Home Editor's Pick Domestic staff and their dangerous ways by Ehi Braimah

Domestic staff and their dangerous ways by Ehi Braimah

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The experience of domestic staff in different homes cannot be the same but it appears that no matter how hard you try to err on the side of caution, domestic staff can still be a pain in the neck, causing families undeserved grief.

What is the motivation for a domestic staff – whether acting alone or in collaboration with other criminally minded individuals – to attack and kill his/her employer in cold blood? The pattern that has emerged over time from these gruesome murders shows that male employees are the greatest culprits but the female staff can be equally dangerous.

The trending story is the reported death of one Dr Obialo Ibe, an Abuja-based Radiologist and his yet-to-be-identified friend, in his residence in the Games Village area of the Federal Capital Territory.

Although the true nature of their death was yet to be ascertained pending the outcome of police investigation, Adanna, the younger sister of late Dr Ibe, alleged that the domestic staff killed his brother and his friend on the day they were scheduled to travel to the United States.

The routine of busy executives makes it necessary for them to employ cleaners, stewards, cooks, gardeners, drivers and security guards to man the gate house. But what they do mostly is to gossip and engage in mischiefs. They also lie just about everything which explains why house helps cannot be trusted – not even for one second.

My family was lucky to have employed a Housekeeper when we had our youngest child. We call her Nene and she is older than my wife and I. Nene is reliable and dependable. She worked with us for over 15 years until she clocked 60 years and decided it was time to retire.

She was happy with her retirement package which included a family holiday trip to Dubai several years ago when the price of US dollar was still affordable. There was also no virus restricting movements around the world.

Nene works hard and she is a disciplinarian, the type we call no-nonsense mother. She became part of our nuclear family and we trusted her with our home and the children. Nene is very prayerful and she is a devout Muslim while we are Christians but it did not matter. Our common humanity for doing good all the time trumped everything else. Love, affection, kindness, mutual respect and trust were the ingredients that nurtured the working relationship while it lasted.

Overall, Nene did not disappoint us. She ticked nearly all the boxes in a relationship that has continued to endure. Nene has four grown up children and her first son, Opeyemi, worked in our PR and marketing management company for six years.

Prior to his full time engagement, Ope did vacation jobs with us each time he was on break from his studies at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, where he graduated with a second class upper degree in Public Administration.

Nene’s children – except the last born, Debo – are married with children. My family treasures the bond of friendship with Nene who lost her husband five years after signing up to be our Housekeeper.

Before Nene, we were not so lucky with house assistants. In one instance, our house help, Ranti, disappeared into thin air. It was a traumatising period for my family. I’m still pinching myself to understand why – after many years – I agreed to welcome a young female house assistant who could not speak a word of English into our home – more than 18 years ago.

We searched everywhere and when we could not find her, we reported the matter to the police. As we found out a few days later, Ranti made her way back home safely in Ondo State. How did she do it? Where did she find transport fare? How did she make her way to the motor park? Was she assisted by anyone? Who did she talk to and where? When you find yourself in that situation, what would you do?

We contacted her parents to understand the circumstances of her disappearance but we did not make any headway. It is still a mystery how she left our home after only one week but we thank God it all ended in praise.

From what we now know, house boys and girls – as they also called – come up with different schemes to destabilise your home. CCTV footages have revealed how domestic staff molest, assault and inflict excruciating pains on the children left in their care. If this is not wickedness of the highest order, I don’t know what else to call it.

Whether it is a cook who prepares the meals or driver who takes the children to school or cleaner who has access to your bedroom, the entire household is at their mercy. It’s a tough call, more like a Catch-22 situation.

You’re not even sure who your security guard is hobnobbing with in the neighbourhood and beyond but woe betide you if the guard is a fake whistle blower, spreading falsehood about your family. Get rid of the guard as soon as you can.

Just like Nene, my family has been blessed with Tajudeen, our driver of 24 years. He is also a Muslim but as I noted earlier, where an employee comes from or his/her religion is not important. Instead, we should apply the same standard all the time and be fair to everyone. From my experience, when you’re good to your employees, they are most likely to reciprocate the gesture.

The examples of Nene and Taju show that not all domestic are bad news. But be careful and watch your back when they shop for your good graces – it could be a ploy for you to lower your guard and use the opportunity to strike.

But for a domestic staff to think of taking the life of his/her boss, it is the devil that must be blamed – as usual. Some employers are genuinely nice to their domestic staff but it is not a fool proof insurance against their deadly schemes. Where they should have a heart full of gratitude for the affection displayed by “Oga and Madam”, some house assistants plan their down fall and even death.

I also know that some domestic staff are maltreated, and sometimes brutalised by their employers as if they were slaves. They are not accorded any human dignity, and when it is payback time, they are vicious and do not spare members of the household – everyone becomes a potential victim of their evil plans.

Can you trust your driver to take your kids to school? Most parents don’t take that risk anymore since we entered the season of kidnapping for ransom and ritual murders. Drivers can inflate invoices with your mechanic and petrol attendants but as long as their conduct is not life threatening, you may have to close your eyes to some of their excesses.

Sometimes, the house boy or girl that you think cannot hurt a fly may turn out to be the devil incarnate. No matter how much you try to please your domestic staff, a majority tend to always play the victim because, in their narrow way of thinking, they believe efforts to address inequalities and the widening gap between the rich and the poor are not enough.

They also think their circumstances could have been better if they had the same opportunities as their employers. Sometimes, they blame their parents for not trying hard enough to send them to school.

Invariably, they see themselves as the dregs of society capable of doing only menial jobs. Since they are not properly educated, it creates a crisis of confidence, low self-esteem and inferiority complex making social adjustment for this class of workers even more difficult.

When they are surrounded by luxury inside and choice cars outside that cannot be compared to a bucolic environment, they simply cannot understand why they are poorly paid and maltreated. It is a big part of the puzzle that must be unraveled in order to know what goes on inside many homes where domestic staff are so brazen and do the unthinkable.

I recall an incident where a house boy who was sacked came back to attack his former employers, an elderly couple and grandparents who lived alone. Unfortunately, he succeeded in gaining access to their detached duplex and attacked the woman as she prepared to attend the early morning church service.

According to her husband, their former house boy murdered his wife in cold blood in the kitchen. He heard gun shots from the bedroom upstairs. After killing his wife, he made his way upstairs to also kill him but he failed because the gun shot had attracted the attention of the ‘maiguard’ and neighbours who overpowered him.

The ‘maiguard’, a diligent, vigilant and loyal employee, had served the family for more than 20 years and he did not know when the assailant scaled the low fence and tip-toed into the premises. There have been other similar stories of domestic servants murdering their employers for different reasons.

Some maim and kill just to take possession of valuables such as cash, jewelries and cars but the long arm of the law usually catches up with them by which time they begin to sing like canary birds.

Due diligence such as background checks are important before you employ a domestic hand but you will never achieve a perfect score. In today’s world of changing priorities, economic hardship and extreme poverty, employing domestic servants that are fit for purpose is the same thing as searching for a needle in a haystack.

Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)

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