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.
Let’s start with when you joined the military.
The middle of 1977. That’s when I stepped into the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA).
That was your first job?
No. After my school cert, I worked for an insurance company. My salary was ₦91, and after working there for one year, I moved to a bank on Broad Street. My salary became ₦120 as a clerk. Banks were the most lucrative jobs at the time, and as a bachelor, you could chop life.
What did chopping life mean in your twenties?
Not only was I working in the bank, but I was also working in the most lucrative section: Foreign Exchange. I liked it there.
So, why did you leave?
Because I schooled in the north, I was interested in the NDA. In Kaduna for example, you either went to University or went to the NDA.
So I just moved on to the NDA.
Then, we were well paid. I can’t remember what the allowance was, but I know we were collecting over ₦100. Whenever you were leaving school for holidays, you got transport money too.
Interesting. After NDA?
In NDA, you must choose the arm of service you want to go: Army, Navy or Airforce – I chose Airforce. I left NDA in 1979.
Why the Airforce?
My father worked in Aviation, so that’s where the interest came from. But he used to talk about young boys that flew out during the Civil War and never returned because they got killed. One warning he gave me was that, even though I didn’t seek his consent before joining the military, he didn’t want me flying. I wanted to be a detective anyway. So, I opted for the Military Police, and that’s where I remained throughout my Airforce career. You know the Army, Navy, Airforce, have their police, to enforce discipline.
And what was your salary when you started?
I can’t remember o, but I think it was one-hundred-and-something too. I remember because the wine, Mateus Rose was about ₦2.50 or ₦3 back then.
I’m wondering what it must have been like, compared to your friends who were civilians, moneywise.
When we talk of the military, it doesn’t mean that there’s too much money in it. Some friends in the civil service were better paid. But don’t forget, it was the military era, it came with a lot of prestige. The way we carried ourselves.
As for money, I won’t even lie to you, in my case, I mostly got it when I travelled. So that meant I was getting more than my colleagues. For example, my estacode whenever we travelled to another country was $100 per day – it was almost as good as the naira at the time.
Go to Addis Ababa, come back after one week. You get your allowance. The first time I went to England in 1982, I collected around £3,000. I spent three months.
When I came back from England, I was posted to one state, spent a year there, then when Buhari came into power, I was moved to the Supreme Headquarters.
How does one end up as an officer at the Supreme Headquarters?
The thing about appointments everywhere is that besides meeting the criteria, some Ogas are watching you. Now, this was around the time the coup just took out Shagari. When the military took power, they took over security of the Presidential Fleet.
My name came up somehow, and next thing you know, I had to work at that level. Part of my job then was that if we were travelling to Addis Ababa or the UK or France, I needed to make sure our luggage was secure.
Who is ‘we’?
The Presidential Jet, it could be carrying his Head of State and Chief of Staff.
And that’s what gave me the opportunity to travel. I’ve visited at least 18 countries. Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas. Not all during Buhari’s time though, but my favourite was going to the Ka’abah.
Yes. It was government-sponsored.
So, did you leave that detail when the regime change happened in 1985?
There was a debate over where our loyalties were. But I was fortunate enough to work with someone else on the executive level in the next regime.
You made more money for per diem, but how much was your salary at this point?
I think it had crossed ₦200. I was a Flying Officer at this point. I floated for a while in Lagos, before I got recommended for an Aide De Camp (ADC) role to a much senior officer in the North Central. This was 1985.
Why do you think they kept picking you?
I think it depends on certain things. It’s not like I go to anybody and say, oga this and that, but I think character is important. It was just someone who knew me that recommended me without even telling me. Not long after I got to North Cental, I gained admission again into another university.
I’d gained admission into a University a few years prior, before my England trip. I had to defer that. For the second one, I snuck out of my office to do matriculation in Lagos. I tried to convince my Oga that I’d like to get transferred to Lagos, but he flung me. He didn’t fling me to Lagos, he flung me away from working with him, to somewhere else in North Central.
That was our fallout moment. By 1987 though, my name came out for a course in England.
Aha. The great per diems.
Haha. When I returned in 1989, I started working with a senior officer as his ADC in Lagos. I worked with him till 1992.
In the middle of all of this, when did you fall in love and marry?
I met my wife in 1982. She was the first woman I was ever in a relationship with. She’s the only woman my family has ever known me with.
I feel like this must have fuelled some need for financial security for you. Starting a family that is.
Let me confess to you. The military conditions you to only think about your job. I never did a business when I was in the military. It’s all I’ve ever done. It has always been about my military career. Also, notice how I got moved around a lot. It’s hard to start things in those days when you get moved around a lot at that level.
So till today, I’ve never had too much of a thing for chasing money.
When did you disengage?
How much was your pension?
₦211k. The pension is now ₦339k. But I also got another job working with a state government in security. I did that for six years. I started there in 2010, and worked with them till 2016.
I’m curious to know what it was like working with civilians.
I started with ₦300k. I was so pissed off, especially when it came to discipline. It always looked so strange to me, how people were so lackadaisical. It irritated me a lot. It was like bringing a fish out of water. I never adjusted to their attitude to work, and their lack of a sense of duty.
I feel like people worry a lot about life after service, and their family’s welfare. What was that like for you?
My saving grace is that I have a very small family, and I started very early in life. Some of my colleagues got married later. So by the time their own children were entering secondary school, mine was entering university. Because I had no side interests, whatever I was getting was going into my immediate family. Lucky me, I didn’t have any younger siblings whose school fees I had to pay. Two of my younger siblings left the country in the 80s, and sorted themselves out after.
All you had was your immediate family.
Yes. Even when I was having careless money, you’ll never see me living a flamboyant life.
Talking about careless money, what’s the most careless money you’ve received?
I was in Paris in 1990 as part of a delegation to get military communications equipment. Abacha was the leader of that delegation. So, I walked into an elevator, and who did I see beside me? Abiola.
So I greeted him, and when he found out I was Nigerian, he was so excited. He asked me what I came to do in Paris, and when I told him who I came with, he dragged me to his hotel room.
When I entered that room, I saw two white men just there, counting dollars. The dollars I saw that day, it was like someone poured Tom Tom on the ground everywhere.
He had two direct lines, one connected to Paris, one to London. Every time we started talking, one of the Oyinbo would interrupt with “Chief, for you,” and hand him a phone. He collected the names of everyone in that entourage, from Abacha to everybody. Then he packed envelopes of cash for each person.
He told me he had to leave later, even though he’d have liked to hang out with us. He was going to America, but he had to make a stop in London first, even though he was running late. I said, “ah, I hope you won’t miss your flight.” He said so confidently, “no, they’ll wait for me.”
Each envelope was sealed with ‘MKO’. While I was leaving, he gave me $2,000 dollars for taxi. You know how much I saw inside my own envelope? $5000.
Well, you asked about money.
Back to post retirement life. Despite not having to worry about your kids, what about rent?
I learned a lesson early. While in the military police, I always found myself in situations where I had to throw out my superiors from the barracks. When you’ve retired, you’re only entitled to stay for a while before vacating the barracks. And when people didn’t leave because they had nowhere else to go, we were instructed to go kick them out. I’d see my ogas and their wives crying. Including the ones that were chopping life. You’ll be blowing siren and feeling tough, but the day they collect everything from you, you’ll feel naked.
Nobody needed to tell me before I bought land, and laid foundation in 1997.
How long did it take you to build?
Ten years. I didn’t want my wife to drink garri because I was trying to build a house. So I took my time. Don’t ever sacrifice the comfort of your family for anything. We were building a house and chopping fresh fish. It’s a bungalow, but it took 10 years. When any money came, wherever I was, I’d send it to my wife, oya buy sand o.
The worst thing that can happen to you, is your inability to manage money. You will always be in a mess. It would have been possible for us to build the house in a year, but then we’d end up borrowing.
How do you spend your days now?
Doing nothing. I even tried doing a fish pond, but it was a failure. Fish feed became too expensive, and the returns weren’t great. Again, when you have three children like mine who you don’t have to worry about, whatever you’re earning feels enough.
Your priorities right now are filling your time and stomach.
Exactly. My wife draws a pension too. I walk every morning and evening. I registered for swimming classes. I would have joined a social club but anything that’d make me leave my house is stressful. Friends? I don’t even have too many.
How would you rate your financial happiness?
8. Once you make yourself a slave to money, you’ll never live a stable life. And when you start borrowing, you’ll keep borrowing till you die. The easiest way to run into conflict with anyone is money. Never have financial agreements without a witness. Don’t buy anything you don’t need immediately. This has been my philosophy of life.
Is there anything you’d have wanted me to ask that I didn’t?
I can’t remember, most of the things you’ve asked are about money, and it’s not really a central part of my life. It was mostly military matters, and I have a lot of those. Like arresting coup plotters, almost dying in a military plane crash, and all that.
As for my family and finances, no stress.
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