my excesses. I used to dry clean my shirts, but I had to start handwashing.
My dry cleaner would be like, “I haven’t seen you in a while.”
Don’t see me please.
When people saw my results, they were like woooow, so you sabi book? Soft.
I knew that my dad would make my life miserable if I had an extra year. I had already collected ₦100k from him for project, and he had told me that was the last money he was giving me. Recession had started to affect his businesses so the guy was austere.
Yeah. I wanted to buy something on ASOS at $1/150, then I decided to chill small. Had I known.
All of us man. So, what happened after school?
In January 2016, I moved from school back home. My dad came to pick me. I remember that my dad was just smiling as he and my sibling packed everything into the car. Welcome to reality.
In a hostel, we had 24/7 light, water, accessible ATMs etc. On my first night back home, there was no power — no generator? I went to meet my dad. He said, “If you have money for petrol, put it on.”
That’s when I knew.
My money kept reducing. When I hit my last 2k, I knew I had to get a job. I got a job in a lab – Mondays to Saturdays. Guess how much they were paying
₦40,000. It was a small and new lab, so I had to do everything, from turning on the generator to settling fights between couples arguing over who gave who an STD.
I was counselor, gateman and therapist. I used to get home 10-11pm, because of work.
My running costs – transport and food – was ₦23k. So I had ₦17k left. And because “fresh outta school now” you and your friends want to link up and everything, that’s 5 or 6k. Internet also took money. So I had next to nothing left. It was like I was chasing a cycle, and my spare was in case of emergency. And there was always an emergency.
I did that job for three months and I realised I couldn’t continue. I didn’t have money and I was working my life out. But my boss was like the most amazing person. We still keep in touch. He too knew that the money was shit. But na condition make crayfish bend.
I get that.
Remember that company website I was working for? My line manager moved to another startup and they were hiring. I went for the interview and got hired. It was an internship role, but I was so excited – so excited I didn’t ask how much.
It will end in –
– Tears. It was ₦55k, but I didn’t even mind. I did get a raise to ₦80k though.
In all this time, I was applying for my professional internship to properly get certified and all that.
I really loved working at the startup, but I had to resign towards the end of 2017. Then I became super broke
Did you have any savings?
While I was working at the startup, I took a loan to buy a laptop. I had to repay that over the next few months, so I couldn’t save. Also, I couldn’t ask my dad for money.
Are you still like that?
Yes. I’ll rather die than ask him. He’s the kind of person that if he does something for you, he requires you to do certain favours.
He’ll always bring up how he did this and that for you. So I already promised not to ask him. That month was brutal I used to take ₦150 bike to go see my babe before. Omo, I started walking.
My babe was very supportive. She used to sense that I was cranky. So sometimes she’d randomly send me some change and buy me stuff, like airtime or pizza.
She could smell the brokeness my guy.
Guy, the odour was potent. I knew all the cheap data plans. All the ₦500 for 1GB plans. All I was doing was sleeping or trekking if I had to go somewhere.
Anyway, it all lasted for one month. And then I resumed at my internship. Then there was another problem. I didn’t have clothes – I hadn’t bought those for over a year. So I went back to my one true saviour, my sibling. And I promised him that I was going to be more sensible with money. My clothes got paid for, and we created a repayment plan.
That Red October was good for me, because I entered my Internship with red-eyed discipline. My net salary was ₦127k. I told myself I was going to have ₦1 million in savings by the end of the Internship. I’m saving up for when it’s time to start chasing Permanent Residence in the Abroad.
My target was to save ₦90k every month for a year. I remember they didn’t pay me for like the first 3 months, because of government. But man was already used to suffering. So when they paid everything all my guys were going to buy phones. I first transferred ₦180k to one account that had no debit card or Internet banking. I bought stuff for my folks.
In the end, I had ₦20k left. I started trying to make money on the side – like the old days. And I could earn enough to help me save my entire salary on some months.
But you see the thing with money. When you start to enjoy, you go forget say you don suffer. So after the first four months, I told my self guy you can’t kill yourself. Have you not tried?! So I started to buy expensive wristwatches, expensive perfumes, my babe did birthday too, I spent money!
I kept on buying randomly and I ended up spending ₦60k. I look everything wey the babe don do. This babe follow me when I dey trek.
Like she’ll be like is it not enough. I’ll be like you no say money no be problem hahaha.
I didn’t save in that month.
After two more months, I was like guy no spend this thing finish – NYSC was coming and I didn’t want to carry last. In the end, I missed my millon naira target by ₦122k.
But you see, I had money in my account, but I wasn’t happy with my life. Imagine having all that money and your phone is bad.
Yeah, I shopped for camp and everything. That was like 40k. Because deep down I don’t like suffering, I took ₦63k for camp I used to eat pancakes with syrup and eggs, sausages, and chicken.
In fact, I had only ₦3k by the time I received my first NYSC allowance. This was 2018.
I left camp in November. I had to change my PPA because I was trying to get an NGO, instead, I landed in a Government Hospital – ₦43k.
One woman there was saying, “Don’t be chasing money. It’s a learning experience.” In my mind I was like, people that learn with money do they have two heads?
My first month there shocked them. I was always the first person to get to work. The next person always came 1 hour 30 minutes later. So I’m always manning the lab from 8-10:30 am. And it’s a fucking general hospital. I’m always overworked.
It’s interesting, going from a startup to civil service.
It’s like a crash landing. Startups require a level of commitment to work ethic. Startups tend to be understaffed, so when you’re not pulling your own weight, it’ll show. But Civil Service, I’m doing the barest minimum and they think I have a work ethic.
I’ll get to work at 7:50am. I’ll not leave till like 5. I’ll attend to every patient. I’ll go out of my way for patients to go and meet doctors.
At the startup, the fact that I knew there were performance reviews made me step up. Things that would have been difficult for me to know, I learned. And the six months I spent there had actually transformed my life. The kind of people that I’ve met. The way I handle a lot of things. If I had not passed through then I would be thinking of opening a community lab or pharmacy or hospital. I wouldn’t be able to dream big. I learned there that if you’re too comfortable where you are, you won’t gbe body.
I’ve not expended half of the energy from where I’m coming. My bosses at work are always like oh my God. He’s so hard working, he’s so principled. Oops!
My head o.
If I don’t do that barest minimum, I’ll die from boredom. Patients will be saying they’ve not seen anybody like you.
Because it takes nothing. At my other place I used to work like 8 till 5. But it felt like 8 till next year.
Now I’m working 8 till 4. And the work is mostly muscle memory. If I don’t take time to exercise my brain, trouble.
What’s your current running cost?
I get paid about ₦43k. NYSC pays me ₦19,800 so I save ₦35k to my Japa funds. I live on ₦29k. I’m living in my dad’s house. So I’m not paying rent, and I don’t eat out very much. Data is my big expense.. And my girlfriend is considerably understanding. We go for outings like once in 3months.
Same babe my man. We’ll marry.
What’s something you really want right now but you can’t afford?
Permanent residency in the Abroad – okay that’s taking it far. I want to pivot into the data sciences after Nysc. And I can’t keep doing free courses – one course I want to take, for example, costs $200. My funds are limited. Let me tell you why I bought phone too.
I went to donate blood in January 2019. I had donated blood six times before but on that seventh time, I almost fainted. I’ve never fainted in my life.
I don’t know. That’s the first time it happened to me. So they had to rush me back, and I had to do something where I’ll put my head down and put my legs up. In that moment, I had an epiphany. I had a fucking epiphany.
Na so person go just die, next thing, next of kin will collect all my savings. As they released me from that place, I just went to buy an internet modem. The next day I called a phone seller. He told me the price of the phone I wanted and I told him, “Guy, I’m coming. Don’t close your shop.”
₦250k. I felt light after but, I kept on repeating eyan le ku any fucking time. At this point, I had only ₦500k left in savings.
Also, random, in as much as my babe is understanding, I try to do nice things for her.
Also, from time to time, I do stuff for the people around me.
It’s kind of nerve-wracking, the longer I stay in Nigeria, the more I’ll deplete my savings. The more life will happen. Maybe I’ll want to move out, pay for rent.
Then I’ll now be telling my children ah! You guys would have been Canadian citizens.
I see the guys in Civil Service, 15-20 years of service. I see their pay slip. I know it’s emotionally draining for me because of my work ethic.
I’m always the one that goes the extra mile for mothers and their children. I help them chase doctors. Every other person is always like oh he’ll do it. So at the end of the work day, I feel very emotionally drained and still broke.
You know how they say empathy kills. It drains me.
Empathy is draining.
You’re seeing poor people. At the General Hospital, you’ll see things that’ll baffle you. I once saw a woman who was diabetic, and she had neuropathic pain. Pain from her waist down, and it was stinging.
They were supposed to give her an injection that cost ₦50. And this woman could not afford ₦50. She was crying The problem with having a lean budget is that you’re always with your last card till payday. But that day I thought, this woman doesn’t have any money anywhere, I have ₦500k somewhere.
I had like ₦150 because that money takes me home, while she still had to buy other drugs. So we just crowdfunded. I first bought her the injection, and we bought her other stuff.
The thing is, it’s not a one-off. It’s recurring. I’ve lost count of the times it’s happened. You’ll see people that can’t afford the most basic things. It’s tough, trying to save people when I am not centred enough.
Like trying to save drowning people from a sinking boat.
Argh. I sent someone my last ₦2k. ₦2k will solve the immediate problems of someone who has no money. On the other hand, I’m looking for ₦1 million.
2019 is showing me pepper, but it doesn’t feel as tough as 2017, because I have money, even though I try not to look at it as my money. But knowing it’s there makes me feel better, a safety net.
Let’s talk about Financial Happiness.
I think I’m unhappy because Nigeria is making me unhappy and I’m trying to leave. If I had no plans to leave, I think I’d be happier, even if I earned ₦60-something-k. But all my money and energy is pivoted towards leaving.
I’m not poor, I’m just broke a lot. Because I want to go to Canada.
So, I don’t think I’m sad because of my finances. If all else fails, I know I can go and beg my father. If I ask him for money now, he’ll give me. But you know what? I’d rather die. Maybe, in the end, all my strong head is just because I want to outdo him.
Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people.
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Every story in this series can be found here.