If you’re only just joining our Paying Black Tax series, we welcome you with open arms. (Read previous entries HERE) You see, at the beginning of 2019, the BellaNaija Features team resolved to pay closer attention to the younger demographic of its readers. It is 2021 and we are still waxing strong. 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.
Today, we are sharing Ugochi’s (who has chosen to remain anonymous, so this is not her real name) story. Ugochi is a 28-year-old lady who works as a freelance journalist, and has been working for over three years now. She currently runs two jobs: a 9-5 that pays her in six figures and another that pays in five-figures. Ugochi hates paying black tax, but does she have a choice?
How would you describe the economic class of your family growing up?
It was poor. We were broke broke. So broke that I envied those who had the littlest money. Sometimes, we would eat rice with palmoil. My father would send me to buy things on credit and even though the woman was always nice, I would go shame-faced to her shop to beg for a cup of rice or garri, all the time rehearsing the things I’d say to her. I knew hunger and shame early enough; landlord would knock our door and my father would hide. NEPA would cut our light and we’d be the only ones without power in the whole compound.
By the time I was in secondary school, my father built his house. At first, it was a one-room apartment with no door, an uncemented floor, no toilet or kitchen, and no roof. Day and night, we prayed for rain not to fall and we did a lot of ‘shot put’. Then gradually, we fixed a roof, had a door, cemented the floor, built other rooms and now we have a two-bedroom apartment.
How would you describe your family’s current financial/economic status?
Mehn, it’s way way better now. We can afford to buy the things we need and want. We do not go hungry. We can afford to run a generator through the day, we can afford a whole lot of things.
What propelled you to start supporting your family financially?
There was no other choice. All my life, I’ve known lack; we never ever had enough. There was hardly any food at home or clothes to wear. As a child, there was nothing like snacks. Until I finished my university and NYSC, we were still fetching water from many streets away. I had the kind of life I wanted to live pictured in my head, so when I started making money, my siblings and I began to live that life slowly.
What kind of life did you have pictured?
Soft life, haha. I wanted comfort, at least to a large extent. I wanted to be able to afford things, to not wash my clothes with my hands or be in darkness because NEPA messed up as they always do. I wanted meat pies and ice creams – you know, the numerous things I lacked as a kid. When I started working, the first thing my siblings and I bought was a washing machine. I still want comfort, when I get my apartment, I have envisaged how I’ll furnish it and make it my haven.
What’s stopping you?
Where’s the money? My salary finishes in the second week.
Is there a fixed figure you pay or is it anywhere belle face?
I give my parents an allowance every month, and yes, it’s a fixed price. I also pay my younger sibling a salary monthly. Aside from that, I contribute to buy food for the house, buy gas, fuel, feed the dogs, buy data for my parents – I do a lot.
Mehn, that’s truly a lot, how do you cope?
Well, I have siblings who pull their weight too, I earn the highest though, so I pay for more. But my family is very close-knitted and my siblings are not selfish or demanding. My parents too are not greedy or inconsiderate. It makes things easier.
Do you divulge your financial status to your family? If no, why not?
I do, actually. I’ve got nothing to hide.
In what ways has paying black tax benefitted you?
Does it benefit anyone? I’d rather save my money or buy crypto than to pay black tax.
What are the ripple effects paying black tax has brought you? (in your finances, social life, emotional well-being or any other aspect)
A lot, to be honest. Last year, I saved only 60k for the whole year. That’s because there’s always something to spend one’s money on. I had to get a second job to increase my earnings. I am in a better place financially and I have saved 200k so far this year. I’d have saved more if we didn’t work on the house this year. Mentally, it’s a lot, I’m always anxious and I have a nagging fear of poverty.
Do you think paying black tax in this present economy sets you back from the achievements your folks had made at this age?
I don’t know the achievements my folks made at this age, all I know is that I’m doing well. The economy is terrible right now and the future of the country looks bleak. I believe my parent’s generation had it easier when they were my age. I’m not there yet, but I’m pulling my weight and I’m super proud of myself.
As your finances increase, does your black tax increase?
For me, it’s a yes. Let’s get it straight, my parents do not ask me for money, except when they are in a fix. But when you grow up in a poor family, you are left with no choice – there’s always something to be done. There are people depending on you or looking up to you. There’s that roof that’s leaking, or that soakaway that will soon cave in, or the walls that are cracking. There’s never food at home until you buy it. You know your parents have almost nothing to offer you; they can hardly even feed themselves conveniently. You’re all they’ve got, so you have to step in all the time.
What role does love play? Do you send money out of love or out of obligation?
It’s a mixture of both. My parents have suffered too much and I want them to be comfortable and to experience the good life – at least to an extent – before they die. Life is short, and I recognise that they would not always be around. I want to be able to say that I did my best to give them that life I have pictured in my head. I look at my mum and smile; growing up, she had a deep well in her shoulders. Today, she’s looking so fine and she has less worries.
Have you ever gotten fed up with paying black tax?
Of course, sometimes, my tiredness stems from resentment. I picture how differently life would have been for me if I had more comfort. If I had all my money to myself, you know. I wish my father had more money growing up. I wish I had a soft landing or something like that. I look at other people, see how far they’ve come and realise that they had help, you know, they had a parent or relative who gave them connections, helped them financially – stuff like that. I had and have none of that and sometimes the knowledge that if I ever fall financially, there’s no one I can turn to scares me. I wish and crave for too many things, but here I am.
If you had a choice, is this something you’d do again?
Please, BellaNaija, why would I?
What lessons can you share with our readers on the Black Tax and how you’ve been able to navigate life within the expectations?
Save first, then all other things can come after that. Except for the last two months where I had to pay off debt, I’ve been saving at least 30% of my salary monthly. When I started spending out of it, I safelocked it in Piggyvest. I’ve also started doing things for myself like buying jewelleries and shoes and all. If you don’t take care of yourself, you begin to resent your family and even yourself. So spend on them and then spend on yourself too – no matter how little. That way, you don’t feel cheated or overwhelmed.