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What Is The Meaning Of Sapa, And How Can You Avoid It?

sapa and nigerians

Does anyone else feel like the word “Sapa” just materialised out of thin air? If you’re a Nigerian on the internet, then you must have come across all kinds of slang on social media. Some have clear origins but no obvious meaning, like Davido’s “E choke.” Some last a couple of weeks and disappear, like Wizkid’s “E don spoil.” Sometimes, there is no clear origin — as is the case with “Sapa”.

Sapa simply means “the state of being extremely broke or poor.” And while the word has become popular outside Africa, it’s actually a Nigerian slang with Yoruba origins that refers to a situation where someone is struggling financially.

The word has become popular enough to get mentioned in skits — like this one featuring music producer Don Jazzy and comedian MC Lively — and continues to appear in popular culture till today. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about sapa, the dreaded enemy — including how to avoid it.

What is the origin of sapa? 

What is the meaning of sapa? — What is the origin of sapa?
What is the meaning of sapa? — What is the origin of sapa?

Well, as is the case with a most Nigerian pidgin English words, there are no definite answers. But some users of the word have retrospectively turned it into a backronym (an acronym formed after a word already exists). A couple of comments on a pop culture website claim it means “Spend/Spent All Penny Available”, which — clearly — refers to a scarcity after spending extravagantly. 

The most popular backronym, however, is “Serious Absence of Purchasing Ability.” This is one of the definitions provided by Urban Dictionary, that irreverent online authority on slang.

Another (surprisingly earlier) backronym it provides is “Special Attack from Poverty Assistant”. The example given is serio-comic: “I have been trying to raise funds since sapa visited me two days ago.”

Although the slang really attained peak popularity in 2021, it has a longer history for some people. George* says he first heard it from a south-south friend based in Lagos many years ago. At the time, the word had a different but somewhat related meaning to what we now know it to mean. 

“First time I heard ‘sapa’ was circa 2000,” he said. “It was used by a friend the way one would use ‘woze’.” The example he provided was “Hunger go sapa you.” 

If we trust George’s memory, this suggests that the word has had an interesting journey, getting transformed from a verb to a noun within two decades. Asked about the word’s origins, Adegoke*, a public relations practitioner from Osun, wondered if it has a connection to obe isapa, “a Yoruba soup that has now fallen out of favour.” 

For his part, Michael, a pop culture commentator, suggested that perhaps the slang is connected to a Yoruba word he struggled to translate to English but provided an example for: “Ata sapa mi lori.” In that context, sapa is a verb similar to the one George heard back in the 2000s, in that it suggests a stunning of the senses, this time by pepper. 

We could keep going. But while it’s fun to theorise, this looks like a question with no obvious answers — and we’re fine with that. 

How is sapa used in Nigeria today?

What is the meaning of sapa? —A visual representation of sapa

Back in January 2020, rapper Zlatan was featured on a song named after sapa. And in the time-honoured tradition of Nigerian pop stars attacking haters and nay-sayers, the song (by an up-and-coming act named Tswaggz Banks) asks, “When days are dark, friends are few; when I dey face my sapa, where were you?” 

We believe the song clarifies how the word was made to be used. But if that doesn’t help, then this comment we found on a lifestyle blog should: “SAPA na Brooklyn. For example, ‘Guy, sapa don catch me’. Meaning, ‘Guy, I don broke die.” 

How to avoid sapa

What is the meaning of sapa? — How to avoid sapa
What is the meaning of sapa? — How to avoid sapa

We’ve seen that sapa is the enemy, but what’s the solution? How can you fight against this dark force that wants to stress your life? After all, you want to chop life, buy motor, build house and turn up — right?

Here’s how to avoid sapa and all its machinations:

  1. Find a (new) job. The best way to get money is to find a job — preferably one that pays well. You can play around with some inexpensive business ideas or use the internet.
  2. Set healthy and realistic financial goals. As we explained in our article on how to save money in Nigeria, setting goals can help you spend better and avoid financial ruin. Today, you can use apps like Pocket by PiggyVest to track your spending and make lightning-fast payments to anyone. It also has cool features like group savings and bill payment services so you can take control of your money.
  3. Save money. We don’t need to say too much about this — it’s pretty obvious. Our advice? Use PiggyVest to get up to 35% annual interest on your saved funds!
  4. Avoid unnecessary and frivolous expenses. Trim your excesses — everything from unnecessary take-out to reckless shopping. Your discipline will help you destroy sapa. Please, don’t buy that shawarma!
  5. Buy quality products. The trick isn’t just to cut down on spending — it’s to spend well. For example, you’d be better off spending double the money on a great worktable that lasts for years than on a flimsy plastic one that probably won’t see Christmas. We also recommend buying in bulk (if possible) and only purchasing high-quality products from trusted brands.
  6. Practice efficient debt management. We already went over this in our article on managing debt in Nigeria. The gist? The best way to handle debt is to understand and meet it head-on.
  7. Try budgeting. Budgeting is pretty straightforward but is also one of the easiest things to mess up. You’ll need to apply your financial intelligence skills to make the most of budgeting, but it’s a sure way to win against sapa.

You can also apply these tips to escape sapa or conquer it completely. But a note: your journey to financial security is a marathon, not a sprint. So don’t forget to keep putting in the work until you make it!

Final thoughts

A PiggyVest account is undoubtedly one of your best ways to defeat sapa in this economy — no matter who you are or how much you earn. And with six incredible savings and investment plans offering up to 35% annual returns, you can be sure you’re on the right path to building generational wealth far from sapa’s reach.


Fight Sapa With PiggyVest

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