Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
Let’s go all the way back to your oldest memory of money.
Primary school, running to my dad’s workplace to collect the money for my common entrance form. Also, I know people used to dash me money quite often, but it always ended up with my parents. My mum was a teacher in my school, so she always held onto my money.
I feel like if we asked for reparations from all the money our parents collected on our behalf, it might be going into the billions.
Or not, ‘what about the Christmas shoe?’
Your parents would be so proud right now.
Haha, I’ve just heard it enough to not accept it.
I imagine you’ve always wanted to be a doctor.
Not exactly. In fact, my dad kept asking me if I was sure about my choice at the JAMB office because I didn’t say it so often. I first wanted to be a lawyer, then an engineer, then a physicist, and finally a doctor. I just had this confidence that I’d excel at whatever I chose to do.
So I chose medicine because I wanted to unravel the mystery of the profession. Like “what’s even the big deal?”
Your dad was a doctor?
Far from it. My dad’s never worked in the formal sector. Did photography, farming, small-small contracts here and there.
Nice. So, medicine; expectations vs reality.
I didn’t exactly have expectations. I wanted to know why it was described as a lofty profession. The reality surpassed whatever expectations were in my head. I didn’t really have a scope of illnesses beyond malaria, fractures, small injuries. The Medical School showed me a wide range of diseases, a lot of which I’m yet to see in real life. So about being able to make what I call ‘sweet diagnosis’, I was happy.
My interest in medicine grew in medical school and I can no longer picture myself not practising medicine.
Sweet diagnosis? Tell me about your first.
It was in one of my outside postings in school. I was at the clinic with this senior doctor and the mother came and started narrating what was wrong with her baby. I called it in my head or maybe I whispered to the person sitting next to me. When the senior doctor started asking us to listen to the boy’s heart, I knew I was right. He had a large ventricular septal defect! That’s probably not the first but that’s the one I remember.
It feels like how every time a major insurgency begins, someone’s journalism career is getting propelled.
Well, journalists can shine the spotlight on the insurgency and can bring about a change. We made that diagnosis and sent the baby to a specialist who probably dropped the “you may need to travel to India” bomb on the literally poor woman.
For us, it’s like reporting on Yemen, and knowing that people just like the pictures and move on. Nothing changes.
Let’s do a rough estimate; how frequently do you have cases where the patients can’t afford treatment?
Ah, during my house job, let’s say 70% of patients couldn’t afford treatment but after calling everyone, it comes to about 40%. It was a teaching hospital so they’d probably spent all their money on smaller hospitals and chemist shops before getting the final diagnosis that will actually take all their money. But I’m now in a place where 70% of patients are covered by the NHIS.
Let’s digress. Did you ever have to do anything else besides school work for cash?
No. I did some ‘research’ for one of my dad’s friends after school which paid me about 80k.
What year was this and what level were you in?
I was 22 and this was December 2017. It was after school, after my house job. House job is a beautiful time for the account.
First proper monthly income eh?
Yup. And they paid after 2 months, ₦375k. It was actually ₦162-₦164k per month but there was a bonus or something.
What was it like though, first salary vibes?
Oh, it felt good. I felt independent. Most of it went towards black tax sha. I sent money to everyone who I had some sense of gratitude towards. Church, family friends, everyone.
So black tax only touched the first salary eh?
Very well. About ₦250k. It still comes in once in a while though.
When did you first realise that the Japa had to happen?
During house job and NYSC reinforced it. The state of our healthcare is sad. I was almost always sad for the entire year. Too many people died.
I’m sorry you had to go through that. What was the leading cause of death?
Doctors who know all the stuff but are as helpless as the patients. We need to get people more involved in healthcare financing. Revamp the healthcare system, such that enough people have faith in the system to enrol in social health insurance. Health insurance will help to distribute the financial risk associated with most illnesses, especially chronic illnesses.
It’s a sad vicious cycle, diagnoses of chronic conditions make poor people even poorer. Take Chronic Kidney Disease, for example; a poor person is more likely to be coming for weekly dialysis than to get a transplant.
The weekly dialysis is just buying them extra time because they will run out of money and they will die.
A rich person knows we can’t do the transplant in every hospital here. They’d travel, get their transplant done and that’s that.
These complex procedures will be cheaper if we do them often, that way we have trained manpower and equipment. Instead, we buy machines that’ll get spoilt before the next batch of medical expatriates come.
There was this patient, 20 years old. She got “married as a teenager” to a man as broke as she was, to be his second wife. She had Chronic Kidney Disease.
The man went AWOL ( men are more likely to abandon their partners in the hospital). Her parents actually tried but they didn’t really have money. They paid for the first dialysis, the unit raised money for the second. Each dialysis cost ₦27k.
Whenever she came in as an emergency, the doctors and nurses would rally and raise money. She’d step away from death’s clutch for a bit and they’d take her home again.
They took her home and she was supposed to come twice a week for dialysis. Her case was quite bad. A kidney transplant procedure might have cost her up to ₦10 million. Of course, there was no money for that so they kept her till they couldn’t keep her at home any longer.
The last time she came, even our charity couldn’t save her. She was too sick.
She had two kids. I wonder how they’re doing.
Wow. How many times have you ever had to raise money for a patient?
I don’t think I can count. It was worse in the teaching hospital. It was at least twice a week in paediatric posting. Maybe 40 times – I think that’s even modest.
That is crazy. Hypothetically, how would you fix this?
Privatise the health sector – keep me anon. That way, the stakeholders will actually be interested. The poor might suffer at first but it will eventually make sense.
So, the stress is too much you just want to japa. What stage are you at?
I’d say I’m in the middle.
How did you fund these?
I raised ₦735k from my dad mostly, and towards my exams.
Yes, I did. Though it seems I may have to go begging from them later. I would definitely still need money. I need to sort out accommodation when I go for my exams, plus all the money that will be spent when I am finally ready to relocate.
In the time being, I’m working at a government hospital. I did NYSC here and just stayed on as an ad hoc staff. ₦80k per month.
Fascinating that you earned more at your house job than at this one? How much did they pay you during your NYSC?
₦50k. But there was NYSC allowance. And I also worked at a private hospital for about 3 months and earned ₦100k per month. But then I became so ill, I thought I was going to die. I resigned from there and stayed with my ₦50k.
Woaaaah. What happened?
I had a chest infection that went on for too long. It seemed my immunity was compromised. I was stressed.
Sorry about that. How much do doctors get for NYSC?
The same allowance everyone gets. It was ₦19,800 when we started but was increased to ₦33k.
So, now I’m wondering what ₦80k affords you every month.
I live in the hospital so rent is off. I hardly go anywhere too. My internet is about 7 to ₦10k. Food? Hahahaha. I really don’t know, it depends on my mood. Toiletries ₦10k. So food, ₦20k. On average. Though I’m certain I’ve spent almost ₦30k this month.
I think social media can be blamed too. There’s a lot of visual stimulation. I’m like “it looks good” let me try.
Hahaha, what was your last food splurge?
Ordered Catfish Pepper soup, Jollof rice and moin-moin. ₦7k, with delivery.
What is your wildest food splurge?
I bought a cake late last month. ₦17,500.
I’m curious about your perspective on money.
It stems from my childhood. My parents weren’t rich-rich, but money was available when we needed it. Sometimes salaries, loans, or savings. We always had what we needed.
So my ideology about money is that it really has to meet your needs, fundamentally. I need a steady income that can cater to my basic needs and whatever extra shenanigans it can afford me.
This is another reason why I want to leave. It seems I don’t have a hustling bone in my body so I need to work in a place where my primary salary can suffice.
Talking about relocation, tell me about what the road to Japa looks like for you, expense-wise
I still need at least £1000. That’s excluding feeding and accommodation till I get my first salary there. GMC registration; £156. So Tier 2 visa- an average of 600 pounds. Then certificate of good standing from the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria ₦75k, +/- bribes, so they don’t waste my time.
And lastly, one-way ticket. It feels good saying that. I’m really tired of waiting.
How do you intend to raise it?
I still have some money saved up. I have about ₦750k.
When do you think you’ll be able to leave?
When my exam was scheduled for April, I was looking at October but I don’t know when to expect anymore. So I am basically waiting. I just cussed COVID out in my head.
Cussing COVID on your behalf too. Working while you wait eh?
I am. That is the only way I don’t deplete what I have.
How many people in your class are planning to travel?
It’s quite sad.
The brain drain is just more glaring in the medical profession because it is a sector that should not be bleeding professionals like this.
How much will you say a Nigerian medical degree costs, in time and cash?
Then there are books, which I did not buy a lot of. I read on my laptop.
When was the last time you felt broke?
I feel broke now. My entire stash is earmarked for something. 25k will go to my mum’s screening tests. I’ve been begging her to do her blood tests but paying for it is the only way she’ll take me seriously. Data, 7k, hopefully.
Food; I really hope to keep it within 20k.
The rest will sit in my general account until I am able to transfer a sizeable amount to my savings account.
On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your financial happiness?
5. I feel broke, but I’m also not lacking anything.
What’s a purchase that’s significantly improved the quality of your life?
A 30,000mAh power bank, which I bought more than a year ago hahaha. It charged my phone more than 5 times.
Do you have any financial regrets?
I wish I had some form of investment during house job when the money was just sitting pretty in my account. My expenses were very minimal. I bought a lot more food then because I didn’t have any time to spare. Then again, I didn’t have time for anything else.
What does financial freedom mean to you?
I want to live in a house that I’ve paid for. A car that I’ve paid for. I want to be able to afford the best healthcare (well insurance in saner climes). Food, obviously, and travel. Charity and Black tax too. I want to be able to give back to my community.
Also, are you saying here that it’s impossible to hack good insurance here?
Most HMOs here won’t even cover chronic conditions. Hospitals are always fighting HMOs before they get their money back. I’m sure there are excellent packages but it’s not that commonplace.
Basically, if you can’t hack effective HMOs, that means it’s impossible to fully hack financial freedom for you in Nigeria?
It’s not possible for me. Maybe those who are super rich with helicopters that can evacuate them immediately or something. Imagine if that even happens during this COVID season.
Look, there’s no true freedom for me here.
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