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 your earliest memory of money?
When I was seven years old, an egbon adugbo (older street guy) would come to our one-room apartment every other day after I returned from primary school and give me ₦20 to buy whatever I wanted. When I got older, I realised he was actually coming to see my 15-year-old sister, and the money was so I’d give them some privacy.
I didn’t even like staying indoors after school, so I’d have happily left to play with friends without the money.
Were your parents aware of this?
If they knew, they didn’t care. My late dad was an interstate driver and was hardly around. My mum was a sweeper in the civil service. We weren’t really a close family; my parents didn’t even have a relationship. In fact, I think my birth was due to an unplanned pregnancy because I have two older sisters, and my immediate elder sister is eight years older than me.
When I was eight, my dad stopped coming home, and even though the financial burden was already on my mum, it became heavier. My mum hustled to help us live as comfortably as possible, but her mothering stopped at providing money. Nothing else mattered. I usually joke that I was raised as an orphan.
Why do you think so?
My mum didn’t care where you were or what you did as long as you found something to eat, so she’d only have to worry about school fees and house rent. My sisters sheltered me from this for as long as they could, but when dad left, they also had to leave to hustle.
They had graduated from secondary school. For my mum, it meant it was time for them to start bringing money home. My eldest sister moved in with a boyfriend, and my other sister lived at the amala spot where she worked.
What did your sisters’ leaving mean for you?
They — especially my eldest sister — were the closest thing to a mother figure I had. Their leaving made it obvious I’d soon need to start providing for myself. And I started the moment I entered secondary school. My mum, because of her job, always left home before I woke up. But she wouldn’t drop money, so I had to sort out transport and feeding costs by myself.
One of the first things I did for money was to help a woman who had a buka nearby to set up and fetch water in the morning before going to school. She usually gave me ₦200 or ₦500 every day, depending on how fast people came to buy food.
After school, I’d go to a neighbour who sold screen guards and phone accessories in his shop. I’d help him arrange the screen guards into packs because they came disassembled, and he’d pay me ₦500 for every 100 screen guards I completed. Sometimes, I stole some screen guards to resell for anything between ₦200 – ₦250 to the guys who sold from wheelbarrows.
So, you were hustling
But I wasn’t making much at the end of the day. After removing what I needed for food and transport, the rest went to my mum. However, she still always grumbled about how there was no money, and she was sweeping all day to survive. After graduating from secondary school in 2016, I left home too.
I didn’t know what to do with my life, and I couldn’t think about that at home. Left to my mum, I just needed to continue hustling, which wasn’t a problem. But I wanted something that matched the stress I was going through.
Where did you go?
At first, I moved in with an older friend. He rode an okada for a living, and it seemed profitable, so I decided I was going to do it too. He introduced me to someone who’d bought an okada and needed a rider for a hire purchase arrangement, but the man refused to give it to me. I don’t blame him sha. I was just 16, and he must’ve been sceptical about trusting a small boy who could either crash it or run away with it.
I spent two weeks at my friend’s before I became uncomfortable because the guy was managing too. I decided to visit my eldest sister and see if she could find me a job. Instead, she sent me to school.
Sounds like it isn’t what you wanted
I was looking for quick money, but she argued school would give me a better opportunity to make money. So, I took JAMB and got into a polytechnic in 2018. She paid the ₦58k/session tuition but made it clear I’d need to sort myself out in school.
In school, I attached myself to one guy who had a computer business centre. I helped with literally everything; from making photocopies, student registrations, to taking passport photographs. My salary was ₦10k/month.
What was surviving on ₦10k like?
School took most of it. It was a very low period for me. Other students had social lives, but I could only afford to attend class and go to work. I even had to squat in the hostel.
Then I noticed this guy who always came to the business centre. He was in my department and was a baller. I heard he was generous, so I decided to try to be his friend. Maybe he’d also ball and reach my side.
How did that go?
The next time he came to the business centre, he was with friends, and they were gisting about football. I chipped in, and we just vibed. That was also the day I realised why he came there so often. A co-worker at the business centre told me the guy was a yahoo boy, and my boss was his picker.
What’s a picker?
Someone who collects money on behalf of a yahoo boy. I’m not sure what their arrangement was, but the guy — let’s call him Bobo — always came to collect money or discuss their operations with my boss.
I didn’t mind what he did. I just wanted to get close to Bobo. I started moving with the people he moved with and was always around him in school. I’d occasionally visit him at his off-campus apartment, where he lived with a few guys, for the food and drinks. Sometimes, he’d randomly dash me ₦5k. These gifts and the earnings from the business centre carried me through school until he graduated in 2019.
Did you get involved with his “yahoo” work, though?
Not while he was in school. But it wasn’t due to a lack of interest on my part. I wanted to make money too, and not have to wait for hand-outs.
Bobo’s place was what guys call HK — a headquarters for yahoo boys. Even though I visited occasionally, they hardly talked about their operations with me. I only know they ran several scams: bank, international romance and phishing — where they’d steal accounts after people click and share passwords via fake links.
But Bobo asked me to speak with someone once. It was one of those bank scams where they send you an SMS saying something is wrong, and you need to call them. When the victim called, the person who was supposed to speak to them wasn’t around. Bobo was like, “You speak good English. Just tell them so and so”. It worked, and he gave me ₦5k after but didn’t ask me to do anything again. This happened just before he left school. I figured he didn’t trust me, and decided to just let him be.
How was work at the business centre going?
I got a salary increase to ₦15k in 2019. My boss also started allowing me to take the laptop home because of some student project gigs we got. This allowed me to also take on other gigs on the side, earning an average of ₦15k extra per month.
I finished my ND in late 2020 and had to leave the school hostel. I’d saved up about ₦70k, so I used it to buy the old laptop I used for work from my boss. My thinking was, at least I’d have something to work with if I had to continue writing projects for students.
I was still in touch with Bobo, so I moved in with him temporarily. He’d just gotten a Benz, and when I saw it, I was like, “Omo. How many projects do I want to write that will give me Benz?” So, I started disturbing him to show me the way. Maybe it was because I now had a laptop, but he agreed. That’s how I almost became a yahoo boy.
I pulled out at the last minute. Bobo said I’d need to swear a loyalty oath with an Alfa before officially joining them. I was ready to do it, but a few days before the oath-swearing, one white-garment lady stopped me on the road and basically said I’d die if I went on with my weekend plans. I’m not religious, but I was scared o.
I couldn’t tell Bobo I wasn’t doing again. I just quietly left his place the next day and went to my eldest sister’s house. He never called me till this day.
I’m curious. How does one become a yahoo boy? Are oaths always involved?
It depends on how the HK is run. When I moved in with Bobo, the HK was no longer at his place. It was somewhere else, though he still ran it. Their group was closed to most people, and they didn’t allow just anyone to get into the circle. But I’ve heard that other HKs freely recruit young smart boys in one place and just do the work.
When Bobo’s group “cashed out”, they split the money among themselves, but the major players took the biggest cuts. While I was with them, they never had any issues with the EFCC. Bobo used to leave his phones in the house, but was held a few times by police because of his cars. He always settled them sha.
I see. What did you do after returning to your sister’s house?
I didn’t do anything for two months. Then she convinced her husband to employ me at his car parts store. He brought me on to supervise the guys who worked for him and make sure they didn’t cheat him or exchange the parts with fakes. That paid ₦20k/month.
What were your expenses like?
I wasn’t spending much because I didn’t pay rent or worry about feeding. But my mum would occasionally call for money, so I usually sent her ₦8k – ₦10k every month. That said, I made it a point to save at least ₦5k every month. I saved the money in a kolo I stored inside the ceiling.
That was my pattern for about two years till I left my sister’s place in January 2023.
Why did you leave?
If I didn’t leave, her husband and I would’ve exchanged blows at some point. The man was verbally abusive and treated me like a houseboy. I only put up with it because I needed to save to rent an apartment and get a POS machine.
I’d decided to start a POS business because a friend was making ₦10k – ₦15k daily from it. Plus, it didn’t need much capital to start. I’d already spoken to a woman in the market who agreed to have me put a stool in front of her shop. All I needed was about ₦30k to apply for the machine, ₦100k in the wallet and another ₦100k in cash to start. I also used ₦10k to print a banner.
Did all that come from your savings?
I had only about ₦200k in my savings, so I started a ₦15k monthly ajo contribution. I packed the ₦165k contribution in February and added it to my savings. I used ₦250k to start the POS business, and ₦80k to pay my half of the rent for the one-room apartment I currently share with a friend. The balance went back into my savings.
But the moment I started the business, the cash scarcity due to the naira redesign started.
Yikes. What did that mean for business?
It was tough in the beginning because I had mostly old notes, and people were scared of collecting them. But I partnered with the market women so they could give my notes as change, and I’d collect whatever new notes they had. Sometimes they sold it. I’d exchange one old ₦1k note for ₦700 or ₦800.
I’d also wake up early to queue at ATMs to collect cash or buy new notes at ₦1k per ₦10k from interstate drivers. But I also made a lot of profit. Withdrawal charges were as much as ₦200 for every ₦1k, and I made around ₦20k – ₦25k each day, depending on how much cash I was able to get. When I didn’t get new notes, I sat down at home.
The cash situation got better in April, and now I make an average of ₦8k daily and about ₦270k monthly.
Would you say it’s sufficient to meet your needs?
It is for now. I know there are guys my age who make more money, and sometimes, I’m tempted to feel ashamed of myself for being an ordinary POS agent, but I try to be grateful. I can meet my essential needs without running around or doing “yes sir” for anybody.
Of course, I don’t intend to do this business forever, but comparing myself to people driving Venzas and Benzs right now would just be greed.
Where do you imagine you’ll be in five years?
Ah. Five years is too far. I don’t even know what tomorrow holds. But I may either return to school for my HND or find a way into tech. I signed up for a free web design course just last month and have been practising on my laptop at night. So far, it’s been very confusing, so I don’t know if it will work. If it doesn’t, I’ll look for another thing to try.
Rooting for you. What do your recurring monthly expenses look like?
I imagine you’ve grown past the kolo savings stage
I still save small change in my kolo from time to time, but the bulk of my savings is in the bank. I currently have about ₦500k saved. I’m considering saving some in those apps that allow you to save in dollars because of the way the naira is falling. But I’m scared of the app shutting down and carrying my money with it.
LOL. Valid. How would you describe your relationship with money?
I’m learning self-control. I’ve never really been a heavy spender — I never even had money — but I was fascinated with people who had it and was ready to do anything to make it. If I hadn’t had that encounter with the white garment lady now, it’d probably be a different story today.
In a way, I’m grateful I didn’t start yahoo yahoo. I’m making a little money now, but I’m not spending like I thought I would. Maybe it’s because I know the struggle I go through every day to make money. You won’t catch me using my hard-earned money to dorime for anyone. The opposite would’ve been the case if I made money from internet fraud.
Is there anything you want right now but can’t afford?
Anything? Maybe a house so I can rent it out and collect money while I sleep. Won’t you ask me about my financial happiness?
LOL. Oya, rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1-10
7. I don’t know what I’ll do if I stop the POS business today, but I think I’m doing pretty well for myself right now.
If you’re interested in talking about your Naira Life story, this is a good place to start.
Find all the past Naira Life stories here.