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.
Do you remember how much your first job paid you?
Ah yes. My first job was at the Federal Palace Hotel in 1988. This job came after I finished catering school. My salary was ₦125; I also got an allowance that took my money up to ₦165. Back then, taking a taxi to work cost about ₦10.
Yes. I started as a waitress working at the restaurant. Then, we used to entertain all these company executives and government officials. In those days, whenever there was an event at the banquet hall, I was usually picked to attend to them.
Do you remember how much you earned when you were leaving?
I can’t. I had all the documents, but everything was lost when my father’s house got burned in 1996. I think it was around ₦1,000 when I left in 1993. My older brother took me to a newly opened Ecobank branch to sell food to the staff.
Hmm. How much did you sell food at the time?
I can’t remember the actual amount, but I remember that the staff I was catering to used to buy my fried rice and plantain. I left there in 1995 — I had to go and give birth to my second child. Then my third child came some years later.
You already gave birth to a first child?
Yes, I did. I had my first child in 1991. In fact, I was working at the Federal Palace restaurant throughout my pregnancy. It was an easy pregnancy, so I could work. But when my second child was born, I was always sick, so I was at home a lot. After the birth, I started selling moin-moin and akara.
Do you remember how much your moin-moin was when you started?
Yes! It was ₦10 for plain moin-moin. Then later, I started putting eggs. Half an egg made the moin-moin ₦30. Moin-moin with a full egg was ₦50.
I have sold moin-moin since then. In fact, in the area where I used to live, they used to call me moin-moin special.
I’ve been doing it for about twenty-four years now. Although, now I sell rice at my stand too. I’ve also been doing catering work for events. Remember, I’m a professional caterer.
Well done ma! What’s the most memorable job you’ve done since you started catering?
The Sports Festival in 2012. I was one of the people selected to cater to athletes and officials during the festival. My job was to cater to 100 people, thrice a day.
The festival lasted for 13 days. That’s up to 3900 meals.
The thing is I was even preparing food for more than the required every day.
The government paid ₦2.3 million before we started and paid another ₦2 million at the end of the tournament. A lot of that money went into buying things like freezers and equipment for cooking.
I imagine that you had some money after you’d settled all your bills.
Yes. I put it into a fixed deposit and spent from it till it got to ₦200k. There’s always something to spend on. That period, my last child was entering secondary school, so I bought him all the things he needed for school.
Another business I’ve done is cater to schools.
Tell me more about that
One of my friends was having a conversation with someone, and the person mentioned that they needed a caterer at their school. My friend introduced me to that person, and that’s how I began. I’d package the food and get people working for me to distribute it. At the height of it, I was selling food to four schools.
But I had to pause.
We moved to where we now live in 2018, which is very far from where the schools are. So when we moved here, I applied to another school here and started from there.
I’d like to understand how you think about the money you earn.
When you’re running a small business, the only thing you’re thinking of is your daily contribution. When I first moved to the area where I now live, I started ajo at ₦500 per day. But they can also run away with your money.
Yes. One woman ran away with my ₦10k a few years ago. Another person has run away with my money too.
Do you trust them?
The thing is, you can’t do without them. They always come to you. Even when I did it with one bank, they sent someone every day. They said that instead of Alajo, they’ll help us keep the money, and we’ll collect it at the ATM.
There was one man that used to come here. He’d collect my money, and I won’t see alert. I found out later that they sacked him because he was stealing people’s money.
Wow. About your business. Since you’re thinking daily about earnings, how do you plan market runs?
Before, I used to buy in bulk, but now, the price of everything is high. A bag of rice is too expensive. Over the years, I’ve watched a bag of foreign rice go from ₦6,500 to ₦30k. The gains we used to make have reduced.
But in the end, we cook every day so we can get the money to pay for what we bought first, and ajo next. My current ajo is ₦7,500 per week. Currently, all the money I have deposited is ₦82k.
How do you manage to support your family and pay bills?
You know this life is not balanced. Sometimes, you’ll make the money. Sometimes, you won’t. One time, I had to pay school fees for my last born, and then I couldn’t afford to pay rent after. It was my other two children that are now working that helped me pay for it.
Do you have a sense of what your monthly budget is?
I can’t even say right now because you’ll be thinking of A and B will come up. For instance, I gathered some money to use for something, then a tap in the house went bad. Then the fan. Before I knew it, I’d already spent ₦6k. That wasn’t in my budget. The money from my ajo that I wanted to use to buy something I needed, I couldn’t.
Do you understand?
Yes, I do.
I also have to worry about paying my staff. I used to have four people working for me, but when business wasn’t moving, I reduced it to two. One collects ₦1k per day while the other collects ₦500 per day.
What’s a good day like money wise for your business?
It’s not been much, especially this year. In fact, when we were in lockdown, we had to live on our ajo contributions.
What’s something you want right now but can’t afford?
Moving affected me, and COVID-19 too. I need a better place to stay, like a shop (instead of selling from this small shed). If I can rent a shop, I’ll be able to buy freezers and stock up.
Talking about retirement, when do you think you’ll be able to retire or reduce the stress?
In this business, it’s your staff that will determine how much rest you get. Unless I get a food place that’s not small where people can now know you, it’s hard to retire. When you have a bigger place, you’ll get more customers so more staff. You’ll also be able to pay them well. One of my staff wants to leave in December.
Another thing that will help is if I start getting parties to cater for regularly.
Do you have any plans for emergencies? What do you do when you get sick?
No, I don’t have any plans. Last year, I was treating malaria, but I think it was stress. My children have told me to stop coming here, that they’ll give me money. But I tell them no, I’m not an old woman yet. The only thing is, I wish I had a shop where I can sit down comfortably.
Do you have any financial regrets?
One time, I wanted to buy a piece of land for about ₦80k, then one of my friends told me, “Ah, have you told your husband about it?” I told my husband, and he discouraged me, so I spent the money. I immediately regretted it.
How would you score your financial happiness, on a scale of 1-10?
I can’t even score it. I’m not happy about my business. This is not how I expected it. I’m just doing it because I have to. My day starts at about six in the morning and ends around eleven at night sometimes.
You know, there are some things that give you joy at the time you’re expecting it, but the joy is not here at all. I’m not really getting what I expected. There’s so much I want to pay for that I can’t. Yesterday’s own is not cleared, today’s is still here too.
The thing that will make everything better is when I can start catering again. A shop would reduce my stress. I’ll score it when I feel like my business is better.
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.