At the beginning of 2019, the BellaNaija Features team resolved to pay closer attention to the younger demographic of its readers. With stories and feature series that focus on young Nigerians between the ages of 25 – 35, we hope to provide a platform for young people to tell the stories that affect them – within a society that handed certain norms to them. Paying Black Tax is one of those norms. Young people across the country, and even beyond the borders of Nigeria have to send money back home. The reasons for this concept varies, but the recipients are constant – parents, siblings, cousins and sometimes, even friends.
We started a conversation about this in this essay here, and it was a subject that resonated with a lot of our readers. We invited you to share your Paying Black Tax stories with us, and you ever so kindly indulged is. For this, we are grateful.
In the course of the series, we have shared different stories of people’s different experiences with the phenomenon of black tax. We hope that you are inspired by the stories, and maybe realize that you’re not alone, and that this series helps you find a way out of any sticky financial situations you may be in.
Today, we are sharing Soph‘s story. She was thrown into independence really early, learning to make a living by doing odd jobs like braiding hair, making wigs, selling kerosene and writing. She didn’t start paying black tax until she had a full time job; and even though she was excited she could pay at first, life is teaching her that it may not come as easy as she thinks.
How were things growing up?
Initially it was really good. My dad had a good job. He was a chief accountant of a construction company, a Lebanese construction company, and he earned a good pay. I attended a private school, and things were really good. Then he lost his job, and I don’t know if he was stuck or something, but I don’t recall him getting another one. So, earlier, money was always there. Then it became a struggle.
We didn’t have a house—while he had money he didn’t build a house—so we ended up renting. But sometimes we wouldn’t be able to afford rent. My mum got a house because she works in the government. She took a loan and started paying off the house. Then something happened, I don’t know what, but it was like they sold the house to another person. And my mum had already been paying for the house. But, apparently, the person they sold the house to was very connected, so we were out of the house for a while. We were staying with someone. It was really difficult.
I wouldn’t say after that there was a time with so much money. We were basically surviving. We were surviving, going to school—I owed a lot of school fees. I was a madam! In fact, my teachers used to know me. I became friends with my teachers, and because I was doing well in school, when they were chasing everyone away, they’d be like, “Just leave her.” I almost did not write WAEC. I think I wrote WAEC, and I wanted to write NECO, but they converted my NECO fees to school fees. So I couldn’t write NECO. Luckily, I passed WAEC. But going to the university was hard. School fees was cheap, but paying was still hard.
I won’t call myself broke. I can afford three-square meals every day. I can go out. But I can’t afford any luxury like a fancy bag and anything extra. I can afford to go out, you know, hang out once in a month with my friends, or just take myself out. I can do that. I can afford my rent. But no regular outings.
How many people do you support?
Ah. Give or take six people. Or five. I’m considering if I should include my parents. But six, which is my siblings and parents.
Why did you start supporting your family?
I don’t think there was a moment when I decided to support my family, it just happened that I started earning, and it seemed I was expected to do so. It was a natural instinct. Somebody asked for something, and I was like, “Okay, take.” I’d had side jobs, but this was my first major job. Full time job. I’d had side jobs, but because it was not constant income, so I didn’t have to pay anything. There was a time I started doing braids, and I was making wigs. I went home for the holidays, and my mum was like, this money that I’m making, she’s not seeing anything from inside. I was like, if I’m going back to school and I ask for money, they will say there’s no money. But I was working so that when I was returning to school, there would be no excuse. I’d say I’m going to school, bye. I’m out.
There was a time I started spending money and my younger brother was like, “Don’t do that. If Mum sees that you’re spending money, she’ll make you reconsider. Don’t do that.” He said I should use the money for something else, or act as if I don’t have at all. So I always acted as if I didn’t have.
I did a lot of side jobs. A looooottt. I wrote, I made hair, I sold fruits—I did everything! Last week I remembered that I sold kerosene. I was like, “How in the world did I think to sell kerosene?” It was crazy. But since I started my job, that sense of entitlement just came without filter: Ah, she’s working now. So they legit have reasons to call me. But my siblings seem to understand more. I just tell them, “See, guy, this is what I’m saving for. I don’t have money.” And they’re like, “Okay, no wahala.” But my parents are different.
I told my sister to get a side hustle. If it’s hair you want to make, or you want to start a makeup business—I would rather buy you a makeup kit than to be sending you money every time. Because a day will come, I won’t be able to send anything to you, and you’ll need something. So, yeah, find something to do for yourself.
So, your parents, how do they deal with it?
See, I used to tell them how much I earned at the beginning. But when I discovered that because they knew how much I was earning, they expected a specific share of the money, I don’t tell them when I make extra income, or get a bonus at work. These days, I wish I didn’t tell them the specific amount initially. Because when I don’t send, it’s another wahala. There are serious consequences. In fact, I’m experiencing one consequence now: me and my mum we’re not talking.
My mum calculates my salary in her head. She assumes what I should be spending, and she’s assuming because she’s not here. She stays in Abuja, and transport there is not as expensive as it is here. Food is much cheaper there. So she expects that’s I’m supposed to be sending this lump sum of money every month, and I’m like, I don’t have money. In my budget I always have what I send home. I don’t go over it. Sometimes I exceed it, because something can come up and I don’t know how to say no. Except if there’s nothing patapata.
One time, she asked me for something, and I was like, “I don’t have this money you’re asking for now. I’ve already sent what I usually send, the rest is for me to survive. I’m still saving for rent. I’m doing my clearance in school, I’m the one going to pay for that. I was owing fees, so I had to pay the fees, and they had added money to it. These are all the things I’m dealing with.” I’m very open. I state out my budget—I don’t hide it. Food is this. Transport is this. This is the money I’m spending on this personal thing; this is this personal thing. I don’t have to do that, it’s just so she understands. But, apparently, she doesn’t understand.
Once I sent her a message and she was like I was rude to her, that she had spoken to her friends and they said, “Oh your daughter is working now? She’s supposed to be sending money. She’s supposed to be doing this. She’s supposed to be doing that.”
I’m like, “Mum, those people did not—they are not in our family. Why would you carry my matter outside?” I told her, “Don’t carry my matter outside oo. If you want to do that, that’s your business. Don’t come and tell me somebody said. They always have something to say, but did they give you money? All the time that we’ve been in this problem, have they given you money? Did they start a business for you? They’ve not done anything, and all of a sudden they’re coming to give advice.”
It got to a point, recently, I was just at home and I got a text saying a man of God who came to pray said that there’s a guy coming close to me, and the guy is taking my money, milking me. Eii! Oh my God. I laughed. I laughed, first of all, because my parents are very religious. I’m a religious person too, But I’ve also learned that everybody sees what they want to see. Me? Give money to a guy? I told them that first of all, where’s the money I want to give to a guy? Then, secondly, I’m not that kind of person. I don’t ask guys for stuff, so who will I give? Except the person is in need, obviously. I no even get the money to give. I’d explained this thing before, but because recently I was like, I have too many expenses, my friend’s wedding, travelling, and I couldn’t send the usual amount. They were like they don’t see how every month they ask me for money and I say I don’t have money. Do you know that I did not respond to that message? See, when I’m ready to answer them, I’ll answer them. I don’t have strength. I’m all about protecting my mental health. They’re my parents and everything oo, but, nobody should stress me. My mental health is important. Abeg abeg abeg. Living in Lagos is stressful enough. I don’t need anybody coming to stress me. I understand that things are hard at home, but, abeg. It’s not as if I’m not doing anything. It’s not as if I just ignored them. I gave them options: if you will decide to open a store, tell me, let us contribute. I would gladly borrow to contribute to that, because I know that it’s a means to an end.
I asked my mum once that if I lost my job and moved back to Abuja, would she take care of me? Would she give me pocket money? I buy data, will she give me data money? That’s why she said I offended her. I’ve tried, I’ve explained. But the consequence is that me and my mum, we are not talking. If I see my mum’s call, I know it’s my dad calling me through my mum’s phone. My mother does not call me. For months.
How has black tax stretched you?
Woah, in a lot of ways oh. First, I end up stranded some months and have to borrow or find another way to earn extra money to make up for what I give out. There are times when I have to forfeit a personal need to be able to afford paying black tax. It’s usually not a funny scenario, because I end up having less money to spend on food or transport or even data, and no one understands that you have valid needs to take care of, and all you have is a salary, especially when you’re not the type to depend on men for money.
I wouldn’t say it has forced me into independence sha. The first time I decided to start making money, I did it for myself. I needed money to take care of my needs and wants, and much wasn’t really coming from home, so I had to start earning some. Personally, I can’t say if it has set me back from the achievements of my peers, because I still try to save and invest the little I can. However, it limits the extent to which I can save or invest. But it hasn’t been easy, to be frank. It’s hard.
Some days I’m like, can’t I just spend this money on myself and not care about anybody? I really want to invest. I’m looking forward to investing a lot, but if I send 20-25k home every month, that money is something I could invest. I mean, come on, 20k is a lot of money to invest, Mutual funds are like 5k. But I can’t do that. Months go buy that I can’t buy anything. I think, since I came to Lagos, I’ve only bought stuff for myself worth 20k. I was going through my records the other time, and I found that money is always going out of my account into someone else’s account. Not that I’m going out shopping or I’m taking myself out or anything. I barely buy anything for myself. So it’s really hard. Somedays I’m like, I’m tired. It’s hard. It’s very difficult.
I want to run a store. That’s my dream. A proper store. But I can’t do that because I need money to invest, and usually, the first point of capital is yourself, before you even start to convince anybody. You want to be able to have started something with your money, because I’m working. Somebody will be like, What have you done with your own money? I don’t have anything, because I basically can’t put anything aside. Everything is either black tax, or going into something else. And, I’m very emotional, which my mum knows. So recently, what she does is tell our last born to send me a text message, instead of her calling. Because she knows that if she does that, I’ll want to do something about it. Some days I just want to be a child. Not like when I was a child it was any different. Seriously. I mean, you learn to take care of yourself from a very young age. So, yeah, it’s tiring. But we’ll be fine.
As your finances increase, does your black tax increase?
This depends on my family knowing that my finances have increased, as long as the don’t know, I believe my black tax figure can remain the same irrespective of an increase in pay. The first month I started officially earning some money, I was super eager to send money home, which was foolish because I didn’t realize that I wasn’t yet capable of paying black tax. That month, I saw pepper. I had no food, and could barely afford transport fare to get to work. I had to make up by borrowing from a friend. This was when I decided that I wasn’t going to jump into paying black tax except my basic needs were all taken care of. But I am compelled by love, and I think my family know that all they have to do to spur me to pay up is appeal to my emotional side.
What’s the best thing about supporting your family?
It gives me satisfaction and a sense of belonging. I think one of the reasons why I actually do it is because I don’t want my siblings to be in that place where I was, where there’s nobody to ask for anything. I can’t call my parents to ask for anything, because there’s nothing to actually give. I do it so they don’t get to feel the full weight of nothing being there. That’s one of the reasons. And, just sort of being an inspiration. I mean, from where I’m coming from, where I am is a really good place.
Any advice for people paying black tax?
Ah, it’s a trap! See, I know it’s good and everything. I know you feel happy because you are providing. When you give, there’s a joy that comes with it. But don’t do beyond what you can do. You’re going to be stranded. See, the month I was stranded, I didn’t have transport. Because I was just sending money. I had to borrow. And it was not funny. So just spend within your means.
The truth is, I am still learning to take care of personal bills, save, invest in my future and still pay black tax. However, overtime I have learnt to say no when it’s really hard to pay. I’m still practicing this skill, but I’ve gotten better. So learn to say no. I learned recently that “No” is a full statement. It’s a full sentence. It’s not, No, then something else. It’s just, No. Full stop. They need to learn to respect it. Because they won’t die. When you did not have work, did they die? Seriously, it’s the truth. I learned that recently. All the while I haven’t been sending money home, nobody died. Life went on. Money came out from somewhere else. It’s not because I don’t send money that someone will die.
If this is your first time catching this series, you can read other stories HERE. If you enjoyed reading Soph’s story and you’d like to share your story on Paying Black Tax, please reach out to us by sending an email to [email protected].