The CIA has nothing on Nigerians when it comes to being secretive about salaries. With many believing that discussing their earnings can attract bad luck, a decent conversation about income can be quite difficult.
We spoke to some Nigerians, and here is what you need to know about why they’re not talking salaries.
1. Black tax
Young Nigerians are worried that their money is not theirs because of an obligation to family. “When my parents knew my salary, there was a fixed amount of money I was expected to contribute to the family financial needs, irrespective of my plans,” said Udeme*.
To avoid black tax, Nigerians are choosing not to tell their families how much they earn. “I’d rather send a percentage to them than let them know the exact figure,” Timi said.
Others would rather have their families believe they’re unemployed. “I work remotely, so my parents think I’m in-between jobs. It serves me because they are horrible with money, and I’m tired of funding their mistakes,” Chidinma told us.
Family members aren’t the only ones with expectations. Entitled friends and acquaintances are another reason Nigerians aren’t discussing salaries. Demilade*, who used to discuss salaries, said he’s reconsidering his stance because “some friends who know how much I earn expect me to always pick up the tab.”
For some, the war against peak entitlement can only be won by keeping mum. “I earn more than 80% of my family and friends; keeping quiet saves me from the automatic billing that comes when people know you earn more than they do,” Ireti* said.
3. Financial avoidance
We agree that paying bills leaves a void in our pockets (and souls), but some people will go to painstaking lengths to avoid paying. Kemi*, a marketing consultant, told us that even her husband doesn’t know how much she earns. She said he might have an idea but not an exact figure. “I was earning ₦550,000 but told my husband it was ₦325,000 after tax,” she said. When asked why she didn’t trust her husband with the real amount, she summed it up as her way of avoiding financial responsibilities she knew he could handle.
4. Bad luck
If there is one thing about Nigerians, it’s that we are wary of bad belle — people who pretend to be happy for you but secretly want you to fail. “I once told a co-worker how much I earn and she started spreading rumours in the office that I had connections to our manager,” Amina* complained. “When, in fact, I took a professional exam that cost me almost three months of my savings.”
Benefits of openly discussing salaries
To decide not to speak about salaries is to set yourself up for a lifetime of getting shortchanged. The benefits easily outweigh the cons. Organisations have been able to leverage the silence of their staff to underpay and overwork them. If you’re anti-salary discussions, here is why you might need to reconsider.
1. Information is power
That uncomfortable money conversation you’re avoiding might just be what helps you increase your earnings. If you knew how much others were earning within your industry, you’d have negotiation power. You can address pay gaps, give an estimate on the value you provide and stay one step ahead.
After relocating, Adeola*, a software engineer, said he found out he was getting paid 20% less than his colleagues. He said: “A colleague was leaving the company because he wanted to earn more. He complained that we were paid peanuts. When I dug further, I realised I was earning peanuts from a peanut salary, so I quit and got a job that paid three times as much.”
2. Reduced expectations from family and friends
Silence leaves room for speculation. When people don’t know, their imagination tends to run wild. You can change or control the narrative by having an honest conversation with your loved ones so they curb their expectations.
Effiong, a 60-year-old retired public servant, said he discussed his salary with his parents and extended family because they naturally assumed his job paid a lot more. “Everyone was shocked at how much I earn in comparison to what they thought,” he said. “They went easy on me after that.”