House helps: Between relations and hired hands

In the situation, where both oga and madam have to go in search of daily bread, who looks after the home and kids? In such cases, is it better to bring in one’s relatives, perhaps?

In view of recent upsurge in reported cases of house-help engaging in horrifying deeds, which often end in unpalatable manner for the entire household, what should couples requiring domestic help do? While some are advocating that families do without the services of house help altogether, to avert avoidable disaster, but is this really possible?

In the situation, where both oga and madam have to go in search of daily bread, who looks after the home and kids? In such cases, is it better to bring in one’s relatives, perhaps?

The Guardian spoke to some people on the issue and their responses were quite interesting and revealing. Engr. Angelique Ikwuka, Chairman of female Engineers in Lagos State believes there are issues, whether one goes for house help or a relation.

She said: “Personally, I prefer to go for house helps sourced from agencies, because you treat the person professionally, but with a relation you are bound to consider a lot of things. With a professional house help, the job titles are defined, he/she knows what he/she is expected to do, else you fire the person. A relation comes with a lot of sentiments and interference from family and so; you are limited in your actions.

“If you have to get professional house help, it is advisable to get from a reputable recruitment agency and then they are expected to provide guarantors, who secure their personality. Most of the time, these helps don’t stay more than a year, but then there are some of them you can reach an agreement with to stay up to two years, especially when your children get used to them.”

But Mrs. Bukola Osidibo, a legal practitioner with Women Advocates Research And Documentation Centre (WARDC), said she is in dire need of house help and is “desperately searching for one.”

Wouldn’t she rather go for a relative, in view of all that is being said about house helps?
“Yes, I would have preferred a relative, because they are from well-known source and would more likely treat your children right, unlike a house help, who is a total stranger. And even when you get these helps from agencies, you only know as much as the agents want you to. So, you are completely in the dark with regards to character traits or background.

“If I had my way, I would have preferred that my mum comes around to help take care of my children. But she is the only one staying with my dad and she can’t leave him to be with my own family. However, I’m mounting pressure on her to help me get someone. She is trying her best, but what she keeps saying is that people no longer want their wards to become house helps. And I’m like really? Because most times, you end up caring for those maids, and even sending them to school.

“It has not been easy for me, and it is not fair on my one-year-old boy, whom I pick up at 5pm after closing from work. Last week, I picked him at 8pm because I was stuck on the Island; it is that bad. But if I had someone at home, he/she would have picked him earlier, they would have been home earlier and I would also have peace of mind.”

On her reluctance to go for house helps sourced from agencies, she said: “it is one thing for these agencies to do their background checks, but then these helps can also have their own ulterior motives. Most of them are from Cotonou, Lome and other neighbouring countries. They come to Nigeria with the impression that there is so much money to be made outside of what they have with their agents. So, when their expectations are not met, they run away, thereby causing trouble. But if it were to be a relation, even if the person leaves, you can easily call home and fix things.”

For businesswoman and fashion designer, Mrs. Anjioluwa Olaide Akinnisola, both relations and house helps are no-go area, as she has had series of experiences from both sides.

“I do not subscribe to both, because I have had experiences in both ways,” she explained. “When I got married, my husband and I decided to invite his niece, who stayed with us for about three years, but at the end, nothing good came out of it. She left when I needed her most, at the time I had my son, her mother came to take her away, claiming I didn’t take good care of her.

“This was a girl I enrolled in a private school. I also engaged the services of a home tutor, as she wasn’t particularly brilliant. Till date, her mother still holds a grudge against me, but I am happy that the girl is married today with two children and is living her life based on the training I gave her. She always calls to thank me, even though her mother is still angry with me.”

Narrating her experience with a housemaid she got from an agency, she said: “That was even worse. The last one I took was a matured girl. Whenever I wasn’t at home, she would start parading half-naked in only bra and pants around my husband. She would also sleep carelessly. We were staying in a two-bedroom apartment, and she shared a room with my kids. My husband is very conscious of his kids and would wake up at night to check on them, only to see this girl sleeping carelessly. One day, my husband said I was looking for trouble, as he couldn’t understand what the girl was doing in his home. He was the one who called my attention to the girl’s attitude. So, I sent her away.

“I took another one and she stayed for only three months. I didn’t know she was pregnant before coming to stay with me. She was not more than 17 years. She would work and sleep around the house. I had to take her to the hospital, where I was told she was pregnant. I was afraid because I thought a family or neighbor was responsible for the pregnancy. After much interrogation, she told me she got pregnant before coming to my house. So, I sent her packing.

“It was the last one I employed that made me decide never to have a help again. My son is meticulous and likes things done perfectly, but this girl was so disorganised. So, my son would always look for one of his school wears or the other. He also complained about her unhygienic habits, especially in the kitchen, which caused a lot of rancour between them. I didn’t know the girl would litter the whole house and only kept things in order few hours to my arrival. It was my neighbour that drew my attention to all this. She even threatened to deal with my son.

“So, one particular day, I told her I was going to work, but stayed around the neighbourhood. After an hour I returned, only to find the whole place scattered. About two days later, I came up with the idea that we were all going for a family vacation and that she had to go to her people, but would return after the vacation was over, and that was the end of it.”

Dr. Olusegun Temilola, a senior lecturer in the Sociology department at the University of Lagos, said one of the problems of having recruited helps in the home is the cultural difference.

He said: “Sometimes, kids are forced to learn the cultures of the house help, as their parents are not always available to impart their own culture. There is also the issue of some helps, who suddenly start misbehaving, thereby posing security threat to the family.”

He, however, noted that it is wrong for parents to subject these helps to any form of slavery. “This includes making them stay up late at night and getting up very early, which is dehumanising. If you have promised to send such help to school or learn a trade, it is proper to fulfill that promise,” he said.

He is, however, of the opinion that family is better, because you know them and their root, while agencies are just interested in the money they make. “They are in business and don’t really care about your welfare. By the time they recruit a house help for you, they will also plan the exit of the same help without your knowledge and even before your payment is due,” he explained.

“I had a similar experience. After getting a house help from an agency with a one year contract, the girl left my house after three months and the first thing I did was to report to the police station. Afterwards, I contacted the agent, who threatened that I produce the girl or else I would be held responsible for her disappearance.

“Fortunately, the girl forgot her phone, which she used to communicate with the agency, and that was how we discovered she was already serving in another home. Then we threatened the agents that they would be arraigned in court, unless they refunded our money. Eventually they paid some of the money.”

He explained that while few families have been lucky generally with house helps, only responsible and reputable agencies could provide helps that are ready to serve.

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