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.


Nairalife #278 bio

What’s your earliest memory of money?

My parents gave me ₦10 daily for snacks in primary school, and I spent it on those frozen powdered drinks sold as “ice cream”. ₦5 could get five of those, and I’d spend the balance on whatever. Life was good.

How good?

Good enough to take food to school and still have money to spend on whatever I wanted. My parents were civil servants, and sometimes, my dad would drive me to school. We were the average middle-class family. But then, my parents separated when I was in Primary 1, and money became a problem. 

How so?

My mum, siblings and I had to leave our three-bedroom house and move in with a family friend until my mum could afford a one-room apartment. We even moved in when it was practically empty — we had just three plastic chairs.

My mum became the sole provider. I went from being the student with money to spend during lunch break to being one of the students who was sent home for not paying school fees. It was a harsh transition that lasted about three years before my parents got back together. 

They stayed together for a year and separated again — for good this time — when I was in Primary 5. This was in 2008.

What did this mean to you?

It affected me more than it did the first time. I must’ve been around six when we had to leave the first time, and I don’t remember feeling sad that my dad wasn’t around. But by the final separation, I could see just how much it affected my mum financially. 

I was just about to enter secondary school, and she’d always talk about trying to raise money for my fees. At the end of the day, she had to convince my principal to waive some extra charges so I could resume school after I’d spent a few weeks at home. 

Then my mum got laid off from work when I was in JSS 2 and started selling raw grains to make money. I helped her anytime I was home from school. That was the first thing I did to earn money.

Did your mum pay you?

Yes. People in our area couldn’t afford to buy in bulk, so she’d open a bag of grains and ask me to divide them into smaller portions and tie them in smaller bags. She paid ₦100 for every bag I tied, and I could tie two to three bags in a day. 

I did that on and off during the weekends. In SS 2, I started selling chocolates to my classmates. I’d moved in with a family friend to reduce the financial burden on my mum, and I decided I needed to make extra money to cover transportation and other things I needed at school. 

My mum was still paying for my school fees and sending a ₦2k – ₦3k monthly allowance, but the extra money from the chocolates came in handy for additional expenses. 

What kind of profit did you make?

A pack of 80 pieces cost ₦300, and transportation to and fro the market cost ₦100. I sold each candy at ₦10, making ₦400 in profit after removing the cost of buying and transportation. 

I sold the chocolates until I left secondary school in 2014. I didn’t get admission into university until 2018. I first took on a ₦14k/month waitress job and then left to work as a receptionist at a photo studio for ₦15k/month. 

After a few months, my mum had an accident, and I had to stay home to take care of her. It was while I was at home that I started writing for money in 2016.

How did you start writing?

I read a lot and often wrote to replicate what I read. I wrote a lot about everything going on in my family. I posted some of these stories on Nairaland and met the first person who paid me to write. She paid me ₦1k for a 1000-word lifestyle article. She liked it and gave me three more writing gigs. I made ₦4500 in total from her.

I applied for more writing gigs on Nairaland and gradually got clients. I could write up to three articles weekly and earn between ₦6k – ₦10k. That became my primary source of income till I finally got into uni in 2018.

Did you continue the writing gigs in uni?

Managing the gigs and school work was difficult, especially because I used my phone to write. Since I didn’t have a laptop, I’d first write out the articles on paper before typing them into my phone. It was too stressful, so I just stopped looking for gigs.

Around the same time, I saw an advert for a modelling audition at school and decided to apply. I passed the audition and got cast to walk for a fashion show for free. I was happy to do it for the experience. The agency offered to sign me on, and I paid ₦5k to register as one of their models.

How does modelling for an agency work?

A modelling agency should train their models, send them out for gigs and then handle payment. Unfortunately for me, my agency only took their models to parties and clubs to meet men. 

The final straw was when they made me do a nude photoshoot. I wasn’t comfortable with my nude pictures being out for anyone to see, so I quit. I was with them for only five months.

Did you try to get gigs on your own?

I went for multiple auditions, but I’m short, and most of the casting directors said they wanted someone 5’9” and above. 

I didn’t get another gig until 2019 when I got paid ₦10k to walk the runway for a one-day show. The fashion house owner saw one of my online practice videos and liked it.

That show helped me meet other people in the industry and build a network. I started getting small modelling gigs once or twice a month. ₦7k for a photoshoot here and ₦5k to work with a make-up artist there. 

I spent most of what I made on transportation. In modelling, you’re always on the move for one rehearsal, fitting or the like, and that took a lot of my money. When I wasn’t working on paid gigs, I worked on unpaid collaborations to build my portfolio. Honestly, it was just something I enjoyed doing, so I didn’t mind that I wasn’t making much from it.

But how were you surviving?

I picked up stage decoration — mostly from watching others do it — and did the odd decoration gig for faculty and departmental functions when I wasn’t modelling. That usually brought in ₦10k – ₦15k per gig, but it wasn’t regular. I hardly got any allowance from home.  

In 2021, another modelling agency signed me. I found them on Instagram and they looked legit. I paid ₦15k to register, but I left after six months.

Why?

The gigs weren’t coming. None of the new models got gigs within that period, and I couldn’t even take on outside jobs. At that point, I decided to give modelling a break.

I took up a part-time job as an assistant to someone who produced cosmetics. It was just twice a week and paid ₦20k/month. It was the highest I’d ever made up to that point, and it helped that it didn’t interfere with school. I worked there for seven months and left when I was about to enter my final year because I needed to go for a three-month teaching practice internship.

Did you get paid for this internship?

Nope. I survived by taking random modelling and movie extra gigs on the weekends. I even got a small supporting role on a movie set once and got paid ₦70k after filming.

The school I interned at did try to retain me and offered ₦20k/month, but I didn’t take it. Around that time, I participated in a beauty contest/reality show situation that turned my life upside down.

I’m listening

I honestly don’t know why I keep falling for sham agencies, but I fell for this one. It was a pageant that was supposed to pay the winner ₦100k. I paid ₦5k for the application form, and the organisers housed me and the other contestants. Then, they began hounding us for votes.

This was how votes worked: You had to get people to “buy” votes for you by paying the organisers. Each vote cost ₦100, and most contestants bought their own votes just to get ahead.

I had to join them to buy votes after the organisers placed me in the “bottom five” group twice in a row. I contacted a few people for money but got no help, so I borrowed ₦10k from a loan app to buy my votes.

Did that help?

It kept me in the house until the main event. But then, the organisers came again and told us to start selling tickets for it, and I just gave up. 

But I still had to repay the loan, and with interest, it came to about ₦13500. I started getting multiple calls from the loan guys after the pay-back date elapsed, and I panicked and took another loan from a different app to pay them. That’s how my loan cycle started in 2022.

I didn’t have a strong source of income, so it was easy to fall back on more apps to repay my debt. Plus, the interests were always so much. I’d borrow ₦18k and have to pay back ₦27k. Then I’d borrow ₦27k and have to pay ₦35k. 

My debt had grown to ₦78k when I saw a WhatsApp BC about an opening for bikini girls for a pool party.

Bikini girls?

Dancers. We just had to dance in bikinis. The pay was ₦6k for a one-day event. I’d never worn a bikini in public before, but I was desperate for money. So, I applied and got the gig. I danced and got paid, but the organiser complained I was too self-conscious and stiff.

A week later, I got another bikini dancing gig for two weekends. That one paid ₦12k in total. I got another gig at a lounge that paid ₦5k to dance every Friday. I noticed the other girls got tips when they danced close to the men. So, I did the same thing and made ₦15k in tips on the first day.

I danced for a month and made enough money to clear my ₦78k debt. There was no reason for me to take the gigs anymore, so I left most of the WhatsApp groups that posted those jobs. But two weeks later, I realised I was pregnant. I couldn’t tell anyone, and I couldn’t keep it either, so I Googled options for an abortion. I found medication online that cost ₦38k. I didn’t have money, so I returned to the loan apps. I borrowed ₦45k and bought the drugs. While waiting for the drugs to be delivered to me, I had a miscarriage.

Damn

I couldn’t get a refund, and I had a debt of ₦70k — the loan amount + interest — to clear. The fastest way I knew to make money was to return to dancing, so I did that. 

I found a club that hired strippers on a tip-sharing basis — they took 40% of every tip the dancers made. I worked there for a week and made ₦30k. I left because they didn’t allow dancers to wear masks, and I wasn’t comfortable.

The next gig I found only required me to strip dance at a lounge on Fridays and get paid ₦15k. Thankfully, I was allowed to wear a mask. I sometimes had sex with male customers to get extra tips — usually up to ₦15k/week. It weighed a lot on my conscience, so I only had the courage to work once every two weeks. That worked for a while, and I was able to reduce my dependence on loans. 

But then, I hit a setback in 2023.

What happened?

I lost over ₦200k to a fake Instagram vendor. I was trying to buy a phone, and the vendor looked legit. I borrowed the money from several loan apps. But the vendor took my money and blocked me. Thinking about it now, it was a very unwise decision.

I began another round of borrowing to repay the different apps. But again, their interest rates were high, and within three months, my debt had grown to ₦700k.

Yikes. What was the plan to settle that?

I had to start stripping every weekend to meet up. Sometimes, I dance twice weekly, depending on how often the gigs come. 

I graduated from university in 2023 and am currently serving, but I still have debt, so I strip and dance. I do any job I can find at clubs: bikini dancing, bottle service and stripping. I make at least ₦50k weekly.

How much do you currently owe?

₦215k. I created a list with all the apps I owed and gradually paid them off according to who I first borrowed from to limit the multiple calls and reminders to pay. They even called my mum and sister multiple times to threaten them. But I was determined not to borrow from more apps to pay back my debts, so it helped me progress. I’m not putting myself under any pressure to pay anymore. When I have, I pay.

You mentioned you’re currently serving. The extra income must be welcome

It is. I started NYSC in February, and my PPA pays ₦30k/month. Then there’s the ₦33k NYSC stipend. However, I spend ₦30k monthly transporting to and from my PPA, where I work as a front desk officer. So, it’s only the ₦33k stipend I can say is mine. I also rented a ₦300k/year apartment in March, so saving for rent takes part of it.

Can you break down these expenses into a typical month?

Nairalife #278 monthly expenses

Thankfully, I’m the youngest in my family, so there’s no black tax. I also don’t have a “flex” budget because I know I’ve been super irresponsible with money in the past, and I’m just trying to move past my mistakes. 

My experiences have made me a lot wiser. For instance, I currently have ₦120k saved up for rent that’s due next year. My relationship with money isn’t healthy yet, but I’m on the right path.

How do you juggle a 9-5 with the many gigs you do?

There are days when I go to the lounge to dance straight from my PPA and then go from there back to work the next day. That’s after dancing in heels for hours. But I don’t have a choice. I have to dance so I can pay off my debts.

Apart from the long hours, stripping can also be very demeaning. It’s a mental struggle. I can be dancing on my own and someone would come and try to pull off my lingerie or touch me. Some days, I finish working and go back home to cry. Like, this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.

I make sure to always wear masks as a way to preserve the little dignity I have left. I overhear snide remarks from male customers all the time. Stuff like, “This one is only good for sex”. It’s crazy how people judge you for the same things they’re there for, but this is Nigeria.

Have you considered what the next few years of your life might look like?

I’m actively planning for my future. I hope to transition into tech after NYSC, and I’m taking courses in preparation. One is a virtual assistant course, and the other is about using AI to write. Both courses cost me ₦57k, but I see it as investing in my future.

How much do you think you’ll earn monthly from these skills?

₦500k/monthly would be a good starting point. The aim is to earn in dollars.

Rooting for you. Do you have financial regrets? Apart from the loans

I wish I’d reached out to family and friends when I first got into the loan cycle. My parents don’t support me anymore, but I could’ve reached out to my siblings and friends for help with my debt rather than going at it alone. 

It would’ve been quite embarrassing, but at least, I wouldn’t have gotten into as much debt to resort to everything I’m doing now to get out of it.

How would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 1 – 10?

5. It’d be higher when I start earning money in a manner I consider dignified.


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.

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