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Atoke: Black Tax is Preventing Young Nigerians From Leveling Up



Paying black taxHow many times have we seen it in Nollywood movies? A young person breaks free from what appears to be a stifled life in the village. They go to the big city, with lofty hopes of becoming rich. When they do make it big in the city, there are two options available to them: be a well brought up child and take over the responsibility of taking care of the family, or be a child that did not suckle their mother’s nipple and turn a deaf ear to loud cries for help.

And the cries for help come – loud and frequently. They come, expecting to be met by the open arms of a child willing to sacrifice.

Sacrifice is a word that is often used when describing our parents. Nigerian parents (poor, middle class, rich) are well known for their sacrifices. They give up so much of their potential, their earnings, their lives for their children, their relatives, village members, and their own parents. In Nigeria, the cycle continues. The culture of sacrificing for your children is one of those things that all Nigerians can agree on. And for every sacrifice that is made, there is that niggling hope that one day, one day, it will pay off.

In the absence of a functional social welfare system, this method of ensuring a sustainable end-of-life tenure seems to be the only way to survive. However, more and more young people are struggling to keep up with this. The world has changed; technology has arrived at our doorsteps (albeit running on wonky infrastructure) and young Nigerians are faced with a challenge their parents didn’t have to contend with – the world at their fingertips.

The cost of existing as a young Nigerian is ridiculously high. The high cost of living does not match up with the earnings or capacity to earn, so the struggle is unimaginable. While you’re trying to pay rent, school fees, health insurance, transportation, telephone bills, random mishaps that chop money, then you get a call to send money home. Because Papa is 77 and his cataracts are acting up. Mama is trying her best to keep body and soul together but she recently broke her ankle in an okada accident so, mobility is very difficult. Things are hard – for everyone.

Even when you think you’re on a trajectory to financial breakthrough and your new job with the nice tidy pay package is enough, it never really is enough. This realization eventually affects other decisions that you make. You can either choose yourself and be labelled selfish, or you can choose to take on the financial burden, pay the black tax and remain in the cycle of barely there.

Black people (and I say black people, because this phenomenon also affect our brethren in diaspora) have been systemically marginalized for many years. It is for this reason that when one person manages to breakthrough (with or without the support and assistant of the community of family and friends) they are beholden by culture to pay it forward. Or, in this case, send the ladder back down. It is kindness and sometimes psychologically rewarding; other times, it is a clog in the wheel of progress.

So how can we break this chain that ties us and keeps us in this state of constantly having to “help people back home”?

1: Education of all children
As simplistic as this sounds, I do believe that this is the first step. Many times some children are denied education/training because of their gender, or their learning speed/ability. As such, they’re held back, while the other children are sent off to school or to be trained. Those children who are held back will eventually become adults who are a liability to both the parents and the people who ‘made it’. Educate everyone. Give everyone an even playing field – if and where you can.

2: Birth control
Maybe it’s because we don’t have light, or we don’t have access to good healthcare, or maybe we’re just stuck in cultural expectations that more children means more wealth … I don’t know. But for some reason, we end up having more children than we can cater for. Have sex as much as you want, it is your right as a human being with sexual desires. But avail yourself with birth control knowledge. Go to the clinic and have a family planning specialist give you the different birth control options. Also, speak to your parents about birth control. I know, I know, before you shout, hear me out. Have you guys not seen 70 year old Papa in the village who married a young 21 year old gazelle to take care of him in his old age. Papa in his twilight years then impregnates the young gazelle three times. Who is going to take care of the gazelle’s babies? You, my dear friend! You. You are trying to just manage yourself in Lagos with your salary income, and your side hustle selling car batteries on Instagram, but now you have three siblings to send school fees money to. Dearly beloved, it is easier to have that chat about birth control. Short term discomfort, for long term peace of mind.

3: Say No!
This is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write in my life. In fact, I have backspaced this point so many times. But I have to just bite the bullet. Yes, say NO to the requests of your parents. ~wonders if I am not committing career suicide by making this point. White Jesus, come through for your baby~
Okay, stay with me here. You have to say no to ridiculous and incessant requests. To be very honest, this is so hard. It might feel like a betrayal, but you have to. Even me, as I’m typing, I don’t know if I can take this advice, but let me explain my thought process. Saying no means you are setting boundaries. Boundaries mean self-care. At the end of the day, everyone has a choice to make. Your parents and extended family made a choice, and you have one to make as well.  Parents also have the right to say no, and they exercise this right on multiple occasions, so it’s okay to refuse to be a tap. It may seem like ingratitude, but if we look at it clinically and without coloured lenses of emotional blackmail, saying no to repeated requests will help you create some form of nest egg for yourself. You cannot pour out of an empty cup. If you keep giving and giving, you will be financially and emotionally drained, and you will have no more to give. The only thing that will be left in that cup will be a deep sense of resentment.

Let me leave you with a story from Jenifa’s Diary. Is my article even complete if I don’t make a TV reference?. Cordelia (a friend of Jenifa from Nikki O days – for those of you who don’t watch the show) married Terwase and got upgraded from a life of squalor. Terwase was a little bit financially okay. At least his apartment looked nicer than Cordelia’s previous abode. Anyway, after the marriage/upgrade, Cordelia’s mother became a semi-permanent fixture in the new couple’s home. Because, why not? Cordelia’s mother was a royal pain in the behind. She was constantly asking Cordelia to ask Terwase for money. Always! Then she took things a step further by promising other people that money was a sure thing, since her daughter was now married to a man who had money. This woman was funnelling Terwase’s money to her cronies in the village. She even brought some random children into Cordelia and Terwase’s house and fed them – without previously notifying her daughter and son-in-law. The most annoying part of this Cordelia’s mother’s situation was that she just showed up post-marriage to Terwase. She wasn’t there when Cordelia was a poor, pregnant and unmarried hair stylist. She is the typical manifestation of the Yoruba adage of “owo epo l’aye’n ba ni la” (It is the hand that is steeped in palm oil that the world will help you lick!) Goodness, that translation is poor! Essentially, what it means sha is that, na when e dey sweet people dey show.

This is not always the situation with people paying black tax o. But, e dey happen.

Anyway, tell us, do you pay the black tax? Are you sending money back home? If you’re on the receiving end, are you a beneficiary of black tax? Let’s talk about how we can all be great together.

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website for more information.


  1. [email protected]

    July 22, 2019 at 3:50 pm

    The struggle is real and sometimes saying No isnt even an option because they give you space to. But I am learning self preservation , so I have a budget for giving and once e finish i no get to give again until next month.
    We need to break the cycle of over dependence by family and friends.

    • Larz

      July 23, 2019 at 9:35 am

      I said no when my mum ask if we can help her friend contribute money to go visit the US because she needed a break from. her hubby when they had a fight (the fight wasn’t even that big). Essentially we are funding a holiday.

  2. @theindulgenceplace

    July 22, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Well, like my former supervisor would say, have a budget! This man had a budget similar to nigerian budget lol.
    E.g. he would put
    extended family and miscellanous – 100k a year. If they come january and ask for 50k for hospital he will give.
    They come march for 10k borehole he will give. They come june for rememberance of mama and they need 40k he will give. When they come in August for 1k he wont give them o! He wont even spare N500. And this is his own personal decision so they cant even attack the wife or anything. He will tell them my budget is 100k and if you cant work with it, thats your business. Nothing they will say or bring can move him. No kind of excuse or situation will move this man to spare any money after he has spent his budget.
    That kind of discipline/boundaries/budget life is necesstry my people. It is tough but we will pull through.

  3. Evera

    July 22, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    I always say to myself I don’t want to be a liability to my children…it’s a honour to give to our parents but I think parents too should start planning for their future.. What if that child of yours can’t afford taking care of him/ herself what would you as the parent do? There are graduates in their 30’s with out jobs .. And the ones with jobs barely make it out of d month nt broke..

  4. Tosin

    July 23, 2019 at 12:50 am

    I consider this to be a very very important task. After draining my savings twice in one year for family emergencies, I can’t up with a system, I don’t borrow and I give about 10% of what is asked, unless it’s near death, the rest you might have to figure out yourself is what I tell family. Because I realized that even if you sacrifice yourself on a bed of nails, you cannot satisfy the whole world/ family

  5. De

    July 23, 2019 at 1:31 am

    Thank you for this interesting article, lots of food for thought. The so called ‘black tax’ is not necessarily a bad thing and is a positive feature of our communal culture which unfortunately unscrupulous people take advantage of – but even people who are successful and bemoan it would have benefited from it themselves, whether as children or because their parents were recipients and this helped them raise them…
    The solution, apart from having healthy boundaries, is obviously having an efficient taxation system to fund social welfare – and an effective pension system as well.
    Also, it’s easy to say that educating all children is a solution so that some do not become burdens on others, but the reality is that often there is not enough money to educate all the children which is why some have their education sacrificed (on the understanding that the lucky person will sacrifice in future)…

  6. Larz

    July 23, 2019 at 9:41 am

    the problem with black tax is that even recipients of these nowadays have bigger tax compared to previous generations (our grandparents only needed money for food health etc). Nowadays beneficiaries want money for new smart phones, new laptop, tablets, holidays

  7. Ajala & Foodie

    July 23, 2019 at 9:45 pm

    I was watching this Kemi Adetiba’s brotherhood deal and one of the men on there was talking about having to bear the financial responsibility of his grand father. His father BTW was a former governor and still alive. So I be wondering which way? I have come to realize many Nigerians have children for the sole means of having people to “take care” of them i.e take on their financial responsibilities later on in life and this is regardless of their contribution in said child’s life. My paternal grandfather sent the 1st son of each wives to school. It was now left to that boy to help his siblings. Being the 1st son of his mum my dad was the one sent to school. He had an elder sister and 2 younger siblings (a boy and a girl). My grandpa by the way died while my dad was in college. Anyway, post graduating. He sets up his older sister up in business per her request. His younger sister went to college all the way to becoming a teacher and although she was married my dad paid her way. My uncle wanted business too my dad paid for his trade school and set him up in his business for his choice. Like that was not enough my Dad paid for all his older sister’s children to be educated up to whatever level they desired, and she had quite a few kids for different men. My uncle too whose story is for another day. Almost his kids attending Uni all paid for by my dad. We had to make sacrifices at least that was what we were told. We were denied things because my dad had all these responsibilities. It was so these financial burden would not fall on us. So imagine our dismay when one of said cousins, who by many standard will be considered comfortable (has a good job, her own house i.e not renting, and a car) decides my parents have to pay her son’s way too. My parents are both retired. Like does it never end? So does this paying it forward only pertain to some people and not others? My mum wisely said “NO”. I feel like it can be an unending cycle but it takes only one to break it.

  8. T.O

    July 24, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    Oh boy, this is a really big issue for me right now. I am taking some professional exams and saving up for my masters at the same time so i don’t have as much disposable income as i used to and I can’t give as much. the pressure is insane.
    But saying no is helpful. I have decided that i wont dip into my savings no matter what so I just have to stick to my guns when the various issues that require money to solve invariably come up

  9. Angry Bird

    July 31, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    I am a victim of this black tax thing. I have even gotten therapy cos of backlog of issues. My parents especially my mother is never satisfied with whatever i give. They both go about saying all sorts of things like i asked them to give birth to many children. its like we were born to give them money and no other relationship exists. sometimes i contemplated suicide so that they would look for someone else to bug with their problems but i have to think of my husband and daughter. Some parents feel that their children are their source of income. my mother recently disowned me cos of money related issues and i don’t call her anymore. i am relieved cos each time i see their calls or missed calls i get panic attacks. i am no longer in nigeria and left cos of them but i still have to constantly send money to my siblings. when will parents learn to plan for their future, when will they stop seeing children as their source of income. is it bad to wish your parents dead, cos sometimes i wish mine were. I am sorry but my email is false so no one can contact me from there.


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