#NairaLife: This tax collector never had to earn money to survive

Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be difficult, others will be candles. All the time, it will be revealing.


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If the 34-year-old in this #NairaLife stopped working, she would be fine. But even with rich and free £4.3m-a-year parents, she enjoys being independent while catching business owners trying to evade taxes.

What is your first money memory?

My grandmother worked at CBN and used to bring home banknotes for me and my siblings. I was about five or six when it started, and it was so cool to keep new money around no matter how many times I had it.

When you say “take home”… You were living with her?

We lived in my paternal grandfather’s family home, which was a mansion. My nuclear family—dad, mom, me, and three siblings—and two maids lived upstairs, and my grandmother lived downstairs.

What did your parents do for a living?

My father was a banker and my mother an accountant.

Sounds like money all around

I didn’t notice how privileged I was until I entered boarding school when I was 10 years old. Looking back, I think my parents sent me there to see there was another side to life. In elementary school, my classmates were children of ministers and even governors, I had a driver, and I traveled in the summers.

At boarding school, I waited an entire week and ran out of clean clothes before finding that no one was coming to do my laundry. I had to learn to wash my own clothes. I had classmates whose parents were drivers who lived face-me-I-face-you.

When I was 13, we moved back to the UK.

Return?

I was born and spent my first five years there. We came back because that’s what my father wanted.

So why did you come back at 13?

My mother ran away from my father’s domestic violence. We waited for him to go to work one day and japa-d. The extended family tried to mediate, but they never got back together. We, his children, never stopped talking to him, and he came to stay with us in London several times a year. He also sent money for school and upkeep throughout so we never needed anything.

How was it moving?

I had to learn independence quickly. There was no such thing as having a driver or being safe. I took the bus to school and had to run errands for my mother. I even got my first job as a sales assistant when I was 15. Not because we needed money as a family. It’s just something that a lot of 15 and 16 year olds in the UK do as their first job. I used my money to go to the cinema with my friends.

How long did you stay in the UK?

12 years. I returned to Nigeria in 2013, three years out of college.

How was it?

I came back for a wedding, and my family members and friends kept telling me to come back, so I thought, “Okay.” When I got back to the UK I told my mum about it and she thought it was fine. My father was delighted that I came to Nigeria to stay with him. So I quit my job and returned to Nigeria. The plan was to do NYSC first and decide what to do next.

I’m so confused. First of all, you left your job for Nigeria?

LOL. First of all, I was confused after college. Then I saw a master’s program in human resources and I thought, “Let me try.” When I spoke to my father about it, he said to me: “RH? what do you want to use HR for? And that’s how I decided not to do a master’s anymore.

Instead, I got a job in the marketing team of an advertising agency. My job was to help them get their campaigns seen by as many people as possible. It’s not what I studied in college, but I learned on the job and did well.

I see. So, Camp NYSC…

I just wanted to do it. And camp was so much fun. I would go back if I had the chance.

After the camp, Nigeria itself was not so fun. It was frustrating. As if I was passing from reason to chaos. I had to learn to be sharp. People were ripping me off because I looked sweet and new.

Welcome. Where did you work for NYSC?

They sent me to a school that paid me ₦8k per month, but my dad didn’t have it, so he got me a job with the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS) instead. This one paid ₦25,000 per month, and that was enough to get me through for a month. I only needed money to fill up my car. I lived with my father, there was food at home and I only went to work.

What were you doing there?

Nothing. The Corp members weren’t allowed to know too much about the operations because a lot of them are sensitive, so I sat around all day. They tried to retain me at the end of my year there, but I rejected their offer. I was tired of Nigeria.

So you left?

Yeah. I moved back to London and got another marketing job almost immediately. After two months, I realized that I preferred to live in Nigeria. London was boring. The only thing he offered was a structured society, nothing else. So I returned to Lagos to look for work.

What did you find?

I met an NGO founder through a friend, and he hired me. Her NGO helped small business owners get grants and funding, and I worked as her assistant. It was a lot of work for ₦80k, but I did it to engage my brain. Again, I didn’t need money to survive. I had everything I needed at home. If I needed extra money for something like plane tickets or car trouble, I saved for it.

Have you ever had to work to earn money to survive?

Not yet, no.

How is?

This means I never have to feel tied to a job. If I ever feel like something’s wrong with me, I’ll leave. I know it will.

After about a year at the NGO, I quit.

Why?

I had to travel with my mother and siblings. Just to relax.

When I got back to Nigeria, I started thinking about getting a long term job to be a little more settled. From conversations I had with friends, the top two jobs that stood out were banking and federal parastatals. At the top of the list was the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).

The bank was a no-no for me. It felt like slavery, having to do so much high intensity work and be under pressure all my life. And I’ve also heard that banks sometimes hire people based on their looks. I didn’t want to be a professional call girl.

And the FIRS?

It looked much better. I heard that people were promoted at the right time, without politics, and the work environment was welcoming. So I decided to apply to work there. In the months leading up to my employment, I did an internship at an accounting firm for ₦35,000 per month. In 2018 I started working there, and that’s where I’ve been ever since.

What are you doing?

I am a tax collector. There are different ways for the government to collect taxes from businesses that don’t want to pay. I don’t look at companies’ tax records and I don’t contact them directly. My job is to find loopholes and make business owners pay their taxes. For example, when business owners want to obtain visas, they must submit their business accounts to show proof of funds. If they don’t pay tax, we will find out and contact them. It’s really interesting work because I see people doing their best to outwit the law.

How much do you earn?

I earn the same I have earned since I joined – ₦280k. I also get bonuses, but under company policy I’m not allowed to talk about it. I’m due for a promotion soon. Crossed fingers.

Would you say you are financially independent?

I haven’t had to ask for money for many years. Besides living with my dad, I’ve taken care of all other aspects of my finances since I started working. I thought about moving, but my very Nigerian dad has a lot of trouble with it, and I don’t want wahala, so I guess I’m not moving yet. For car, travel or any other issues, I handle them all myself.

Is your job your only source of income?

Until two years ago, yes. After that, my siblings and I started collecting rent from properties owned by my father and grandmother. My dad has two flats which fetch £2m each and my grandma’s flat fetches ₦300,000. So that’s £4.3million at the end of each year for the past two years.

Do you make investments?

A few months ago, if you were talking about investments around me, we would have fought. I lost £6m to agri-partnerships last year. This is the end of any investment for the foreseeable future for me. Now I just save dollars.

Is there something you want but can’t currently afford?

No. I don’t want many things. If I want something, I plan and save to buy it.

I’d love to see what you’re spending money on

Are you financially happy on a scale of 1 to 10?

5. If I could get back the $6 million I lost, I’d probably be at 10. Other than that, I’m pretty grateful to have the family and the privileges that I have.


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Esther L. Steinbach