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.
How did you first realise the importance of money?
It was from making it. I was born and raised in a village in Kwara State. We were farmers in my family and planted crops like cassava, corn, and potato. On Saturdays, my friends and I went to the market to sell what we could and split the money among ourselves. My share was usually around ₦1k, and I usually gave it to my grandmother to use for the house and keep the rest for me.
What about your parents?
My father left the village to work as a driver in Lagos in 1993. But in 2000, he asked me to go live with his mother. He wanted someone to be with her.
So I was working on her farm and going to school. But I stopped school after primary school.
Did you want to?
I don’t even know. My father had two wives and six children. We were just managing, so going to school wasn’t what anyone talked about like that. Everyone just worked on the farms. Even when I left the village for Lagos, it was to go and work.
When did you leave?
2003. My father said I should come, and he helped me find a place to live and a job with one of his friends who sold fabric and clothes at a market. I was a salesgirl for the woman, and she paid me ₦10k/month.
I left the place after a year.
In 2004, I found out I was pregnant. The father of the child and I agreed to move in together. We didn’t do much. He just met my parents, and we did a little introduction before moving into his once.
What did he do for money?
Police work. And because he had a job and was earning money, he didn’t want me to work. When I asked for a reason, he said he didn’t want me to work for anyone. He promised to open a shop for me, and I believed him. So I stayed at home without a job for two years.
I was getting some money from him. Before he went out every morning, he’d give me ₦500 – ₦1k to cook something.
I don’t know how much he was earning because he never told me, so I’m not sure if he could have done more. But he was leaving money for feeding and paying our house rent.
Did you have arguments about money?
Sometimes. If we fought, we settled it. Thank God we didn’t have too many responsibilities, so it was easy to manage the money he left.
What about the child you were pregnant with?
I lost the pregnancy.
Eish. I’m sorry
Thank you. But I got pregnant again and gave birth to my first child in 2006. There was one more person to worry about; I decided to find a job since my husband still didn’t set up the shop he promised.
I got a job as a cleaner in a school. By fire, force and plenty of begging, my husband reluctantly agreed to allow me to do the job. I told him I couldn’t just sit at home anymore.
How much did the job pay?
₦5k. I don’t know why my husband didn’t want me to work because the money I started earning at the job was used to support him and the house. One person cannot do everything.
Now that I had a job, he didn’t have to give me money every day anymore. But I left the job in 2008 when I was pregnant with my second child.
How were you managing when you left?
I was back to living on whatever the children’s father gave us. Nothing after that. He was still saying that he’d open the shop for me, but he did everything by mouth. It never happened.
About the time I started thinking about finding another job, I found out that I was pregnant again. This was in 2010, and I was at home for another two years before I found another cleaning job in 2012.
How did you find that job?
I started telling everyone around that I was looking for work and someone introduced me to a family. I’ve been with them since. When I started, I was going there to clean the house and wash their clothes once a week, and they were paying me ₦10k/month.
I was also working for other people during the week. After calculating everything, I was making up to ₦40k/month.
Was this enough to take care of the house and the kids?
We weren’t paying school fees because the kids were in public schools. But I was paying for their feeding, school books and uniform. My husband was taking care of the rent. On months when we didn’t have a lot to spend money on, I saved ₦10k. However, there were always reasons to touch the money and it never grew.
As the years passed, we were managing and the kids were growing older. Everything was fine until my husband started misbehaving and picking fights with me.
Why? What happened?
He never wanted me to have a job, even though he saw what the money did for us. When I didn’t stop, he decided that I was having affairs and seeing other men. I think he was just jealous because where was the time to do that?
He’d been fighting me for years, but it got worse in 2020. Every day, he’d listen to my calls to see who I was speaking to. Most times, these people just wanted to give me work. Then he started checking my phone at night when I was sleeping. To him, everybody that called me was my “boyfriend”.
There was a time he sent me and the kids out in the middle of the night, but we had no place to go at that time. When it was morning, I took my kids to my father’s house, and we stayed there for two weeks.
Where did you go from there?
Back to his house. Our families settled the fight, but it didn’t end there. Sometimes, he’d wake me up in the middle of the night and force me to swear that I wasn’t cheating on him. At some point, he even accused me of blocking his destiny because of my affairs.
That’s a lot
It was. When he told me to leave his house again in 2021, I knew I wasn’t going back. Even his parents said I should leave the house for him because they were tired of his wahala. I carried my load, my three children and left.
I’m sorry. But where did you go?
We stayed with one of my sisters for a few weeks. But she also started doing somehow, so the children and I had to leave. I had only one option left.
The family I’d been working for since 2012. They heard what happened and promised to get a house for me. They also asked me to move in with them and be their children’s nanny. I agreed and went with my first child. I left the other two with their father’s mother.
I’ve been living in their house for about two years now.
How much is the job paying?
₦25k/month. Once I get my salary, I take ₦5k out and send the rest to my account.
How do you spend money now?
I don’t spend a lot of money because my daughter and I eat whatever I cook for the house. But I go to visit my other children at their grandmother’s place at least once a month and spend about ₦10k out to buy things for them.
But I recently bought a phone for ₦56,500. It’s why I don’t have much in my account now.
How much do you have left?
The next thing that I’ll need to spend money on is my eldest school fees. She is about to enter university, and I know I cannot carry it by myself. After she writes her JAMB, I’ll talk to her father’s family to know we’ll know how to do it.
What about their dad?
We haven’t spoken since I left his house. He pays for what the children need in school though. But I don’t trust him that much and don’t know if he’ll continue doing this.
I’m taking it one by one. The one thing I want to do now is to rent my own house. This place is not that comfortable for me.
The work is too much. My boss has travelled out of the country. Now it’s just me, my daughter, my boss’s husband and their two children. Every morning, I bathe the kids and take them to school. Then I come back to clean the house and wash the dirty clothes. I also pick up the children from school and cook lunch and dinner for the house. I’m the only one doing all of this, and it’s not easy.
And with everything I do, the husband will still talk to me somehow like I don’t know what I’m doing. One day, I corrected one of the children, and the husband called their mother to warn me. There was another time I forgot to tell him that the fuel inside the gen had finished and he said things to me like I did it intentionally.
This is what happens when you’re working for your mates. But I’m coping. Things will be better soon.
Do you know why they’ve not gotten the apartment for you?
The husband and the children are going to join the wife soon. I think they want to leave before they get the apartment so I won’t leave them. There was one time I was even angry about something the husband did and wanted to leave, but they begged me to stay so I can get all the things they promised me.
The housing issue is why I can’t leave the job for them. I’ve worked for them for more than 10 years, so it’s like my reward.
But what happens if they don’t fulfil their promises?
Ah! The wife and I talk all the time, and they said they will do it. All my heart is on it, and I have no other choice but to trust them. If they don’t do it, I won’t know where to start.
They even collected ₦20k from me last year. They said they wanted me to add some money to the rent too. If they don’t get the house for me, they’ll return my money.
If it was up to you, how much would you like to be earning every month?
If I get a job that pays me ₦50k, I’ll be very happy. At least I’ll have more money to save. I want to start a business now, so I won’t have to work for anyone again and no one will insult me. I’m thinking of buying a freezer and selling cold drinks.
How much is a good amount of money to save for you right now?
₦20k/month that I won’t touch. If I leave that for a year, that will be ₦240k. It’s something.
How much do you think you’ll be making in five years?
By that time, I should have started my business, and I hope it’s bringing me at least ₦40k in profit every month. It’s not that much but it will be from my work and my business, and that’s enough for me.
Is there anything you’d change now about how you spend money?
I don’t even have that much money to spend. But I want to learn how to say no. When the person I’m working for was in Nigeria, she was selling clothes. And she was pushing them to me to buy. I didn’t need the clothes or had the money for them, but I bought them because I didn’t know how to tell her no.
The clothes cost between ₦3k – ₦6k each. I think I spent up to ₦60k on everything I bought from her, and it pains me every time I remember this. I don’t even wear the clothes, so it’s like I wasted money. The thing really affected my savings.
That’s painful. So, how do you see life now?
Life is not fair. You’re working a lot doesn’t mean that you will make plenty of money. I don tire, but may God help us. I also think that life is hard on women, and we need to have our own money so no man will be able to control us.
Do you think you’ll return to your husband?
I don’t think it’s possible anymore. Let everyone be on their own. If it’s about the children, we can face it together. But I don’t even want to rely on him for that. I didn’t go to school, and I want all my children to. I pray God makes it easy for me.
How happy are you now on a scale of 1-10?
4. I work a lot and don’t see a lot of money. It’s not balanced at all. I can only pray to God to have mercy. But if I get the house and start the business I want to, I’ll have more reasons to be happy.
*This interview happened in Yoruba. It has been translated and edited for clarity.
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.