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.
This week’s story is about a 22-year-old student who would have been out and alone in the world if his friends didn’t change his life forever.
What is the first thing you ever did for money?
I taught A-levels. I’d just finished A-levels from a school, so I went back the next year to teach for 10k a month.
This was in 2013 – I was 17. I taught in the 2013/2014 session. I was trying to get a scholarship to go abroad, but that didn’t work out.
My dad was just like, go to a uni in Nigeria. And that’s where I went. So I got into University with my A-levels. 2014/2015 session.
What was your first semester away from home like?
Let me give you some context: I’m the firstborn, and something weird used to happen when I was in secondary school; Teachers often chased me out of class and I never knew why. My mum would say, “Don’t worry, we’ll talk about it.”
When I turned 14, she eventually told me.
What did she say?
That’s when I knew my parents didn’t have money – they were struggling to pay my school fees.
I actually got a scholarship to be at the school where I did my A-Levels.
So when I entered uni, things became rougher and I couldn’t… When I started school, my dad used to give me 3k per month. He thought they fed people in school, because back when he was in school, people were fed for free.
I didn’t want to spoil it for him, so I just ‘ohhh’d’ it.
I just managed.
₦200 per meal, once daily. Buy ₦70 bread, ₦50 beans, and one bottle of orobo Pepsi, you’re set for the day. Lucky for me, I made good friends, and that supplemented a lot. I did that for the first semester – about the first half the year.
Then I started thinking about my life, because mehn, I had to make money somehow.
What did you come up with?
My guy was into programming, so I too wanted to become a programmer.
It’s actually what I wanted to travel abroad to study anyway, but I just settled for one course here, because there were no dedicated software engineering courses.
Next thing was to get a laptop. My dad couldn’t get me one, so I started looking for a means to get a new laptop.
I heard of a scholarship, and that time, luckily for me, my G.P.A. was still kind of high – over 4.0 – so I roughed it somehow, and I got the scholarship. In fact, I applied on the deadline day.
Do you know what’s wilder? I wrote the application essay on my phone, while I was at the movies. I got the scholarship. That money came at the end of 2015 – ₦200k. Immediately I got that money, I went to buy a laptop, and I started learning how to write code.
Ah, rough year, that year.
How did you survive that year though, minus the bread and beans?
My friends. I had this girlfriend, very understanding. She used to buy me food all the time. She never asked for anything; she just bought me food endlessly.
Morning, night, afternoon: “Are you hungry?”, “Are you okay?” I didn’t even have to disturb my parents for anything.
They’d occasionally reach out like, “Can I send you this small ₦1k or ₦2k?” But I’d just tell them not to worry, because my younger sibling also got into another university and needed it more than I did.
Also, I didn’t have a place to stay, so I was more of a floater. A floater is different from a squatter – you’re on another level of squatting. Do you understand?
I made myself very flexible. I had one small bag in school at that time. I knew that if I went home, there’d be no light or internet.
But in school, I had light and internet. So I floated around my friends’ rooms. If I see that one of my guys was getting a little uncomfortable, I’d just move to another guy’s hostel, stay there for like two weeks or one month, then move to another place.
There was this friend I had, his dad was a member of staff – super chilled man. My friend had access to his dad’s office, so we used to go there. It had fast Internet, so that’s where I spent a lot of nights.
What were you doing?
Learning how to code. I watched tutorial, after tutorial, after tutorial. I remember the first thing I built – a GP calculator. To be honest, I didn’t finish building it, but I did what I could anyway. I couldn’t find that many structured courses that were free, so I just rough am. This was 2017; I now had my laptop at this time.
What else happened that year?
4th year, time for Industrial Attachment. I got accepted at an oil company, great place! The money was like 30k with free food and transport. This was the highest money I’d ever been offered at this point in my life, but I didn’t take the job at the oil company.
I was worried it would distract me from what I really wanted to do – programming. The oil company wasn’t going to get me there fast.
This is random, but do you want to hear something funny?
All this time, I didn’t have a phone. My mum used to call my friend whenever she wanted to reach me. And I kind of liked it that way, because whenever I got a call from home, it was always that something bad had happened. Or maybe when there’s no food, no light, or no DStv subscription. Always those kinds of things.
I feel you.
That was about to change though because, at the beginning of 2017, my scholarship funds came again – it was a yearly thing. And out of the 200k – I dunno what I was thinking – I carried 170k and went to buy a phone.
Let’s just call it one of those stupid decisions, but the phone later worked in my favour. One of my friends had a client who needed to develop an app. So I just showed up with my nice phone and laptop.
Lemme tell you how it went:
Interviewer: So you’re coming for IT right?
Me: Not really. I mean, I’m coming for IT, but not really as an IT student coming to learn, in a sense.
Interviewer (smiles): Okay, we’ll offer you 50k.
Me: Let me explain, I got IT offering in a place for 30k with free food. But I’m not coming as an IT student, I’m coming as a cheap web developer.
Interviewer: So how much do you want?
Interviewer: Hahaha. You know what? Let’s do 100k.
You know, I actually just rough am. The person was not an actual engineer. They brought a non-developer to interview me, so I just took that advantage. Immediately after that interview, I called my guy like ‘guyyyyyyyy.’ I called all my guys. All the people I’d been squatting –
Hahaha. Yes, floating with. Let me tell you about these people. They were taking care of me, basically. I had a friend that used to buy me food, but he believed in me so much that he used to say, “Don’t worry, I’m not doing it for free. I’ll just be adding it to your tab.” He was so sure I was going to make money soon.
Now, imagine he used to buy me food of say, ₦500. I owed him up to ₦32k. Now, imagine how many times he bought me food in that period.
The others guys too, whenever they were going to get food, I’d want to stay back because I didn’t have money. They’d be like “guy, let’s go jor,” and buy me food. They let me stay in their room.
So imagine me coming back to tell them. They were so excited. God, that ₦100k was like everything in the world for me. I was the highest-paid I.T. student.
Omo, I now started adding weight.
Whenever people ask me, I’d say, “Omo, na God ooo.” What made it better was, I didn’t need to show up every time. I just had to get the work done. Two months into it, trouble started.
What trouble? Office drama?
No. From home. I got a phone call from my dad. My mum had an accident. And he wasn’t as forthcoming with all the feedback I needed, like with the money part. He’s a proud man, you understand?
I totally get it.
I just told him not to worry, because I was coming home. I had saved up like 90k, because I wasn’t spending money on much. I withdrew 50k, and took it to the house.
In the long run, it would have been tough to stay at the hospital at ₦2k per night. So we took her home, and I paid a doctor to come in to treat her at home. That cost ₦20k at once.
For the next month, she was bed-ridden. I also couldn’t go home, because I had to make money. So I used to panic a lot.
Sorry about that man.
At this point, I just made sure that money stopped becoming a serious problem at the house. Paid for DStv so my mum could be distracted from the pain. I was burning through a lot of money that by the next month, I asked for a salary advance of half of my next salary.
It ended in us having to do a surgery on one of her joints because it was broken.
So imagine me, in 2017, at 20 years old, having to worry about all of this.
All my money was going there. I just wanted her to get better. And she did get better. But, something else came up. My parents had been avoiding mentioning it to me, but now that the accident had come up, they couldn’t keep it away from me anymore.
Not only had the house rent expired, we were also owing a year’s rent. This was a house that they’d lived in for 20 years.
But the landlady wasn’t having any of that anymore. She’d already started sending native doctors to sprinkle jazz at our entrance, cutting off power to our house. Proper “come and be going” treatment.
How much was the rent?
₦350k. I’d just collected an advance on my next salary. Where was I going to get that kind of money? We tried something else – a lawyer that I gave like ₦20k to help us get some more time to get our shit together.
Anyway, by December 2017, I was supposed to be finishing I.T.. My boss understood how badly I needed the money, so he let me stay. In fact, he was willing to let me say until I finished school.
Anyway, one thing led to ten things, and I had to leave at some point.
They hired a senior developer who started to shit on everybody’s parade. He also managed to convince the CEO to make me go back to school.
I was close to tears at the office. At this point, my old laptop already went bad with age, so I was surviving on the company’s laptop. Meanwhile, someone had hooked me up with a gig on the side.
₦250k. I couldn’t finish the job. I was back to square one and didn’t know what to do. I was still the funny, lively person, but my friend was worried. If you’re close to me, you won’t even know what was going on. Do you understand?
My mum was just recovering, she needed money. I needed money too. I couldn’t eat. I barely saved anything from that time I was earning. I didn’t think I was going to leave, so I didn’t even plan to buy a new laptop. Huge mistake. I’d already sold my phone, and now I had no laptop.
2018 now, and I couldn’t really squat with my friends anymore. They didn’t mind, but I didn’t want to feel like a burden.
I used to sleep at that office. The alternative was to sleep under the stars with the mosquitoes. See ehn, the way I’m now resistant to mosquitoes ehn. Jesus!
I used to be hungry a lot. But again, my guys came through when they could, as much as they could.
I knew that the way out of all of this was for me to get a laptop, so I started the laptop hustle. And one of my guys, right there in school, loaned me money for a new laptop.
₦300k, in March 2018. If you want to enjoy coding, get a good laptop or go and sleep. It was one of those types of loans that you never really had a return date to pay back. But I insisted on paying back in 6 months. It took me over a year. I spent a lot of time at that my friend’s dad’s office. I felt average as a developer. So I knew that if I wanted to earn more, I needed to make more money. I already felt like I’d lost time because there were periods where I wasn’t working or improving. I felt like I had to be really good because it’d need extra convincing to hire a student.
What about classes? Like actual school?
I tried to attend classes, but it was pointless to me at this point. An F here and there. I lost my scholarship too because my G.P.A. dropped. Thank God for my friend’s dad. He managed to – I don’t know how – convince his wife to make food for me whenever she was making for the kids.
Bruh, that food was my hope. See, I don’t know how to explain it, but it helped a lot. The man used to be around three days a week. So food came only on those days. I literally built that free food into my time table. I just knew Monday, Wednesday, and Friday –
You get. I was lean again. Even my friend’s younger sibling helped a lot. I think I’ve been extremely lucky with the people I’ve had in my life. Close to the middle of 2018, I started applying for jobs again. I googled all the things people were looking for in developers and started to learn what I could and threw them into my CV.
I got an interview and they gave me five days to submit a code test. Do you know when I submitted?
A day and a half after. I didn’t really know all the things in the test sef, but the way I studied ehn. One of my friends just gave me his internet for that period. In fact, one of my friends gave me transport money to go for the interview. It took a while, but I eventually got contacted. HR was like “I’ll give you 170k.” They asked me when I wanted to resume, I told them I was ready. And you see, it was at the end of the month that the real money became clear in my eyes.
Net vs Gross?
A little over ₦140k was what entered my account. HR said the rest went to health insurance and pensions. I just felt like a lucky bastard at this point, so I didn’t really care. Also, there were experienced developers there, and I really wanted to learn from them. I told one of them to just pass on all the grunt work to me.
Remember that 250k work I didn’t finish? He asked me to come and continue. So I asked for ₦400k, and the guy agreed. I added ₦150k to the money and gave the money to my dad for rent.
You know, he used to have money. Like, proper wealthy. Then life happened. Anyway, I gave my mum another ₦100k. Just for her to stay sharp.
Anyway, back to work. I was getting better, and needing more money. When I was getting hired, I was told I’d get a raise in six months. Oya now, give me a raise. Na story I dey hear. The only way to get a raise was to get an offer from somewhere else.
By January 2019, I started looking for a new job. This time, I knew the difference between net and gross. I had almost two years of experience working on actual things. I got an interview that went smoothly. How? Youtube – I watched a lot of how-tos for interviews. When they asked me how much I wanted, I just spat out 400k net.
Yes. In the end, my net was ₦300k – a little over double of my last net. So that’s where I’m currently at now. The old people took their laptop back, and the new guys gave me a new one straight. But that’s not even all. I got a client – the biggest yet. It involved managing a small team for a project. Sha, my cut was like ₦1 million, you know, make I use pick teeth.
This was shortly after I started at my new job. I didn’t really loud it, but I took care of the outstanding bills. A grandparent was ill. Family debts, my younger siblings’ school fees.
How much did all of that take?
About ₦700k, so I just had ₦300k left for myself. Thing is, as my money grew longer, my throat grew longer. Sometimes I’ll just be like, let me just go and take pepper soup, just because.
It looks like you have multiple income streams now. What does that look like on a monthly basis?
So far so good, I earn an average of 500k a month – ₦350k on a bad month. That ₦1 million is not a regular something. There’s someone who pays me 50k for a retainer. Just so he can call me to quickly fix something when he needs to.
But I need to save most of it because I have a lot of expenses lined up for the rest of the year. I need to finally get my place, get my own laptop, get my younger sibling a laptop. My budget for all of these is ₦1.2 million
Let’s breakdown your monthly spending.
Ah, this one is hard. Sometimes, I just randomly want to buy shawarma, and I end up buying shawarma for everybody.
Transport is a mood expense for me. Sometimes, I jump bus and if I jumped bus every day, that would cost me like 30k every month. But sometimes, I’ll just call a cab. And one trip will now be like 3k. So I think a mix of all the forms of transport I use will make it about 50k every month. Also, when I buy food, I tend to not buy for myself alone. So now, I’m like, “Have you eaten? Are you okay?”
I still stay with my guys.
How much do you feel like you should be earning?
Deep down, 1.3 million, and this number is because I’ve reached a place where I can no longer think of my income with local rates. It’s why the next job I want is a remote job, working for foreign companies that will pay me in Forex. Convert 1.3 million to dollars, and it’s less than $4000.
What’s something you want but can’t afford?
I want to get my mum a house. Like somewhere in America. Just take her there and just keep her there to just chill. That’s what I want. If my mum has peace, I’m okay. She has suffered too much in this life. She has suffered too much for us. Like all the things she has done, just to put food on the table.
I just need to blow on time to be able to do things like this.
What do you feel like you should be better at?
I need to diversify my skills. Be a better writer, mess around with other things outside of my field. I don’t believe we came to this world to do only one thing. Like just be a software engineer and an actor or something.
Also – and I wouldn’t call this empowering – but I’m actively working to groom people to acquire some of the technical skills I’ve acquired while trying to get better on my end of course.
How would you rate your financial happiness, on a scale of 1-10?
4. I need to create structured multiple streams of income. I want to have an income stream that just goes to my family, for example. Another one for just my enjoyment.
What did you realise changed over the past few years, minus your account balance of course?
When I was getting F’s in some exams, my classmates were celebrating that they were graduating.
Some of my classmates came to apply for internships at my company – graduate intern roles – to come and work for me. These are people that finished before me – I still have about a year to clear my carry-overs.
So now, I’m wondering whether my degree is going to be any good.
Someone would see me and be like this boy is supposed to be sad and he’s laughing. I’ll be like, no problem. Some of them might be excited earning 40k per month, and they’re saying “ahhh, big boy!”
Also all that time I spent working kind of created some gap between me and some of my friends. Good thing is, all my friends are doing really well.
I used to know a lot of people, but I don’t even have the patience for making new friends now. I’d rather just stay at home and press my laptop.
This was lit. Thank you for your time.
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Every story in this series can be found here.