Op ed

Employment agents & the Nigerian factor

unemployment in nigeriaA friend’s married daughter and her husband were shocked when their guard came to tell them when they returned from work,  that the  nanny to their two children had  begged him to allow her smuggle a male relation, who she claimed had come from their village to look for a job, into her room in the Boys’ Quarters.

The guard agreed initially but when the man actually showed up that night, he  had to come confess to his employers.  When confronted, the nanny rudely told them that she hadn’t done anything wrong, since it was to her room she had invited the man, and not to the main house.  Her employers contained their anger, but told her to go remove her relative from outside the house immediately.

In anger she moved out that night.  The agent who brought her was quite shocked by what happened.  He confessed he hadn’t researched the lady well, but that she looked humble, hard-working and honest. The couple decided to use another agent, and they invited me to come help vet him and the nanny he  was bringing to them.  I had hardly taken my seat when the agent, a lively soul, gave me his call card, saying I might need his services at a point, or have friends and relatives who might, as he also supplies other categories of domestic workers.

“Thank you.  Oh, you’re a deacon, are you?  And of this highly-acclaimed church?” I asked

“Yes, madam,”he answered, clearly pleased that I noticed. “I’m of  province ……   I’ve been a deacon for several years now, and by the grace of God, I hope to become an assistant pastor in future, and then rise.  I got born-again, er, let me see now – er while in secondary school.  That was many years ago.”

If he expected applause from the couple, he didn’t get it, as my friend’s son-in-law observed quietly, ‘Most employment agents are deacons, born-again, and of that particular church.  I suppose that’s to make people trust you guys.’

“My brother, maybe, but I’m a genuine deacon of that church, and an honest agent.  You can go ask of me in my church.  They will tell you that I’m honourable.” defended the agent.

“You may actually be,” said the other with a short laugh.
We then got down to business.  His fee was twenty thousand naira payable in one instalment.  There’s a replacement if the nanny leaves or is sacked within six months.  After six months of service by the help, he wouldn’t be liable to replace her.  It would be a fresh start.”

“Deacon, I’m uncomfortable with that rule. What you’re in fact saying is that it is possible that we  require your services every six months, and we have to pay twenty thousand each time. That seems unfair to me..” I told him.

“It shouldn’t be, madam.  It’s not as if the girl is here to work for six months only. It’s up to her.  I have two people in Lekki who have been with their madams for more that two years now.  Six months guarantee for a replacement is the normal agreement. ”

“Alright,” said my friend’s daughter with a sigh. “What do we pay the girl?”

“Thirty thousand if you’re not feeding her, and twenty-five, if you are.  She will go to church every Sunday, and have one full Sunday off every month.”

The couple agreed and the girl was called in.  She seemed respectful, sober and looked eager to work.

She worked well and the couple were pleased with her.   A week from the end of her first six months, she told her employers that she had got admission into a higher institution.  How? When?, asked the astonished employers.

She completed her remaining week well, and even went to work on the morning she was leaving.  The couple gave her money and several gifts and she left.  The agent supplied a replacement for a reduced fee of fifteen thousand naira.  She wasn’t as pleasant and hardworking as her predecessor, but she did her best.

As she was completing six months in mid-December of that year, she said she would be going home for Christmas.  She never returned.  The couple rang the agent, but this time, not to ask for another help, but to tell him he was fraudulent in his trade, as it seems he has the habit of moving his wards to other employers every six months.  He denied this, and claimed he hadn’t done any wrong; and that the decision to leave was the girls’.

Someone introduced the couple to yet another agent. He too said he’s a deacon of a branch of the same church the other agent claimed to belong to!  He was quite dynamic about his job and took several girls to be viewed by my friend’s daughter at work, before they settled on one. He had told them his fee was ten thousand naira on telephone, and that there was no ‘expiry date’ on the girl’s tenure.

A sigh of relief!   When he took the girl to their house, however, and saw that they weren’t paupers, he raised his fee to fifteen thousand naira on the spot, and said he would collect something every month out of the girl’s twenty-five thousand salary.  The girl’s work was just average, but the couple treated her well and she seemed happy there.

Then the bombshell after barely three months!  She told the couple that she would be leaving at the end of the month to go prepare for JAMB!  She was very sorry when the couple got quite upset and asked why she took the job without telling them that.  She said she had told the agent that she would be available for three months only, and he had told her not to mention that to the couple!  So, the search continues since the couple need help in the house.

Many years ago, you got jobs/workers by word of mouth, and people helped to link you up with those who needed that sort of job. It was a fairly safe process because you would know the source the job-seeker came from.  Consultancies which help screen /select workers for companies began to spring up in the early seventies, but these positions were at first for professionals who were graduates of higher institutions.  With time, some included lower offices/domestic workers in their books, but soon, people saw it as an avenue to set up their own business, and so, agents now abound in all nooks and corners in most cities.

Personally, I think it’s a good thing to have agencies which can provide such workers, because it gives the person you’re employing a sort of background, as agencies are meant to thoroughly research the lives and background of those on their lists.

But sadly, like most things in our dear country, the Nigerian factor of greed, dishonesty and the urge to make a fast buck or two, has set in, and I’m told many employment agents barely know those they’re placing in employment. Some only ask the job-seeker to bring a relation as guarantor, and that’s it. Those guarantors could be people picked at random, and who are not relatives, and false addresses are supplied the agents.

There’s no doubt that some agents are as honest as they can possibly be in Nigeria, but some teach the job-seeker to lie and tell half-truths about their background and circumstances.

We do need employment agents, but there’s urgent need to sanitize the industry, so that agents can be seen as being honest people of integrity, who can provide workers who won’t bring us stress and heartache. All employment agencies should form and register associations at state or local government level; having rules and regulations for a good code of conduct which should be fair to all concerned; the employer, the employee and the agents themselves.

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