I saw this tweet and immediately knew Idris “Big 4 4-star general” Ayinde’s story had to be shared. How does one grow up in some of the worst parts of Bariga and end up working in one of Europe’s largest financial hubs?
This is Idris’ story, as told to Boluwatife
Image source: Idris Ayinde
“Manage to finish secondary school and make quick cash,” was the general mindset of the people I grew up with in Bariga. No ambition or long-term plans — the goal was just to survive.
Bariga is known for its gangs, notoriety and terrible living conditions. If you’re familiar with the area, you know it’s divided into two parts. The part that’s close to Akoka is much saner. Then there’s the inner part, close to Gbagada, with streets like Ososa, Pemu Otunubi and Oyekunle that housed the notorious individuals Bariga is known for. That was the neighbourhood I grew up in.
We didn’t have much money growing up. My dad’s job as a non-academic staff member at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) came with a meagre salary, and my mum once had a shop on the island she lost to government demolition. One period, my mum had to sell her jewellery for us to eat, and both of us had to hawk ogi to supplement the income.
I must’ve been in SS 1 then. We didn’t want people to know how bad it’d gotten, so I’d put all the ogi wraps in a bag and go some distance away from my street before I arranged it on a tray to hawk. I think the most I earned daily was ₦500.
A neighbour saw me hawking once, and I had to beg him not to tell anyone. I was ashamed. After a couple of months, my mum got a small shop to sell from.
But sometimes, we still had little to zero money. We couldn’t afford to move somewhere else even though the room we lived in was always flooded during the rainy season and we’d spend all day packing water whenever it rained. The streets were worse off. When the gutters overflowed with rainwater — which was often — everyone took off their shoes and walked gingerly to avoid slipping and falling into it. Of course, without the shoes, we risked getting injured by whatever was in the water. But we had no choice.
Like most children in my neighbourhood, I attended a government secondary school where there wasn’t much of a reading culture. It was just: go to school, return home and do anything you like. But my dad regularly brought assignments from work for my siblings and I to solve after school. It meant I rarely had time to go outside after school to mingle with the other kids.
My attitude towards education changed in SS 2, when I joined the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) faction in my school. I met someone in the society who taught me how to read. I moved from someone who only read a day before an exam to getting textbooks and having a study routine. By the time I left secondary school in 2007, I was an efiko.
With 2008 came JAMB, and since I couldn’t afford to pay for a tutorial centre, I put all my energy into preparing on my own. I chose to study accounting because it was my favourite subject in school, but that also meant I had to study further mathematics to take JAMB mathematics. I was a commercial student who’d never taken further math before.
So, I bought Dele Ashade’s “A-Z of JAMB”, got as many past questions as possible and made arrangements with someone who had a tutorial centre. He taught me further math and economics; in return, I taught some of his secondary school students. My efforts paid off. I had 297 in JAMB, passed post-UTME and got admitted into UNILAG in 2008.
I found out about the admission on a Saturday morning. I was outside, brushing my teeth, when someone reading a newspaper in the only good duplex in my street came to say he saw my name on the list of admitted students for UNILAG.
It was the best news of my life. I was the first person among my peers on my street to get a university admission!
But I couldn’t afford a hostel close to school — even paying the ₦20k school fees required financial help from a relative abroad — so I moved in with an uncle who lived in the part of Bariga that was closer to Akoka. I still had to wake up early to queue for the campus shuttle buses and navigate the daily traffic between Pako bus stop and UNILAG gate. Almost all through my first year, I trekked for almost 30 minutes every morning from Pako to the school gate and to my lecture hall around UNILAG’s Distance Learning Institute (DLI). I also often stayed in school till late at night because there was no light in my uncle’s place to read.
I didn’t immediately start chasing a first class. I just thought I needed to do my best and graduate well. But I also joined MSSN in uni and once attended a program called “Scholars Roundtable”. First-class graduates attended, and they all shared their stories of how they achieved the feat. That was all the inspiration I needed. If they could do it, I could do it too.
I forged relationships with people ahead of me in the department so they could give me their materials at the end of a session. I’d use them to prepare ahead of the new level. I started teaching secondary students during the 2009 ASUU strike so I could go without asking my parents for money. I taught math, economics and accounting and was supposed to get paid ₦200 per hour. I say “supposed” because the school’s owner hardly paid me, but when she did, it was something.
I had to stop in my third year because of increased responsibilities. I’d contested in my department’s association elections and emerged as vice president. I was also the financial secretary at MSSN. I supplemented the occasional ₦1k I got from home by tutoring my classmates. Some of them were quite generous and would show their appreciation by buying me lunch. Others (mostly non-classmates) randomly paid a small fee for private tutoring. Thinking about it now, I don’t know how I survived in school.
I graduated in 2012 with a 4.63 CGPA. That was a feat because my final year must’ve been my busiest. I retained my office in MSSN, became president of my department’s association and handled several tutorial classes. My various activities in school helped me build a good network, so landing an internship after school only involved an email to someone who owned an accounting firm.
My parents moved out of Bariga to their own home in Badagry in the same year. They’ve had the land for years, but at the point they moved, the house was still incomplete. I interned at the firm for about four months on a ₦20k/month salary and left for NYSC in Bayelsa in March 2013.
The plan was to work at one of the Big Four accounting firms, and I knew I needed to become chartered with ICAN to boost my chances. Others started the ICAN exams in uni, but I had no money. Plus, I’d heard ICAN offered the opportunity for first-class graduates to apply for scholarships. So, my service year was dedicated to ICAN preparation.
I requested to be posted to a university for my NYSC Place of Primary Assignment (PPA), and this request may not have been accepted if not for my first class result. I was posted to a university in Amassoma, Bayelsa State, so while there was no light in the city, I took advantage of the university’s power supply to study. I got the ICAN scholarship and used part of my NYSC allowance to pay for ICAN tutorials. I also made some money organising tutorials for uni students. But I think the most each student paid was ₦100.
In November 2013, I wrote and passed all four papers for the first level (PE 1) ICAN certification and emerged as the third-best candidate in January 2014. That came with a ₦25k bonus, and I automatically got another scholarship to write the final-level exams — Accounting graduates from ICAN-accredited universities get to write only two exam levels. ICAN also gave me a ₦60k bonus to attend tutorials.
I’d started applying to the Big Four firms around this time. I wanted to have a job immediately after NYSC, so I applied to one and was so confident I’d get in that I didn’t even try to pursue others. You guessed it — I didn’t get in.
I finished NYSC in February 2014 and returned to my uncle’s house in Lagos without a job. I applied to a few random firms and got some job offers; one with a ₦100k/month salary. But when the offers came, I gave it a second thought and decided to stick to my goal of Big Four and nothing else. I decided to rely on the little savings I had from NYSC to survive and focus on passing the final ICAN exams to boost my Big Four chances. It was a gamble, but I don’t regret turning down those jobs.
I wrote the final ICAN exams in May 2014, and thanks to my network, found out about an internship opportunity at PwC. I applied and got it. It paid ₦80k/month, less than the other offers I’d gotten. But I wanted the Big Four experience. I also started contributing to the completion of my parents’ Badagry house. It’s now a two-bedroom house with tenants, and I must’ve contributed about 70% of the total cost over time.
The ICAN results came out in July. Again, I was the best qualifying candidate for that diet as well as for the year 2014 — I only got to know this in January 2015. ICAN gave me about ₦250k in prize money.
Interestingly, I had a written test for an associate role with Deloitte the day after the results came out. It wasn’t supposed to be a panel interview, but I dressed in a suit and tie all the same. That test turned out to be an interview when they found out I was chartered, and I got the job on the spot.
I moved out of my uncle’s house to a place between Bariga and Oworo that was easier to navigate to the Island, where the office was located. But I wasn’t out of the “trenches” yet.
By 2017, the japa wave had started to gain ground, and a number of people had discovered the Canada route. I’d worked at Deloitte for three years and had just rejoined PwC as a Senior Associate, but I wanted to leave Nigeria too. In the accounting world, most of the big things happen in London. Specifically, Canary Wharf, where the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) is situated. It’s one of the major financial hubs in the entire Europe, like Silicon Valley for us finance people. Canary Wharf was where the big boys were, and I wanted to be there too.
I decided a visa sponsorship job route made the most sense for me, so I started applying for UK jobs. There was a lot of trial and error. The UK had a “22,000 skilled workers” visa limit per year, which affected the number of international employees each organisation could bring into their country. They also had to do a resident labour market test. So before they employed any foreigner, they had to advertise and interview for a month after a successful interview to make sure no one in the UK could do the job.
This long process meant that even though I got an Assistant Manager offer from KPMG UK in February 2018, I didn’t get the visa until December. I left for the UK in January 2019, almost a year after.
In 2021, I moved to EY because I wanted to expand my experience — making it the fourth of the Big Four firms I’ve worked with in my professional career. I’m a manager now, and I only know one or two people who’ve worked in all four firms; it’s that rare. I recently tweeted a thread on X, detailing all I’ve learnt from working at all four firms.
Big 4- “4 Star General” – My 10 Lessons from working at all the Big 4 firms.
The Big 4 is popularly referred to, the four largest professional services networks in the world, ie., Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
— Idris Ayinde, ACA, CFA (@hedrees_ayinde) January 1, 2023
The journey hasn’t been all smooth. I failed two different levels of the CFA exam the first time I attempted them in 2017, losing thousands of dollars in the process. At first, I didn’t know how to handle going from winning national awards to failing, but I picked myself right back up and tried again.
I’ve learnt a lot too. From the importance of delaying gratification — especially when I had to forgo a ₦100k job for something smaller but more profitable in the long run — to having a solid network, and of course, staying prepared for anything. Education isn’t a scam. It was the starting point of all I’ve achieved. If I didn’t have a first-class, I wouldn’t have gotten the ICAN scholarship or won the prize money. I also had access to recruitment opportunities reserved for only first-class graduates.
Everything in life tends to add up. And now, I can pay it forward by caring for my siblings. My mum comes to London as much as she wants. Sadly, I recently lost my dad, but I was able to do the little I could before he passed.
Sometimes, I sit and reflect on where I came from. The boy from Bariga defied all odds and made it to Canary Wharf. It’s not something I take for granted.
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