The increasing number of married women who engage in paid jobs in the last few decades has heightened the demand for domestic servants in several Nigerian homes.
Research has shown that live-in domestic servants are found in over two-thirds Nigerian homes but the character of many of the house helps is often questionable.
On a global level, a recent report of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates that not less than 52 million people across the world work as domestic workers, while only 10 per cent of them are actually protected by extant labour laws.
The report also states that in 2012, 72 per cent of the population of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa is engaged in vulnerable employment, which includes domestic service, mostly undertaken by minors and women.
In major Nigerian cities, especially Lagos and Abuja, the demand for domestic servants such as house maids, cooks and security guards is quite high because of the long hours of work which keep most couples out late.
Observers note that the compelling need for households to hire domestic servants has, in recent times, given many unscrupulous elements in the society the leeway to foment trouble in various homes.
They argue that the upsurge of domestic servants with questionable character has somewhat worsened the insecurity pervading the country.
The observers note that in some cases, the inability to secure the services of trustworthy house helps has forced several women to quit their white-collar jobs to take care of the family.
On several occasions, media reports have cited some instances in which security guards would recommend housemaids or cooks for their bosses, as part of a calculated plot to carry out some heinous acts.
For instance, Mrs Kike Anibaba, a civil servant in Abuja, recalled that her gardener introduced to her a teenage girl who, as he claimed, was his close relation.
"But unfortunately within two months, the gardener connived with her, robbed my shop of expensive goods and ran away," she said.
Besides, there was a news report in January about a 20-year-old domestic servant, Akan Solomon, who was arrested in Lagos for conniving with robbers to steal a car belonging to his boss.
Moreover, there was a recent case involving Freedom Maddy, a house help, who stole the jewellery of her boss in collaboration with some unscrupulous elements. The incident was widely reported in the media.
The cases appear limitless but one particular case which elicits the concern of many people relates to one housemaid who was arrested along with an accomplice for killing her boss, a restaurateur, who lived alone.
The maid reportedly killed the woman in her house and threw her into a nearby well with a generator, while giving neighbours an impression that the woman had travelled.
In spite of the widespread public perception that domestic servants are often maltreated, analysts insist that hiring questionable characters as house helps could be extremely dangerous.
Supporting such viewpoints, Mrs Toriola Ajimobi, a bank worker, recalled that she once had a housemaid who she treated as her own daughter.
"However, within a few months, she stole my clothes and money and ran away," she said.
Also, Mr Yusuf Hassan, a trader, alleged that his house help, in spite of his generosity to her, once attempted to kidnap one of his triplets.
"When she was arrested, she claimed that she was manipulated by the devil to commit the crime," he said.
Besides, Mrs Evelyn Anjorin, a mother of three, said that she had to leave her job and stay at home after her housemaid burgled her room.
However, Mr Gbenga Komolafe, the Chairman, Federation of Informal Workers Union of Nigeria, stressed that the nefarious activities of some domestic servants could be one of the fallout of the house helps’ ill-treatment.
"The maltreatment of some of the domestic servants may be the reason why they take revenge by perpetrating evil on their bosses," he said.
Nevertheless, he bemoaned the criminal acts of some domestic servants such as robbery or kidnapping, stressing that their ill-treatment could not be an excuse to commit a crime.
Analysts, however, attribute the rising wave of misdemeanor among domestic servants to the faulty method of recruiting house helps without due regard for specific guidelines.
For instance, a Beninoise, Mrs Josephine Ayo, said that she could assist people to get trustworthy maids from Togo and Benin Republic for a fee.
All the same, available records on human trafficking indicate that more than 60 per cent of domestic servants in the South-West geopolitical zone of the country are recruited from Togo or Benin Republic.
A major question, therefore, centres around putting measures in place to forestall a situation in which domestic servants constitute major security threats to the households where they work.
However, Mr Joseph Famakin, the Lagos Zonal Commander of National Agency for Prosecution of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP), advised the public to register their domestic servants with the police.
He, nonetheless, underscored the need for such domestic servants, whose ages must be above 18 years, to have impeccable character.
Famakin, who frowned at a situation where minors were engaged as domestic servants, reiterated that the registration of domestic workers would reduce the incidence of crime in homes, while making it easier for the authorities to apprehend child traffickers.
All the same, Mrs Bisi Bright, the Coordinator of Live-Well Initiative, a non-governmental organisation, underscored the need for the government to intervene in the situation.
She urged the government at all levels to put in place a system where only registered employment agents would be involved in the domestic servants’ recruitment business.
Bright also recommended that such registered agents should be saddled with responsibility of screening, interviewing and employing domestic servants, whose ages should be above 18 years, in collaboration with NAPTIP and the police.
She said that the arrangement would also provide a channel for house helps to lodge complaints about their employers whenever the need arose.
In spite of the proposals, Mrs Patricia Amadin, the Deputy Spokesperson for Lagos State Police Command, said that employers of domestic servants should, in the interim, strive to ascertain the background and credibility of persons they wanted to employ.
Amadin stressed that while some of the house helps behaved well, records had shown that most of them aided and abetted criminals such as robbers and kidnappers.
The police officer urged the public to always ascertain the identification and background of persons they wanted to hire as house helps so as to lessen the criminal activities of unscrupulous domestic servants.