Domestic services have always been an unattractive choice; not particularly because they are odious jobs but because the working conditions have always been traditionally demeaning.
In Nigeria, everyone too readily respects anyone who has a ‘corporate job’. This often means that you would put on starched clothes and work within stipulated hours, doing specified jobs for an agreed amount over an agreed period. The organisation would also probably have articulated its core values, mission, activities and modus operandi, etc., all of which make it easier for a newcomer to fit in and function.
Consequently employment in corporate bodies is much coveted because of the structured disposition and predictability of working hours, conditions of service and salaries.
Those who are unable to secure such jobs, opt for the Nigerian version of entrepreneurship which usually means that you can start a business under your own terms, and make a lot of money. The venture area may or may not be one of passion to the ‘entrepreneur’ but he or she goes ahead to plough, motivated by the need to make money to meet immediate needs.
Sometimes, the choice of a venture area is informed by rumours and anecdotes. Someone known to me once went into manual ‘fufu’ production because she heard that it is a money-spinner. She had lost her job as a banker during one of the common lay-offs and she wanted to quickly start something before she ran out of cash. She took some quick lessons from some relations who were raised in the village who knew how to ‘turn fufu very well’. She was soon hospitalised because her system could not cope with the required exertion for that kind of business.
When faced with such challenges, unemployed persons usually have to choose between going back to the village or embarking on ‘entrepreneurship’ for which they may be basically unprepared.
In those days, the drift into the cities was almost necessary because city life offered better opportunities for growth and personal development. It was frustrating for anyone, especially the young, to live in the rural areas – no electricity, no pipe borne water, no tarred roads and no prospects for entrepreneurial activities, including agricultural venturists.
Everyone was a farmer and so, at harvest time, farmers faced discouraging post-harvest losses as they could not readily sell off their produce within their communities while poor road networks made it difficult to travel to far places to sell their produce.
The uncertainty of agric-venturing, which is practically the only form of occupation in the rural areas, therefore continues to compel able-bodied persons in search of a livelihood to spill into the urban centres. An example is the number of youths from the Northern parts who come to Lagos and other major cities after the farming season in search of menial jobs or to engage in ‘Okada’ business. They are usually not trained to perform these services and therefore lack professionalism and consistency. In return, they also earn very little and live in deplorable conditions, often unable to afford living quarters and so they have to squat in places of worship and other makeshift environments.
And so the young and able from all parts of the country, whether educated or not, shove into the urban centers daily for some sunshine but will they find it? The uneducated ones come in to embrace poverty and squalor while the uneducated ones face deeper frustrations because the white collar jobs for which they troop down are now hard to come by because of extant economic downturn.
Massive lay-offs have left the few who are retained overworked; creating an opportunity for realistic job seekers who would render domestic services to these well-paid people who work long hours. In some homes, couples set out for work at the break of dawn and get back very late in the night. These people live in houses and have children that need to be cared for while they are away.
Some years ago, a middle-aged couple who got retrenched from their white collar jobs went back to the village. They soon realised that they were trading off their few assets to survive because they were not making enough income from farming. The wife went to a well-to-do family that was visiting during the holiday season to seek help. That family also told them of their own problem – they worked late hours and had no reliable hands to look after their children. They lived in a big house with commodious servants’ quarters but were finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the grounds.
Both families soon struck a deal. Family A could move back into the city to occupy family B’s servant quarters, a comfortable two-bedroom apartment in a high brow part of Lagos. In exchange, wife A took care of the house chores for family B while her husband took care of the grounds and security in the compound. This way, both families enjoy an interdependence that makes it possible to meet the needs of both sides.
This was an ad-hoc, arrangement that has worked out quite well but it can be deliberately contrived. Government can also support this growing area by setting standards to regulate and dignify the trade.
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