The Illusion of big pay: Nigerian Oil & Gas workers ain’t exactly what you think

The life we’re made to live, the perception friends and even foes have of us is an illusion, the more you look, the less you see. Those were the words of Rachael Kada as I asked about her job and monthly earnings in one of Nigeria’s foremost multinational Oil and Gas companies.

Irrespective of being a mid-management staff of a renowned multinational Oil and Gas company, Rachael is a restless entrepreneur with 3 flourishing small businesses and intent to invest in more. For what we know or perceive of the average Nigerian oil worker, they are comfortable enough to avoid the headaches of the entrepreneurial life. Depending on the company, average industry salaries starts at $45,000 to $140,000 per annum, this is enough to make them an envy in a country like Nigeria.

For so long, Nigerian Oil and Gas workers have been the uber-loved citizens of any Nigerian community or city, they are our favorite aunty and uncles, the ones whose advice our parents will gladly take at the expense of their own wisdom, their children were a delight to the teachers in school, they are seen as the most enlightened in our villages, benevolent spirits, they paid the fees of most members of their extended family, every one looked up to them for survival and livelihood, they received the most respect, were accorded highest privileges and positions in churches. They were easily accorded the positions of deacon and deaconess in church than other members, donation and fund raising events usually would be put off if they happened to be unavailable. They lived the good life everyone else desired, they are the ones who fly abroad often for vacation, their kids attended the best of schools, when they die, everyone who crossed their path during their lifetime ensures to attend their funeral. Even in death, they enjoyed the privileges of reverence.

Somehow they happened to live longer and healthier than anyone else, they stayed longer on their jobs, some putting in twenty five to thirty years before retiring. Job security is usually guaranteed or so we were made to believe.

Rachael thinks those were the good old days, she says everything we think or know about the current generation of Oil workers is a hoax. “They rather envy you and would love to be in your shoes, hustling with certainty that it’s your money at the end of the day”. She argues that this current crop are not staying longer on their jobs because of Job security but because they are bound by loans that need many years to service, they no longer interact freely or even let you know where they work because they are burdened with outstretched arms asking for support from their salaries. They no longer want to be the benevolent spirits we once knew and here is why:

You get this job, everyone thinks it’s fantastic. It actually is, especially if you look around you and consider the economic situation and unemployment rate but its only fantastic for the first 5 years so you start out, making millions every year, opportunity to travel the world, free food from the office cafeteria. For men; girls following you, for women; men afraid to follow you.

You have this career built up in your head, and you plan on working hard to achieve it, then your family members start making demands, you have social, community and even spiritual demands etc. Cost of living continues to build up (only for you), you get married, have children and need a good car for yourself, wife and a good house that befits your ‘status’ and dreams

Then you notice you cant cough out 15 million to buy a land to build house because even if your salary is N1m per month and allowances are another 6 to 8m annually, you have living expenses and so you don’t have bulk money.

This is the point where cooperatives and banks cash in on you. They tell you to take loans to achieve these dreams, Don’t forget, the guy that married needed to spend at least N5m on the wedding, he needs to set up a business for his wife, have girlfriends with expenses in addition to having a wife.

Back to the issue of housing, you finally get the loan to buy a land and you are under pressure to build. Don’t forget that you also need to rent an apartment, pay for 2 years and furnish. Suddenly, you realize that to buy a car for yourself and your wife plus build up the house, you need a second loan probably more than N15m so you try to get N30m so u can build, furnish and buy cars. Your parents and siblings will possibly be on standby with problems and most times, their problems will eat into these loans or your salary, then you have your church and social commitments always on standby.

At this point you are indebted to a bank and Coop for a total of 50m which will take you at least 5 to 7 years to pay off if you are strict (with an Interest rate of 20%.)

With this, you have a picture of the first 10 years of the life of an oil worker, let’s move on to phase two.

THE POINT OF NO RETURN

Just when you think you are about to rest, you have to make bigger commitments. You may be transferred to another city and may need to get a house there. Some may want to build in the village, others want to invest in properties etc, and so you take the next set of loans… another 8 to 10 years hustle.

After 15 to 20 years, you suddenly realize that you have only been working to pay off loans and live an average life. If you want to travel abroad on vacation, that’s another topic.

You remember that career I told you about? The initial plan?

At this point you realize that the kind of politics you need to play to get it may overwhelm you or even change you to someone else. You may also need to spend some more money and invest a lot of emotions and still will not get there. All these while, you were boxed into a small community, an illusion, thinking you’ve attained elite status, cut off from the reality of the outside world, 20 years after, you realize you will soon retire but then your kids start getting into college so you have to double up, you start getting frustrated.

For most people, it always ends like a sad movie, you turn to look around you and your friends on the outside who hustled for the first 10 years of his or her life can afford to give you a loan, they’re more relevant in their communities than you are, better satisfaction and fulfillment because they are in touch with reality. There is a high probability that we die soon after we retire due to our inability to readjust to a normal life.

This is the life of today’s ‘oil worker’, it’s the reason I’m neck deep in running small businesses aside my job in a multinational.

*Rachael Kada: Real names substituted to conceal her identity.