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Increasing menace of domestic aides

Amara

Before now, the practice of hiring or engaging domestic aides – driver, cook, cleaner, nanny, house help and others – was not popular among Nigerians. But privileged couples or families could easily take their relations along to live with them in cities.

Such relations are usually accorded all the rights and privileges the nuclear family members enjoy.

In most cases, some of these domestic aides usually become integral part of the families that engage their services. They are trusted and given unfettered access to everywhere at homes.

In those days, communality governed societal values as there were love and trust among Nigerians. Relations and parents could easily release their wards to live with people without any qualms.

In recent years, with technological innovations, crime has increased and trust has become a scarce commodity.

Parents find it difficult to release their wards to relatives to serve as domestic aides. Also, the practice has been turned into business with its attendant risks and challenges.

This development coupled with the increasing economic pressure led Nigerians into hiring domestic aides from anywhere, without pondering over its risk.

A celebrated case was that of the Lagos working class couple, Mrs Adebisi Orekoya and her husband, Leke, who hired a nanny through the assistance of an online portal-OLX in March 7, 2015.

The Orekoya family had hurriedly employed one Mary Akinloye (23), whose real name is said to be Funmilayo Adeyemi as nanny, to take care of their four children without first conducting background checks on the lady.

When Adeyemi phoned the Orekoyas and indicated interest in the job, they immediately agreed to employ her in the interim, hoping to do necessary documentation later.

The nanny was employed and on her first full day at work, she disappeared with the employers’ three children – Aderomola (11 months), Adedamola (four years) and Demola (six years).

According to the children’s mother, Adebisi, it was her eldest son who called and informed her while she was at work that the nanny had taken his siblings away on the excuse that she was going to buy something.

Before her resumption for work the nanny had given the contacts of her supposed relatives, a brother and a sister, with whom Orekoyas spoke on the telephone and the phony brother and sister had agreed to meet with the Orekoyas during the week to finalise documentation.

Little did Adebisi and her husband, Leke Orekoya, know that the nanny was on an evil mission and actually working with a kidnapping ring. After the nanny had absconded with the kids no one from her end responded to calls anymore.

The gang later called the family from a hideout to demand N15 million as ransom, a demand that was later reduced to N13 million and the family was given two days to produce the amount or lose the children. Luckily for Orekoyas, the police tracked the nanny and rescued the children alive and reunite them with their family.

While the Orekoyas were lucky that police rescued their children alive, that was not the case with others, who have fallen victim to their domestic aides.

One of such unlucky persons was an Ondo High Chief and businessman, Ope Bademosi, who was allegedly killed by her domestic aide, a Togolese, Sunday Anani, less than a week he hired him. This development has once more brought to the fore the dangers of hiring domestic aides without profiling them.

On the challenges of engaging domestic aides, a mother of three, who works with an insurance company in Lagos, Mrs Adesuwa Osaiti, told The Guardian: “These domestic helps seem like a necessity a lot of working class folks cannot do without, not if you want to thrive in your career whilst maintaining a functioning home. But the insanity displayed by these people can ruin lives if caution is not put in place.

“Since I got married in 2013, I have had about five domestic helps who have come and gone with different frustrating experiences, some of which will stay with me for a lifetime.

The first help I got was shortly after I had my first set of twins. I had to resume work after three months and my mum was due to return to the village right about the same time I was to resume. She had to attend to her crops and business.

So, a friend introduced me to a domestic help agency. I insisted I wanted a young boy just to eradicate the menace around female helps, but that turned out even worse as the 16-year-old from Benin Republic looted my home two months after he started working in the house and made away with about a N100, 000 and all the electronics in the house before my husband and I returned from work.

“I usually drop my children off at the daycare, close to my office in the morning to pick them up after work. All he does was to help with household chores and prepare our meals during the week, while I do basic cooking at the weekend. We gave him a room in the boys quarters with my driver, whom we also sent away after the incident. The most amazing and confusing part is, we have not been able to track that guy down till date. The agency said they had gone to his family house in their country and nobody has seen him.

“I had two other terrible experiences from female relatives, whom my mother sent to help me around the house. So, what my husband and I decided to do since I couldn’t bring myself to quit my job to tend to domestic responsibilities was to have about four of them, all male, living with us with different chores allocation. We made it clear to them that they are responsible for each other and if one person poses a problem, the rest of them would suffer the consequences.

I think that worked because they are not all the same in character and otherwise, so they don’t always agree on choices and decisions which make it easy to curb the menace of each other. Also, they are distant relatives, three from my husband’s hometown and one from mine. Two of them are learning trades at Alaba International Market, while the other two attend Government Secondary School within the vicinity.”

Osaiti further says it is better to employ domestic helps from Nigeria than foreigners who cannot be accounted for should anything go wrong.

Titilayo Adegboyega also narrates her ordeal with domestic helps, which eventually led to her resignation at work in order to take care of her home and children.

“My mother had helped me with two girls from Ogun State, they were both within the age bracket of 14 and 15 years. Their respective parents actually gave them away to relieve the financial burden of catering for them.

So, I asked each of them what they wanted to do with their lives and one said she wanted to become a fashion designer, while the other said she didn’t want to go to school or learn any craft, she just wanted to help around the house.

Initially, I found that disturbing and my husband had warned me to keep my dealings with them away from him as he would rather prefer I quit my job and take up a petty business close by to enable me to personally tend to the kids and home, but I refused.

So, I decided to study her for a while before deciding on how to convince her to learn a trade at the least. But of course, she stays home while everyone has gone out and was doing well until three months into their living with us, she went out and didn’t return. I was worried but was advised to stay calm that she would return since she didn’t take her belongings.

“The next day, this girl went to pick my three-year-old daughter from school and took her away. Her phone was switched off, the teacher wasn’t aware that she was missing and allowed her go with my daughter because she had been the one picking her from school.

It was a disaster when the other girl went to school to pick my daughter as I instructed and was told Shaki had picked her.

“She phoned me immediately and I left the office, called my husband, who also left his work and went straight to report to the police.

The experience with the police is a story for another day, as we were helpless for two days, until my mother got a call from Ogun State that someone saw Shaki with a little girl.

We went there and after much searching, we found Shaki and her mother with my daughter, only for the mother to accuse us of taking away her only daughter, instead of providing her the resources to take care of her family.

She asked Shaki to kidnap my daughter to make us experience how it feels to take away another person’s child. We were all shocked because she consented to having her daughter come to Lagos to help, so long as we take care of her.

Anyway, I got my daughter back, my husband threatened fire and brimstone, but I insisted we just leave it and return to Lagos. As soon as I got home, I sent the other girl back to her parents too and quit my job.” she said.

Adegboyega lamented how hurting it is to abandon her career in order to raise her kids. Her solace is in the words of Buchi Emechete as expressed in Joys of Motherhood: “The joy of motherhood is the joy of giving it all for your children,” saying, “I love that novel and every woman, especially mothers and young girls should read that novel to understand the importance of priotising your family, especially the children above everything else.”

To Mrs Elizabeth Lawson, “If a woman decides to have a house help or not, that is her decision. There are some jobs you could take that might require the need for someone to live with you. Every mum with young kids might just need a mature person around the house to assist with chores or run errands.”

But Alaka Aramide said: “I don’t support the house help mentality, because so many women are feeling lazy these days. They can’t make the bed they lay on, many don’t know how to wash or how to cook, so, they hide under the cloak of these house helps whenever the husband complains of dirty environment, salty food e.t.c.”

According to Morenikeji Alebiosu, “domestic helps are completely ruled off my list because I wouldn’t want anyone abusing my kids sexually or otherwise. Thank God for my husband being supportive, I had to manage my kids while I was still an undergraduate.

“I can do without house help assistance, although most chores will nearly drive you insane, as my kids are still very young and demanding. Kids will always grow but the damage done to them by malevolent house helps will forever be an epistle written in their hearts,” she said.

Narrating her experience, Joyce Agwu said: “I think the first point is to pray that God gives you the right kind of aide. I run my own business and have three kids. My husband also is a full-time businessman, which makes neither of us available during workdays.

“I have a maid, unlike some women, I do believe her core function is to look after the baby, so, I do my own cooking. I bought a washing machine to ease her workload. I try by all means to do as much as I can around the house so she could find time to look after my baby.

So far so good, she is doing great with all three kids and is very respectful. My mother-in-law suggested her to us and we on the other hand treat her like a family member and in return, she acts as such.

“I believe you reap what you sow. If you sow kindness and love you will reap it. If you treat your maid like a slave, they are bound to abuse your kids out of spite. God is the only one who can protect our kids.

So, I personally don’t think creche is necessarily the safest place, especially for a very young baby. Anyway, it’s a personal choice.”

Lagos Parents Share Mixed Experience Living With Foreign, Local House Helps

By Chinonso Ihekire

FROM the way she spoke so softly, calm and assuredly, you would notice the seriousness and confidence in what she meant.

Like many other full-time working parents, Mrs. Mojisola Hassan, a Lagos-based librarian, belongs to the school of thought that believes in her own kin, when it comes to hiring house helps, than foreigners.

Her reason is simply rooted in what the popular saying implies: it is better to trust the devil you know, than the angel you know nothing about.

“I prefer Nigerians anyway, especially the ones from the village; the local ones, not the mature ones or foreigners. Because (for) these ones, you actually get to know their families, you have an agreement,” she said.

She sees their usefulness mostly inevitable, especially when raising children. According to her, “at this stage, you don’t have any choice. They call them necessary evil. You just have to tolerate them, at least for a period of time. I was able to use them for a period of time, till my children come of age. When it comes to babies, you don’t have a choice.”

A banker and father of three, Mr. Kenneth Nnaji, sees them as not an option due to the issue of trust. For the young professional, it is even much better to use a blood relation as a maid.

“I have never thought of it. I prefer working with Nigerians. This person (staying with my family) is not as if she is a house help. She is just staying with us as a sister. There was a time when agents would tell us they want to bring people, but I don’t even know where they would come from. I don’t consider that as an option.”

For Mrs. Confidence John, her voice quivered with a tone of finality as she said that using foreigners as house helps remains a risky venture. She does not trust them as much as she trusts locals. Just like Mrs. Hassan, it is a matter of who you know better.

“Whether they are local or outside the country, it is the same thing. So many stories we hear about what house helps are doing to kids are very disturbing. They would do things that when you hear it, you would not even want to look for any house help anywhere. It depends. But I would still prefer the local ones, if I want to select; these ones are from your country, because I trust them more.”

However, the boat still stirs in an alternate direction for some full-time working parents. Mr. Omolola Sodunke, a Television Producer and father of three said: “What is the difference between the two? Even when they are with you, they speak your language. They speak Yoruba like you. Characters are judges, not where you are from. Most of the nannies have been good. If the child doesn’t remember you then that means you haven’t done a good job. For the kids to ask where is aunty so-so-so? That means you have done a good job. I can’t say (my) preference is foreigners or Nigerian. I deal with you as human beings. As long as you do what you are supposed to do and use your initiative.”

Sodunke reiterates further, “Anybody who says a woman is not meant to pursue any career are myopic in thinking, because why can’t a man too stay at home? Women are human beings too. What defines who you are? Is it your physical appearance? Everybody deserves a right to pursue a career? Women are doing great things all over the world. Why would you just push them into the kitchen? I think that idea belongs to maybe the 40s or 30s.”

Mr. Simon Mensah, a Lagos-based insurance broker, said that living with foreign house helps could be useful, since some of them “might have certain expertise” required by Nigerians. This is visible in most families today as foreigners from neighbouring countries are largely revered for their culinary expertise.

Meanwhile, the age-long view, held by most Africans that women are not meant to actively pursue professional careers has since been eroded. Many decry the need to have multiple income sources and the issue of women as capable of developing society with their intellect and personalities, as reasons why this new development should endure.

For Mrs. John, a mother of three, “You don’t need to stay at home, with the situation of things in this country, unless the man is capable to take care of everything, which I don’t think is possible. Apart from being a career woman, you can open a shop and do a business. You don’t have to work in a bank or offices; you can establish your own business.”

So what if the husband is financially capable of footing all the family’s bills, would it be okay then for the wife to abandon her career to raise the children?

Like Mrs. Hassan, he also believes that the husband can also stay at home, while the wife works, depending on how flexible his job his. “It’s all about understanding,” they all affirm.

“However, when raising children, the situation is different, they feel it more necessary for both parents to make time to cater to the child’s specific needs at that time.

“It is the formative years of the child. When a woman gets married she is given three months off. It’s a rule. It’s for the child to be able to bond with the mother. If your work is flexible as a man, then you can stay at home and create the time.

“My timetable is my kids stay at home with me for two years, before they move out to a crèche or anything. Then, they are able to walk. Their immune system is stronger. You don’t just throw a child in a crèche that a child does not have any way forward.”

‘As A Worker And Mother, I Can’t Cope Without House Maid’

From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

A CIVIL servant and mother, Mrs. Chinwemma Ndubueze, said she wouldn’t be able to cope without hiring a house help who would take care of her little children while at work. According to Ndubueze, she will also want to impact on any house help that she finally settles for.

“I want the person to help me do some little chores because I work and I am also a mother. While I attend to her school needs which the parents may not be able to afford, the person will in turn help me do little house chores.”
On the risks or gains involved in recruiting a house help, she argued that whatever is good also has its own disadvantages.

On how the idea of hiring house help came about, Ndubueze said: “This house help issue has been in existence over time. It has existed for too long ago. In African culture, when a young woman is getting married, they give her a younger sister who will assist her in doing little things. So, it is not just a thing that just started.

“But, how it becomes bad is what we don’t know about. People are now going out of their way to hire people they don’t know at all.”

According to her, there is no particular way to curb the increasing menace of house helps or maids in the society.

‘Some Employers Impregnate Their Domestic Helps, Forcefully Abort For Them’

Amara Agbim owns and runs The Nanny Academy, a placement agency for nannies and domestic helps. She speaks with TOBI AWODIPE on how to recruit domestic helps and what to avoid.

What does the Nanny Academy do?

We started as an agency that trains and recruits nannies, so, we can change mindsets and make the profession a serious business that people can do, take pride in and earn a living.

As time went on and we got deeper into the business and started interacting with people, we discovered both employer’s and employee’s different needs and we are now seriously campaigning for what we call The Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, so that the rights of nannies and domestic workers would be protected.

With its passage, the profession would become very attractive and contribute a lot to the economy.

A lot of people are doing this trade in bad and poor ways. So, if this bill is passed, domestic workers would be treated like teachers, nurses and so on; helping the workers to do the job without grudge.

What are the steps you take when trying to place a nanny or domestic worker?

We do background checks including medical screening, address verification, previous employment checks, certificate verification if they went to school and so on.

Once the results come out and there are no problems, we enroll them in classes. There are two types of classes, the six-week class and the six months intensive programme.

After the training, we place them with potential employers. Once a customer gives specifications, we match them with workers based on their needs and preferences.

In the light of the recent incident where a newly hired cook recommended by family, murdered his boss, don’t you think this kind of case can happen despite checks?

If you do your homework very well, things like this wouldn’t happen. Little incidents can happen like pilfering and so on but not murder if you screen your help properly.

The questions we should be asking is who referred the cook and where did he work before? I heard from a trusted source that the cook in question used to work for a popular musician but I don’t know how the person was sourced. I’m a strong believer in knowing sources and by the time you do proper checks, knowing where the person comes from and their immediate family, it would be difficult for the person to do something as monumental as this.

A nanny or domestic help must be traceable because the job is a highly confidential one as the person is privy to the family’s secrets and home.

Nigerians are becoming wary of domestic staff due to these negative stories that abound these days. Is this wariness justified?

I think social media and the media in general are making these incidents more pronounced. People shouldn’t be worried as the percentage of negative incidences is very low.

The OLX incident for example, truth be told, how can someone hire a nanny from a website that is not a nanny/help recruiting website? People should be more diligent when doing things and try to avoid cutting corners because when you cut corners, you might end up paying dearly for it.

Also, the way we treat our domestic hands goes a long way in their goodwill towards us. We are all humans first and foremost and by taking good care of your domestic staff, you are also protecting yourself from harm.

I know there are some bad ones that will repay good with evil, but most of the time, when you are good to them; they will be good to you. We have domestic staff that can die for their employers.

Personally, I’ve had the same nanny for 14 years who takes good care of my children even when I travel. I trust her that much.

People should be worried about where they source domestic help from and try to familiarise themselves with their helps as much as possible. We have seen relatives that harmed their well-to-do relatives, what do you do in that instance?

Most people prefer the informal methods of sourcing domestic helps from foreign, neighboring countries. Does this have any negative impact we should beware of?
Personally, I don’t employ foreign helps.

People ask me, “don’t you have Ghanaians, Togolese, Beninoise” and so on and I tell them a firm no. They claim the foreigners are more loyal, trustworthy and hardworking and I tell them that they can get people locally that possess these traits and more.

I’m not against hiring foreigners, but I’m concerned about the background checks and we don’t have the means to do international checks.

If you want to bring in a foreigner, you need to verify their background properly so as not to regret.

I’m not interested in foreigners because I want to promote Nigerians; I’m not doing it now, neither would I do so in the future. I want to be able to export our own nannies and helps outside the country in the near future.

Most of the foreigners you see around are undocumented and come in illegally and get hired by people who have no idea of their backgrounds.

When something happens, how will you trace them? If you think you must hire them because they are cheaper, what about your security? The government has a huge role to play in protecting our borders as these people walk in and out illegally without checks.

Many people have had nasty experiences with domestic helps. Do you think they deserve the bad stories associated with them?

Some of these stories you hear are not as true as they are portrayed. Some of the helps are not trained to do the job.

How do you expect them to perform? You get someone who doesn’t want to do the job but because they are poor, you turn them to domestic helps, when they turn against you, don’t be surprised.

We should begin to insist on standards, even when hiring domestic helps. You need a committed person to do the job.

Unemployment got me into this field. I was looking for paid employment and I had a nanny that was with me for about three years.

My friends were asking me how I got her to stay for that long and I told them what to do. That was how I developed interest in this field as I noticed there was a great need in this area.

Would you say domestic helps sometimes have genuine reasons for rebelling against employers?

Yes. I have so many shocking stories that will make you weep when you hear them. Many married men impregnate these helps and even take them to do abortions.

Some employers don’t feed their helps, leaving them hungry. Some overwork their helps, making them work till midnight and waking them up the following day by 4:00a.m.or 5am to start the day.

How do you want this kind of person to relate with you? People should stop employing underage boys and girls in the name of sending them to school, you work them to the bone, truncating their future.

It is very unfair and wicked. Get a proper domestic worker instead and pay the person accordingly.

How can someone work for you and your family for a whole month and you pay him or her N10, 000? If the person steals from you, don’t complain! Some don’t even pay their helps, promising to do one or two things for them without ever doing it.

When you go out with your family, can people tell who is the help just from looking at you? These are small things that build resentment and could cause problems for you in the future. I know some helps can be very bad but ensure you play your part by doing the right thing.

Ensure your help is doing the job willingly and is not being coerced. Instead of sending your help to learn tailoring or hairdressing, send them to brush up on nanny skills and help yourself.

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