Agu Onyedikachi Dawn
The use of housemaids in many homes is not a new trend in Nigeria, but what goes into sourcing for them could be a bit mystifying.
Sourcing for house helps to serve the increasing number of families in urban areas, in dire need of them, is fast becoming a very brisk venture to many of agents who have dabbled into the business; more so in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
It is not only a tempting and mouth-watering business to the agents, an economic respite to parents but, also, a reprieve to custodians of the children.
However, beyond these accruing benefits, what should heighten the curiosity of every concerned person is the fate of the helpers in the homes of their employers and the mysticism involved in sourcing these house helps.
The situation looks like a double-edged sword and, depending on the individuals involved, the end, in most cases, is usually not palatable. Most house help agents are not registered or licensed in any form and have consistently run into all sorts of rifts with the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
Investigations by Daily Sun revealed that there is more to sourcing and taking custody of house helps than meets the eye. Why there have been increasing demands for house helps; how do the agents source them and what becomes of their fate have remained a mystery shrouded in secrecy.
An agent and Jos, Plateau State indigene, identified as Mohammad, admitted that bridging the gap between the helpers and their custodians has been a rewarding venture and experience:
“I assist people looking for house helps, shop girls and even boys sometimes. It is not my full time job, just something I do by the side. Most of the helps come from my village in Jos and they are mostly indigent people I know actually need help.
“The employer provides my transportation for going and coming back and that of the girl. Then, I charge N5,000 for the first three months of the girl’s salary. While the employer pays me N5,000 regardless of whether the relationship works out or not.
“Most of these arrangements are done through networking. Someone I helped previously would refer another to me and once I know their preference, I will supply the helper to them. I help the girls or the boys to get a better life because most of them are just managing to survive, but providing them with the opportunity, some of them will make money and even further their education.”
Another agent, Edem Utibe: “I started the business by connecting someone who needed a job to an employer of labour and from that moment, I have enjoyed unending referrals. Before I get someone the job, the employee will fill a form; they usually pay a non-refundable fee of N2000 and provide a guarantor. That way, there is a safety net for the workers.
“The girls usually come around and, if I meet someone who has a relative in need of a job, I act as the bridge to the person who needs their services. I do not go far to bring the girls, I just connect the employer and staff. I don’t focus solely on house girls; I equally find gardeners, sales girls and sales boys.
“There is no guarantee for someone when an employer wants a person, I get the request and I look for the person. The best part was I had people who come to tell me that they are in search of jobs and I help.
“I stopped this business a few months ago when I had a run-in with NAPTIP. I helped a lady find a young girl for house help duties but it turned out that she was a petty thief. The lady asked me to come and pick her up and return her to her parents. I picked her up at Berger Bridge where I asked the lady to bring her.
“However the child started crying and the police saw it and called NAPTIP. When they arrived, they picked us up and arrested me. They accused me of child trafficking, took my phone and I couldn’t reach my family. By the next day, which was on Tuesday morning, they allowed me to call my wife and she, in turn, reached out to the lady who had dropped off the child for me.
“NAPTIP carried out its investigation by calling the lady to come. They equally reached out to the parents of the girl involved, who then explained who I was and that I took the child with their permission. The NAPTIP boss finally agreed there was no case and that I should be released. I had to bring a civil servant of Level 10, a landowner in Abuja and I was finally released.
“The woman in charge at NAPTIP insisted on following the due process. Unfortunately, I lost my job because I didn’t show up at work and I didn’t take proper permission so the arrest made me lose my job.”
Utibe would also go on to admit that even though he is not registered to source for housemaid and other related services, what he does has nothing to do with human trafficking:
“I am not a registered agent. My business was mostly about connecting people who needed jobs with employers who needed their services. I am not involved in any form of human trafficking, but just helping out.”
Asides, rendering services around the home, there is a spiritual dimension to it Alabo Tonye, narrated his experience: “Most of the girls that have lived with my family are usually from Rivers, Akwa Ibom states and the North. We have an agent who usually brings them for us. We have decided to stop because I have had more bad experiences with them than good memories.
“Before any of these girls come to my house, they must have a clean bill of health. So, when the agent goes to bring one, he has his transportation fee, that of the girl and an extra amount for medical test. The tests we usually conduct are HIV, Hepatitis B and pregnancy test. If they are clean, my family will employ them.
“There was a particular incident when my agent brought a young girl. The first mistake he made was forgetting to get her medical test. That day when he brought her, it was in the evening and when I requested for the test results, he didn’t have it. I was adamant to let her in but my wife pleaded that I allow her in.
“That night while I was working, I was hearing her murmur in her sleep. I went to the room and woke her up the murmuring sounded more like incantations. I remember asking her what she was saying and she replied ‘nothing.’
“When I went back to my study to continue my work, I started feeling uneasy. It felt like I was attacked and it got so bad that I had to go back to the room, woke her up and sent her to the security house to stay. By the next morning, I called the agent and he took her back.”
Some Abuja residents, who declined to be on record, but had gone through the pain of getting house helps through agents, said another secret test they now carry out on them is now popularly known as “spiritual test.”
A resident of Garki, Mrs. Adam, explained: “My agent was a woman and I used her once because the experience was not good. I don’t have a female child and I needed a house help to help out in the kitchen because I have five boys. The woman suggested that she get someone for me the day I complained to her.
“She was about 13 years when she joined us. I agreed to train her in school and provide her basic needs. Unfortunately when she came, she couldn’t speak English and that delayed her schooling. After few months, she became fairly good in English and we sent her to school.
“She started from primary three and was getting better. She was a well behaved girl, hard working and living with her was good. I felt like I had a daughter but one day we went to church vigil. During prayers, she started rolling on the floor, screaming and crying, she exhibited strange behaviour.
“When we got home, she was quiet, she didn’t want to talk, and refused to eat. She just sat down, staring into space and smiling to herself. It became worrisome and got clearer that she was possessed and needed spiritual solution. I wondered if she came like this or in the course of staying with us, she might have gotten into something.
“At night, we couldn’t sleep; we would pray and she would come to my door saying that people are calling her to come for meetings and all that. This went on for weeks until we got tired. We became even scared, and slept little. We lived in fear, it was that bad.
“I had to call the agent and asked her to come and pick her up as my family and I could not continue like that. She lived with us for about two years but the spiritual issue was the major problem.” She insisted sourcing for house helps from agents is not human trafficking but a means of offering a helping hand to those who need them:
“I don’t think this is any type of slavery or human trafficking, it is about giving someone a better opportunity. It hurts on both sides to send her back to her family but we could not keep living in fear.”