It used to be cases of violence against domestic workers by their employers, but now the reverse is the case. What is responsible for this? How can it be checked?
The small, light-skinned man was a pace behind the plainclothe woman detective when she stepped into Court One of the Ebute-Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court in Lagos around 10:30am last Thursday.
She reached the long row of wooden benches behind the dock and turned to see him resting a big black travel bag by the wall beside the door.
He moved to join her, but she barked at him: “Oya, bring it here.”
He backtracked, lifted the bag with handcuffed hands and dragged it to where she indicated: a bench on the last row.
She was not particularly tall, but he barely reached her shoulder as he passed by.
He looked like most of the pictures of him that had been circulating in the media for days: fair complexion with several welts on his face, full, dark head of hair and the same white Danshiki shirt.
He is 22, but he looks like a teenager.
A pretty, fair-skinned lawyer approached him, but he stared at his feet, reluctant to speak.
He looked away as she cajoled him until, exasperated, she got up and left.
Shortly after the magistrate began sitting, the clerk called his case: Commissioner of Police v Joseph Ogbu.
He rose quietly and walked into the dock. The registrar read out his charge: murder of his employer and her mother and theft of their properties.
After a brief proceeding, the court remanded Ogbu for 30 days.
N2,000 per life?
According to the police, Ogbu, a domestic worker from Oju Local Government Area of Benue State, stabbed Oreoluwa John, 36, to death with a fork after she turned down his demand for N4,000, barely two days after he was employed as a househelp.
The State Criminal Investigation Department (SCIID), Yaba, Lagos alleged that Ogbu, after killing Miss Oreoluwa, also strangled her 89-year-old mother, Adejoke John.
An SCIID Investigative Police Officer (IPO), while applying for Ogbu’s remand told Magistrate Olanike Olagbende: “On June 18 2019, the deceased employed him as her househelp. On the 19th – the following day – he accosted her that he needed N4,000. The daughter of the deceased now said: ‘When did you come that you are already demanding money?’ That’s where he had an issue with the daughter and he used an iron fork he was eating with to stab her several times in the stomach following which she fell and died. The mother was inside her room hearing them. The daughter was saying: ‘Mummy, mummy, Joseph has killed me, Joseph has killed me.’ As she (the mother) tried to come out, he grabbed hold of the old woman of 89 years and strangled her to death around 9pm. He was there until around 2am. He then took the key of the deceased’s car, opened the gate and drove out. He had earlier removed the Plasma TV from the wall on the parlour and put it in the car along with other items.”
Domestic work, a global industry
The domestic worker industry is a global one.
According to a 2013 research conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), at least 52 million people around the world – mainly women – are employed as domestic workers.
The global prevalence of women or girls in the industry corresponds with the result of a 2014 research by Oludayo Tade of the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Oyo State.
According to Tade, females (86.4 per cent) were preferred for performing domestic chores, providing emotional support for employers’ children and were viewed as receptive, “mouldable”, and hardworking to males (11.4 per cent).
In Nigeria, households, especially upper- and middle-class families in the south, rely on househelps to ease their domestic load while they focus on their careers.
Many families that are seeking househelps, turn to agents who source workers from within and outside the country, taking a cut of the salary as commission.
The agents often demand that the domestic workers provide a guarantor who knows their family, so that they can be held accountable if their children steal or commit other crimes.
Ogbu, for instance, was recommended to the John’s family and brought to Lagos from Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, by someone who vouched for him.
Growing cases of domestic workers harming employers
It used to be the case – and there are still many cases – of employers abusing and even killing their domestic staff.
Domestic workers are often victims of crime, rape, forced labour and physical violence.
Stories also regularly come to light of domestic employees, in connivance with their agents, carting away their employers’ property when left alone at home.
But things seem to be changing and Ogbu’s case is just the latest in a growing list of cases in which employers are victims, rather than aggressors in the domestic worker-employee relationship.
Several of such cases are as follows:
Bar operator killed with pestle
On May 7, 2015, the police in Enugu arrested a domestic worker, Joseph Ijeh, for allegedly murdering his 65-year-old employer, Agnes Elue, over issues of fund diversion.
The incident occurred on May 6, 2015 at No 293B, Agbani Road.
Ijeh reportedly lived with the deceased for over 20 years as a ‘house help’. It was reported that the suspect had over the years built confidence on his ability to run the beer parlour until Elue noticed that he had not been rendering proper account.
On the fateful day, Elue asked Ijeh to render account of sales made over the years. This, however, infuriated him.
“Unknown to Agnes, rather than furnish her with the account, Joseph armed with pestle, hit Agnes at the back of the head and she died immediately.
“The suspect hid the corpse in one of the rooms for days before the operatives got wind of the crime. They swung into action and arrested the suspect who has confessed to the crime,” Police Public Relations Officer Ebere Amaraizu said.
Ijeh allegedly attributed his act to “satanic influence”.
Maid, 11, stabs, strangles boy, 5
On March 16, last year, the police in Lagos brought a bizarre case to an Ebute Meta Chief Magistrates’ Court.
An 11-year-old househelp, who allegedly stabbed and strangled her employer’s five-year-old boy, was charged with murder.
Inspector Chinalu Uwadione told the court that the defendant committed the offence on March 10, at about 6:30pm, on Plot 702, Road 255, Abule-Ado, Festac.
He said the accused strangled five-year-old Chikaso Amazu under her care with a leather belt before stabbing him with a curtain rod on his private part which resulted in his death.
The offences contravened Section 223 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.
The case has been adjourned until April 18 pending legal advice from the State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP’s).
Her plea was not taken.
Chief Magistrate Ipaye-Nwachukwu ordered that the defendant be taken to Girl’s Correctional Home in Idi Araba, Mushin.
Cameroonian kills General’s daughter
A Good Samaritan paid the supreme price for her kindness of December 20, 2016 when she was stabbed to death by a 25-year-old Cameroonian househelp, Leudjou Koyemen Joel, alias William Smith.
Dayo Enioluwa Adeleke, daughter of the late Brigadier-General Adekola Alfred Adeleke, recruited Joel, a Cameroonian refugee, as a househelp in May 2016, following an appeal by her church.
On the morning of December 20, Joel requested for a two-week salary advance, but Adeleke turned him down.
At about 9pm that night, shortly after Adeleke got back from work, Joel repeated his demand. Again she declined.
He got angry and stabbed her with a knife in the neck and heart.
Adeleke was killed three months after her engagement to her fiancée.
On May 21, an Igbosere High Court, Lagos convicted Joel of killing Adeleke and sentenced him to death by hanging.
Maid, 14, poisons employer’s food
On May 8, 2017 a 14-year-old housemaid, Mary Akinnifesi, was arrested by the Ondo State Police Command for allegedly attempting to kill her boss, Alhaji Nasiru Akinlosotu, with poison.
The incident happened on Adetomowo Street, Ondo town, Ondo State.
Alhaji Akinlosotu said his wife asked Akinnifesi to prepare beans for the family, but the maid allegedly added rat poison to the food.
The 63-year-old explained that as he was eating the food, he noticed that it had a strange taste and an offensive odour.
He vomited the little he had swallowed from the food and asked the maid about the content of the food but she denied adding poison to it.
She later confessed to having committed the offence during an interrogation by her employer’s neighbour.
However, the Ondo State Police Command didn’t prosecute Akinnifesi after Akinlosotu wrote a letter withdrawing the case.
Naval officer, girlfriend murdered in barracks
On May 4, last year, a domestic servant, Thaddaeus Jaja, allegedly killed a lieutenant, Yusuf Yahaya Abubakar, and his girlfriend, Lauren Onye.
The incident occurred at the Nigeria Navy Barracks in Borokiri area of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.
The body of the 22-year-old Onye, a 300 level student of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, was found in Abubakar’s apartment.
Yusuf’s body was nowhere to be found and it was speculated at the time that the naval officer killed her and fled the scene.
They did not know that he too was a victim of an orchestrated plot.
Two days after Onye was murdered, some naval officers forced their way into Abubakar’s apartment. This came after they received information from one of her friends, identified as Joy, that the victim was killed by her boyfriend and that her body was lying in his apartment.
Following his arrest and parade by the police, Jaja explained why he killed them.
He said he asked Abubakar for money but his boss told him he didn’t have, instead he was spending heavily on Onye.
The suspect told reporters that he strangled the lady in her bedroom
Jaja said: “As she was lying helplessly on the ground, I went to the kitchen, took a knife and stabbed her on the chest and she died on the spot. I took her body to the sitting room and hid it behind the three-seater chair and was thinking of how to dispose of her body.
“So, I went and bought a small cutlass which I intended to use in dismembering her body, but before I knew what was going on, my boss came back and he discovered that the rug in the sitting room was wet and he asked me to mop it up. When he asked about his girlfriend, I told him that I didn’t meet her when I came. He tried calling her, but her phone was switched off. He then entered his bedroom and slept off.
“At that time, I knew there was no way I could dispose of the corpse without my boss knowing; then, I decided to kill my boss also to end all traces to me. So, by 4am, while my boss was deep in sleep, I hit him on the head with a cutlass and covered his face with one of the pillows, then I stabbed him on the chest. When I confirmed he was dead, I brought out his girlfriend’s travel bag and dumped his corpse in it. Then, I wore his uniform, took the bag into his car and I drove off with it. If I hadn’t worn his uniform, there was no way, I would have been allowed to leave the barracks with his car. Then, I drove to a bush in Apani area of Rivers State. After I had bought fuel from a petrol station, I set the corpse ablaze and took the car to Benin. I took his ATM to Lagos where I withdrew N2.5million from his account.”
He added: “I need to let you know that I have no intention of killing my boss and his girlfriend. I killed her because she was the person who prevented my boss from paying me my money. The girl was the person who told him to send me out of his house.”
Credit Switch boss’ murder
On Wednesday, October 31, last year, a Togolese cook, Sunday Anani, murdered the Chief Executive Officer of Credit Switch Ltd, Chief Ope Bademosi.
Anani stabbed Bademosi to death with a knife, three days after he was employed.
The cook, who fled the home with some valuables belonging to his boss after committing the crime, was arrested by the Ondo State Police Command around 9:30am on November 2, 2018, in the Yaba area of Ondo Town.
Anani, who initially denied involvement in the murder, claimed that he and the victim were attacked by armed robbers, who demanded money from Bademosi.
He claimed that when the assailants were not satisfied with what they got, they killed the Credit Switch boss.
However, Anani, who later confessed to the court that he stabbed Bademosi while trying to rob him, admitted that he was the person caught on the Closed Circuit Television footage fleeing the premises after the murder.
He struck a plea bargain deal with the Lagos State Government by admitting the lesser charge of manslaughter soon after the trial commenced.
On June 25, an Igbosere High Court in Lagos sentenced Anani to life imprisonment.
Justice Mobolanle Okikiolu-Ighile convicted Anani following his plea of guilty to a one-count charge of voluntary manslaughter.
The judge said: “What did he hope to achieve in life involving himself in this kind of crime, I ask? It is very painful that a young boy whom the family of Bademosi welcomed in their home as a cook ended up causing so much havoc and endless pain.
“It is even more painful that the defendant had no motive of working but came into the house with a criminal intention to steal to kill and to destroy.
“The defendant admitted ‘I killed him.’ This was an innocent and unsuspecting family.”
Béninoise to die for employer’s 78-year-old mum’s murder
On May 27, an Igbosere High Court in Lagos sentenced a Béninoise househelp, Christian Hounvenon Yavine, to death by hanging for the July 1, 2014 murder of a 78-year-old woman, Mariam Atinuke Abiola.
Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye found Yavine, 23, guilty of slashing Abiola’s neck with a knife while she slept in her daughter’s Ipaja, Lagos home.
Abiola was the mother of Ajoke Ashiwonyi Abiola, Yavine’s employer, who was away to a church vigil.
The judge convicted Yavine following a three-year trial.
The convict, on April 15, 2016, pleaded not guilty to a one-count charge of murder preferred against him by the Lagos State Government.
Prosecuting counsel Akin George said the incident happened on July 1, 2014, at Block 74, Flat 4, Ipaja Low Cost Housing Estate, Pen Cinema, Lagos.
He said the offence was punishable under Section 221 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2015.
In her judgment, Justice Ipaye dismissed Yavine’s defences, including a claim that he was 14 years’ old at the time of the offence, having been born in the year 2000.
The judge observed that there was ample corroborative evidence that falsified his claim.
Why the problem persists
One problem that stakeholders have long recognised is that domestic workers operate as part of an informal, unregulated, but essential industry.
Analysts consider this as a dangerous situation for both the domestic situation for both the domestic worker and their employers.
One law which would have helped to regulate the industry is the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention No. 189 on Domestic Workers.
The convention is, however, yet to be ratified by Nigeria.
The way out, by SAN
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Chief Olalekan Yusuf told The Nation that better regulation was needed.
He advocated the setting up of a national and/or state-wide database system for domestic staff/workers.
Yusuf said: “In my opinion, the current legal framework employed in regulating or rather criminalising the incidence of domestic workers/staff is both inadequate and in denial of an aspect of our culture.
“It is quiet an aberration for the practice to be criminalised in a way and brought under the purview of the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administration Act 2015.
“Same applies to the constant witch-hunts by the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP).”
The Silk frowned at the prevalent practice of hiring of minors as domestic workers.
He said: “Except in cases of family relationships or legal adoption, employment or hiring of domestic workers under age 16yrs should be totally prohibited and discouraged.
“Rather, the subtle denial of the practice should be done away with. There must be a regulatory framework that recognises the practice as being indigenous to our culture.
“Significantly, the framework should be inclusive, establishing some sort of national and/or state-wide database system for domestic staff/workers.
“This should involve the process of identification, selection, investigation, and documentation by the prospective employer and transmission of such data to the central base.”
Efforts to solve the problem
There have thus been efforts, albeit fairly recent, to tackle the problem legislatively.
In Lagos, for instance, former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in 2017 pledged to regulate the activities of domestic workers, popularly called house-helps, and guards, citing growing security threats they posed to the state and its residents.
Ambode said he would send an executive bill to that effect to the state House of Assembly to prescribe regulations for these classes of workers, as well as, monitor their activities, that of their employers and agencies involved in the process.
“It has been discovered that domestic workers are largely undocumented and pose a grave security threat in the state. The recruiting agencies must be licensed and regulated henceforth. Our safety is now non-negotiable,” he added.
He could, however, not complete the process before leaving office.
‘Bill for protection of domestic workers, employers’
A bill to address the problem was sponsored at the federal level by Senator Magnus Abe, who represented Rivers Southeast constituency of Rivers State at the upper Chamber of the 8th National Assembly.
The ‘Bill for an act to provide for documentation and protection of domestic workers and employers’ scaled second reading in the Senate last April 17.
This followed Abe’s presentation of the lead debate at plenary.
Abe said it sought to protect domestic workers from abuse by providing minimum conditions of service such as number of hours to work, break and rest times as well as off days.
He also noted that the bill sought to reduce and deter the propensity of domestic workers’ connivance with criminals against employers.
This, he explained, could be achieved by maintaining full biometric data and other relevant background information of domestic workers nationwide.
“This bill further seeks to keep track of migration of domestic workers from other countries and among states within the country for security purposes.
“It will also provide specific and adequate sanctions for offenders within the framework of the law.
“Also, it seeks to formalise the services of all categories of domestic workers, capture their contributions to the GDP of the nation to enhance national planning,” he said.
The lawmaker noted that Nigeria had witnessed an increase in incidents of assaults and abuse of domestic workers by their employers or hosts.
He said the abuses border on slave labour, physical abuse and sexual abuse, among others.
According to him, the stories are gory, traumatic and mind bugling.
He added that domestic workers, particularly in Nigeria, remained vulnerable and helpless, in view of the fact that they exist in the informal sector, not unionised and did not have collective platform to speak for them.
Abe further noted that on the other hand, there was rise in the spate of complicity of crimes committed by domestic workers, mostly in connivance with other criminal elements against their employers and hosts.
He said there was a rise in cases of burglary, kidnapping, stealing of children and outright murder.
The bill was then referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.
Hopefully, if the bill is passed, it will mean the deaths of the John mother and daughter, Chief Bademosi, Lt. Abubakar, Lauren Onye and others was not in vain.
Source: The Nation