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 and cousins.
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 every so kindly indulged is. For this we are eternally grateful.
Over the course of the next few weeks, we will share a series of stories with you. People with different economic backgrounds and status describe their situations. Catch up on the previous stories we’ve shared in this series by clicking HERE.
We hope that you are inspired by the stories, and maybe realize that you’re not alone. In addition, we hope that this series helps you find a way out of any sticky financial situations you may be in.
Today, we’re introducing you to Lady L. L grew up poor and she lived with her siblings and parents in what she describes as a ‘tiny box’. They often had relatives visiting as well. Things were tight but today, she makes a little money. As a result, she pays Black Tax; for her that gesture but that earns her the royalty treatment when she visits home.
How were things growing up?
I grew up poor. POOR. But somehow Dad was able to keep us (me and my siblings) in top private schools. I guess our education was more important. He also paid for cable TV for us, so that, yeah, we were poor and lived in a ghetto area, but we watched Cartoon Network, Hallmark and spoke like little princes and princesses. Some of the best years of my life.
My dad retired while I was still in the university, so by the time I graduated, waiting for NYSC at home was not even an option. I started taking on small gigs, and contributing to the family. I remember that was when I started paying school fees for one of my siblings.
How many people do you support?
Hmmm, it is not full support because, luckily, I have an elder brother. But I send money to say four people monthly. This is not counting relatives and my parents. But it’s not like black tax forced me into independence. I have always been my own person. I understood how much my parents sacrificed for my education and knew it was time to assist them.
If the top of the ladder is DJ Cuppy and the bottom is I Pass My Neighbour Generator – where are you?
I am a writer, so I don’t know. I can’t say middle class, but I straddle that line between middle-class and poverty, because no salary for six months would cripple me and my savings. But my family knows how much I earn, I know how much my elder brother earns. We are super open in our family.
Is there a fixed figure you pay, or is it anywhere belle face?
I have siblings in the university, so their monthly allowance is a fixed figure. For my parents, I couldn’t keep up with the fixed figure because I couldn’t afford to after a few months. So with them, it is anywhere belle face. Even the siblings in University, if they run out of money mid-month (you know Nigerian universities and buy text books/handouts and stupid trips?). Yeah, so I have to send money for that. Sometimes I am aware my siblings might need clothes and stuff – they are kids – so I send money for that too.
If I decide not to send, then I am really living on the edge. Even when I don’t get paid salaries I send money home. I try to shield my siblings from having a horrible university experience like I did. And as my finances increase, my black tax increases. But the good part is now, I can do a little for myself because there is something left after paying black tax.
I am a mother hen, in a way. Once I get paid, my first thought is who am I sending money to? Who needs what and how urgent is that thing? So I neglect myself. I don’t remember to do my own hair, or buy clothes for myself or anything. My first thought is always them and if they are all happy. It is good and bad. It’s been a major issue in my relationships, because some men I date just don’t understand it. My family comes first.
Do you ever think: Abeg, I’m broke, I’m not sending?
Unless it is something I consider unimportant like “Please send me money for birthday” (And I do send this, unless I am really broke). So for all the important stuff, they get what they need no matter what.
Because school authorities will send the ones in secondary and primary school out of class. And I hate that embarrassing s***. They won’t be allowed to take exams. Lecturers who insist on Buy my text books/handouts might give them bad grades. Apart from those, nah, nothing will happen. But I care about their feelings. I used to be the odd one out back then, not having money for stuff, or clothes and etc. I don’t want them to have that feeling of always being needy, hungry and being at the mercy of other people.
I remember I was in NYSC camp. My sister was supposed to take post-UME and there was no money for the form. I didn’t even have any money, so I called a friend to lend me the cost of the post-UME form and some more. I mean, my sister won’t trek to the exam hall in another state and eat dust while she’s there. After camp, I had to repay that loan, and live off what was left of the ₦19,800. It was a tough, tough month.
The truth is, I send out of love and obligation, but love is bigger. Love is why I deprive myself of things for them. Their happiness is like a patronus, it takes away the sadness of it all. I know I don’t owe them anything really. They could find jobs in school and hustle, but I want to make their experiences better, give them a push so it is all love. Also, I understand that by assisting with their education, I am freeing myself in future. Because if everyone is educated, they can get jobs or start businesses and can cater for their future families. Trust me, you don’t want to be the only well-to-do person in your family. It’s no fun.
And, besides, sending has other perks. Like, I need you to be focused in your education, do your very best and get good grades. If I send money for clothes I want to see responsible clothes, don’t use my money to buy fashionable rag pieces, plis dear. When I am home, I am Queen. They serve my food and take my plates away. Yes. )-_-)
Any last words?
No matter how much you love your family/those you are supporting, remember that people, especially kids, will be kids. So put a cap on things. Let them not see you as “maga.” Make them understand that you are not plucking money from trees. They should see the sacrifices you are making for them, it tends to make them even more responsible.
People are people, don’t think because I did this for you then you must do that for me in the future. Be clear about why you are helping. Your expectations should be what will make them more grounded individuals that won’t need your help in the future. If they are being irresponsible, save your money, dear. Some people have cap but there’s no head. Don’t waste your time.
If you look at yourself now, and you look at your parents at your present age, is black tax a hindrance?
Nah, my folks had the government hand-me-downs. We don’t have that. By my age my mum had like four of us. They got married early. I don’t want that, no, thank you.
I mean, honestly, it’s been very difficult. Extremely difficult. It slowed me down. My peers went ahead of me, but I am catching up and I regret nothing. And, seeing my family happy, answering “Amen” as my mum showers blessings on me, those prayers come through for me like a warm blanket on a cold day.
If you enjoyed reading Lady L.’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].