Inside The #NairaLife Of A Student Who Is In The Top 1%

March 16, 2020

There are fewer career paths in Nigeria with a more rapid promise of upward mobility like computer engineering in Nigeria. This student is the umpteenth example. Enjoy.

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 oldest memory of money?

I got to school that day – I was in primary 3 or 4. A few students were standing at the gate as usual. Then I got stopped by the headmaster – or secretary, can’t remember. I initially thought something was happening in the school, only to see my dad at the gate ready to take me home. 

He later explained to me that I can’t go to that school because of money. 


Apparently he used to handle some services for the school, as barter for my school fees. Then some dispute happened and somehow, that meant my fees were outstanding. That was the first time I cried over something not related to physical pain.

Man, I’m sorry you had to go through that.

Thanks. I had to move to another school. The first thing I ever did for money though, was helping my aunty set up her Facebook account. 

This racket! How much did she pay, what year was this and how old were you?

This was 2010 I think, I was 11. She gave me about ₦1k that time at cyber cafe money. After that, it was just me helping people with things like that. I remember setting up something for my teacher on his phone. The one that I’m most proud of was setting up Qbasic on the computers in my secondary school, by that time I was a bit exposed to coding. I was given about ₦6k. 

Omo the fried plantain woman didn’t rest that week.

Ah, coding. Tell me about where it started for you.

I was in SS1 and I saw a game on a Nokia and asked my teacher how they were made. 

“Google ‘programming’.” That’s what he said.

A few months later I was able to save up for my first smartphone, a Tecno N3. I downloaded an app called AIDE – it’s for creating android apps. By then I had already researched on programming so I just needed to do some practicals on the phone here and there. And that’s how I got into it. 

I kept practising and practising until one of my dad’s friends from church offered to take me as an intern as soon as I was done with O-levels, which happened to be mid-second term SS3.

What did you do at the internship?

Since the company was a digital marketing agency, I mostly created websites for different clients. I had an opportunity to create an Android app at one point, which I did. Then the occasional “go and buy food for Oga”. I was getting ₦10k/month then ₦15k about two months later, which was the most I’d gotten from any job, so Igara started. 

Till my dad came and “collected it on my behalf”. He said something along the lines of “he’ll help me keep it so I can spend wisely”. Plot twist, he hasn’t returned it. 


Yep. Anyway, in 2015 I started freelancing on the side on Upwork, but I didn’t get my first job till a few months later.

Wait, what about school? 

I couldn’t gain admission to Uni due to age, so I got into a polytechnic, but I never resumed. I just continued interning and freelancing till 2018 when I got into Uni. To be honest, I actually gained admission before then, but I didn’t resume. 

Fair enough, when did the next income growth happen?

Around 2016 when the freelancing thing really took off, I had enough projects to show on my Upwork portfolio to land me a paid gig of $20/hour. I worked a total of about 10 hours on that gig so I made $200 which was almost ₦40k at the time. I think the exchange rate was ₦190/$. 

Do you remember your first Upwork gig?

$5 to change footer text on a WordPress site. I took it happily. Apparently, she knew nothing about WordPress except how to add posts. 

What’s the biggest gig you’ve ever taken on from Upwork?

A $50/hour job at about 20 hours per month. I did that for three months before I finally stuck with a particular client that paid that amount for over a year. These numbers are based on the good months though. This was in 2017, it was also when I left my internship. 

So you interned for three years?

It was more of a limbo situation. I wasn’t sure if I was an intern or not due to the relationship I had with the CEO. So yeah I was an intern, but mostly doing the work of a fulltime employee sha. 

At one point that wasn’t my main source of income anymore, I was just doing it to avoid staying at home and to keep my pops silent. 

But you finally entered Uni in 2018.

Yup, but that’s when things got really confusing. 100-level was more of me focusing on studies to build a “solid GPA base” but that was the cost of my freelance contract. I didn’t have enough time to dedicate to it. Just before I entered Uni, my income ranged from ₦150k-₦300k. 

I also realised that I wasn’t improving skill-wise. So late 2018 I left the freelance gig to look for a full-time on-site job for the coming break. I found one late 2018 at a company in Nigeria and was being paid ₦150k per month.


Now, I was worried about school fees and survival – at this point, I stopped depending on my parents for anything. Then there was lau-lau. Plus I had to help the family with a few things a few times. That was another reason why I decided to pick a more stable job.

Entering university as a teenager with about three years of experience, what does that do to a person?

Ah, that. My priorities tend to be a lot different. I tend not to attend class, because I have a good amount of practical knowledge of some of the topics.

About class, how are you navigating school with your coursemates?

At this point, It’s looking like I’ve dropped out already. I barely ever enter class because my current job requires a lot of my attention. I have a few close friends that know about what goes on with me. 

Other people just think I have money or I’m some kind of Yahoo Boy. Almost everyone in my class swears by it. Heck, a few lecturers think so too.

How does this feel? 

I honestly just laugh. I know money stops nonsense, most of them can’t say it to my face. Plus the lecturers that accuse me always ask me to get them something.

Okay, back to work.

I realised I was too comfortable at my role and didn’t really skill up or have much to show for it, CV wise. Anyway, in mid-2019, I left the role – I was already on 200k at this time – and moved to a more challenging role, which is still my current role.

How much does this pay? 

Roughly a million. 


What happened? 

Nothing, bro. Nothing happened.

Hahaha. I’m just lucky I got exposed to working early enough. I’m paid in dollars actually – it’s for an Asian company – but when it’s converted it’s around that range.

How does one get that type of gig?

I was job searching for a while but couldn’t manage to land any interviews, not to talk of offers. I lost count of the job offers after the 27th “Thank you for applying but….” email. That two-month dry spell took me back to church. 

So I decided to take a step back and rework my portfolio and CV to highlight how skilled I think I am. I started creating content around my work and skills, from text to video. My CV was public, everything was out in the open.
A few companies reached out. I actively declined all the Nigerian offers because I wasn’t in the mood for Nigerian companies. 

So petty. 

I reapplied to a few remote companies and boom, the interview invites started rolling in. One of them even reached out to me directly on LinkedIn. A few weeks later I was offered the role. 


Honestly, it took about a month or two to actually get comfortable because the type of tasks was a lot more challenging than I was used to, but thankfully my colleagues were able to support me in getting the ropes.

To be honest, I’m still not satisfied, my goal is at least 4 million a month by the end of next year, how I’ll do that? I dunno, but I’ll be working on it.

I’m curious about how someone like you thinks about money.

I see it as essential. I don’t buy into the “money can’t buy happiness thing” because after coming from a not-so-affluent background, I can say It does, if you know how to spend it.

How will you say it’s shaped how you interact with your family?

I tend to avoid my extended family – too many people wanting something. As for my immediate family, the only thing that’s changed is the relationship with my dad. He seems to actually want to listen to me now.

When did you realise the dynamic shift between you and your dad? Was there a specific incident?

We used to argue a lot until we almost got into a physical altercation. Shortly after, I decided to move out completely. It was after that incident that I noticed the shift.

When did you first move out?

I used to have a friend’s place that I stayed over a lot during the first year of school. I didn’t get my own place till recently.

What type of place did you get, and how much did it cost?

I got a furnished mini-flat for about a million and a half. Perfect for my bachelor phase. It cost about another ₦750k to get something I like. Bachelor essentials, like a console and all of that. 

So basically, you got your place of choice at a total of ₦2.25mil?

Yup, pretty much.

Talking about today. You earn about a million a month. How about we attempt to break down where every dime of it goes?

I pay for a couple of bills back at my folks’, like NEPA bills, decoder bills, and sometimes, my siblings’ school fees. Then my lau-lau is for faaji and bae sturvs.

Ah, bae. Tell me about that.

Haha. She explicitly doesn’t like it when I waste money or when I try to “spoil her”, I usually have to beg her to let me get her something.

Aww. Do you have a more granular idea of how you spend though? 

Not really. I just check in on my accounts here and there to ensure I haven’t gone past budget. 

I’m not a big shopper so money doesn’t go there. But I like to go out and faaji though, whenever I can.

Tell me about your wildest faaji.

Bought a VIP ticket for a concert of over 150k, ended up spending another 100k on drinks and food at different bars after the concert the same night. All in all, I woke up with a headache and debit alert that can give a grown man a heart attack.

No comments. Are Investments your thing?

I’ve got some cash in the usual money market fund and some in investment apps. I’m currently looking for a passive form of income or business to set up. I’m not a fan of letting money sit idle for too long unless it’s a huge sum.

Let’s travel a little, how much do you imagine you’ll be earning in 5 years?

I’m still trying to decide on if I want to stay in this country, but In five years, If I haven’t, I have to be earning at least 5 million a month and a good network of passive income.

You’ll be about 25. What do you intend to be doing earning that amount?

Yup, I’m fairly sure I can’t get that kind of money in Nigeria unless I’m in some extremely high position. So I intend to keep working for foreign companies and slowly going up the engineering management ladder.  I don’t want to end up working for too long really, so I’ll like to amass as much as I can and retire to passive income/investments. 

Talking about retirement, when do you want to retire, and do you have a game plan to retirement?

Nah I haven’t thought too much on that yet so I’m not sure on those. I do know that I do not want to end up like my folks who were not lucky enough to have a solid retirement plan.

So, are you going the pensions route or the Investments route, or both?

Probably both, I’ve seen cases where pension and inability to access it ends up messing with old people, so it’s safe to have both. But the ability to set up both really depends on my financial strength while I’m still in the working class which is why I need to level up.

What’s something you want right now but can’t afford?

Hm, I actually don’t know, I’m pretty comfortable. A Bentley would be nice though.

What’s the last thing you paid for that required serious planning?

Probably my place. I had to make sure I paid for it without spending all the money I had.

What’s something you paid for recently that significantly improved the quality of your life?

Rechargeable fan. That thing is God’s blessing in electronic form.  Put it on and sleep, then let NEPA do anyhow they want. 

Hahaha. When was the last time you felt really broke?

When I left my full-time job of ₦150k due to school and the pursuit of a more challenging role. Finding my current job took a lot of planning and smiling honestly, but for most of that time, I was broke.

Do you have a backup plan for if shit goes completely south?

Pretty much-stashing money away for a rainy day. Plus I’m always finding ways to make my CV appealing. If all goes south with engineering, I’ve always wanted to be a male stripper on the side hahaha. Plus my stash is robust enough to hold for a few months while I sort myself.

North of 1 million, two million, three million?

Slightly below ₦2 million sha. Still need to push it up though.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness, and why?

I’d say about a 7, cause I know I’m doing pretty well relatively, but I’m still not where I want to be in terms of my savings ability. 

Most importantly, my ability to see something extremely expensive and go “fuck it, add it to my bill”.

Check back every Monday at 9 am (WAT) for a peek into the Naira Life of everyday people.
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Every story in this series can be found here.

Fu'ad Lawal

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