“We have heavy usage of foreigners as domestic servants. They are our guards, cleaners, cooks and even nanny. They have easy access to our bedrooms.”
The shockwaves of the brutal murder of Credit Switch Limited’s CEO, Chief Opeyemi Bademosi, by his Togolese cook, has raised grave concerns about the danger inherent in the pervading culture of hiring undocumented, unvetted immigrants as domestic help.
Alarmingly, the Bademosi affair is the latest episode of a never-ending siege against rich Nigerians by criminals from neighbouring countries who come into their homes as loyal domestic servants only to make away with their fortunes.
The embarrassed victims and an ineffectual police––encumbered by international law and an abiding omerta in the close-knit enclave where the culprits are traced, had helped to keep the menace out of public attention.
The suspect in the Bademosi murder, a Togolese cook Sunday Adefonou, stabbed his boss to death at his residence in Parkview Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos, on October 31, 2018, committing the crime just three days after he was employed, had taken to flight with valuables. After his arrest, he claimed his intention was just to threaten his boss with a knife but ended up killing him for refusing to co-operate, the confession came only after he was confronted with CCTV footage of his crime.
A more disturbing dimension to this tragedy was recently highlighted to Saturday Sun by various police sources. Speaking on background, multiple sources confirmed that police logs across the country have similar cases of several homes that were successfully raided and billions of naira mostly in hard currencies carted away by culprits who successfully escaped to their countries. And by investigations, a majority of the thieving domestic staff were tracked down to their homes in the neighbouring Benin Republic and Togo.
A senior police officer attached to the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol, told Saturday Sun that 99 percent of such cases are kept away from the media because of the status of Nigerians whose homes were raided.
He avowed the media would hardly hear of these atrocities except in the case of death. “Nigerian families have lost millions to these thieves who come in the guise of innocent, loyal servants,” he said, claiming, “We are under oath to protect their identities.”
Our source, who pleaded anonymity, gave further insight. Citing from police record, he stated that the victims are mostly upper class–– top politicians, serving and retired military Generals, police chiefs, and captains of industries amongst others.
“The number of cases is alarming and the amount stolen is outrageous. Suspects are mostly from Benin and a few from Togo. They come to Nigeria to steal. They are ready to wait for years before they strike.”
He cited an instance of a cook from the Republic of Benin who was highly recommended by a former governor of Lagos State to a fellow politician from the state. The episode ended with the employer losing 250,000 dollars. According to the family, the hired help was trusted, much more than the children in the house, too good to a fault that his employers who were paying him N80, 000 a month ensured that he got twice that amount before the end of the month. They promised him heaven on earth and were about to make good their word when he struck and cleared the entire safe. The victim, a relative of a top executive member of President Buhari’s cabinet, could not understand why the cook chose to rob him despite his generosity towards him.
The second incident cited by the Interpol officer was that of another house help who looted the house as soon as he realized that the only daughter of his employer, whom he had been secretly having sex with, was pregnant.
“In this very case, the cook a 45-year-old known as Steve was very loyal to the extent that the family turned him into a nanny and he was taking care of their 16-year-old daughter.”
“The girl who was restricted at home gradually started having sex with the cook and no one knew about it. Apart from her parents, she was the only one who knew the password of their home safe. She gave the cook the password. He fled with every valuable he could lay his hands on, including the car that he had permission to drive. That car was later recovered at Seme border in the course of investigation.”
The family was bitter to the extent of sponsoring detectives to Benin to fish out the man who robbed them.
“When we got there, it was discovered that he was a chief in the town. He had a mansion, wives and children. Unfortunately, he got information that we were in town and he fled.”
On why the case was not escalated, he said: “That matter died a natural death because the family affected cannot stand the embarrassment it would cause them.”
Police record indicated that the victims cut across the upper crust, including a retired army general. “In this very case, the nanny fled with 48 million naira in cash and foreign currencies,” the source stated. “We traced her to that area too and discovered that she and her husband were into the same type of business. They disappeared on the day they got information that policemen from Nigeria came to her village. She spent only a year with the general before stealing from him. Till date, we have not been able to recover a kobo.”
One of the victims, a retired AIG who was robbed in July 2018, shared her ordeal with Saturday Sun.
“I needed a cook, so I approached a company and they brought two applicants. After a cookery test, I chose the one named Tony. He claimed he was from Opebi, Lagos. He tried to come in with a knapsack and I told him that would not be permitted. I gave him a form to complete and return with two passports. I already had photos of the person who brought him. When he resumed work, I tested him. I sent him to a supermarket with a list of items and N10, 000. I noticed he was dishonest. I tried him on two other occasions and the trait was still there. So, I diligently locked the doors to my rooms. Unknown to me, he was bringing in bags which he used in taking away things. To deceive the police orderlies, he told them the content of the bags were leftover food.
“On that fateful Saturday, I was alone with my niece. I had earlier warned her not to tell Tony that she was going out of the house and to always lock all the doors. The girl did lock the sitting room door and the main door but forgot to lock the door that connects the two, leading upstairs. At the time, I was about to travel abroad. My bags were packed with my documents, money and ticket. I returned home at 8 and didn’t go upstairs and therefore did not discover the crime until the next day. That Sunday morning, I opened the door and found my bags, everything in the room, scattered on the floor. My money was gone, as well as the expensive bags, my iPad, laptop, recently-bought sneakers worth N85 000, mine and my daughter’s, and a lot of other valuables, which means, he had been taking things out of the house for days.”
“We traced him to his last place of work where the former employer confirmed to us that he was sacked for stealing and that a week after, the office was burgled and valuables carted away. It was from him we got the truth that Tony was not a Nigerian. When eventually, he was arrested, he put up a drama, rolling on the floor calling Jesus, swearing that he couldn’t do such a thing. By the time I returned from my trip, the police had charged him to court.”
The retired police officer who still chafed from the ordeal raised cogent observation: “The house he lived in was a hovel, but he was able in a jiffy to get a Level 14 civil servant and hired a lawyer and N200,000 to secure his bail.”
He added: “A lot of things happened in Nigeria and I say to myself, “This not the Nigeria I know.” Now we have an influx of foreigners who claim they are from Ogun or Lagos and they come in solely with the aim to steal.”
According to Interpol officer: “It is terrible but they keep finding their way into homes. The guarantors are part of the syndicate.”
Mono region and tales of riches
According to our sources who have spent more than seven years in the Interpol section, 90 per cent of the cases were traced to an area known as Mono in Benin Republic. Mono region is a small state in Benin with less than 500, 000 population in six principal towns of which the most popular ones are Grand Popo along the coast and Lokossa further away in the hinterland. Generally, Mono is enclave on the border with Togo where voodoo is a major religion.
In the last decade, the region had witnessed a boom in real estate development. Grand Popo, for example, once an agrarian swathe, has gradually transformed into a tourist haven, now dotted with high-end hotels and resorts springing up daily.
In those small towns of Mono, most expensive mansions belong to fugitives wanted by Interpol. When you ask the locals, they will jokingly tell you the owner of so and so building is abroad “washing plates.”
There is an abysmal five per cent success in tracking them, said the source. And if they are eventually found, the country insists that such a person will be prosecuted under its jurisdiction.
“Local vigilantes, traditional rulers and some other security agencies are on their payroll. As soon as you track them to their area, you will only hear that they just left. We have discovered so many mansions built by these suspects and occupied by their families. As soon as they return, they will take care of the local security in the name of welfare, and since it’s a common act in the area, they will be protected.”
A further difficulty arises from the fact that the towns are small and therefore when a new person comes into town, the information spread fast.
“They are so united that whenever we come, the so-called guide will drive us around town and everyone will get to know that strangers who are policemen are in town. After that, the guide will then call the suspect to settle him or he will leak his true location and properties to us.”
Successful arrest is rare and most of the cases charged to court in their country die a natural death. “It is not always easy to be travelling from Nigeria to another country for cases. Their law does not permit us to bring them back to Nigeria. Most of the cases are struck out even after arrest because the complainants are not ready to continue spending so much to mobilize their lawyers. The much we can do is to be patient and monitor them till they come back to the country. They will surely return after some years but to a new location. We have gotten some of them in Nigeria and they are currently standing trial.”
On how they operate, the Interpol source stated that they normally get the job through agencies. “We refer to them as cheap labourers. They are ready to work for as low as N10, 000 a month without a single complaint. They will roll on the ground and submit totally. They volunteer to do chores that are not part of their job description. They are normally well-trained in house chores and are good at cooking and at impressing you. Gradually, you will grant them access to your bedroom, send them to withdraw money from your bank account and even tell them the password to your safe.”
Findings from investigation implicated the so-called guarantors too, he asserted. “As soon as they are ready to move out, they will alert their guarantors and give them an idea of the amount of money involved.”
Avoid them, security experts warn
A security expert, Dr Ona Ekhomu insisted that incident of such nature keep repeating because of the propensity to employ cheap labour by most rich Nigerians.
“It has happened several times, we should not claim that we were caught unawares by these occurrences,” Ekhomu said. “Many people argue that they clean better than Nigerians. Some say that they are more trustworthy; ignoring the role they played in the lives of very rich people––They work in the innermost circles with us, in the house, in the cars, around you and family constantly. What the bad guys want is the asset and you are the asset. We put a high fence, employ guards and keep dogs, meanwhile, the biggest intruder is inside the house with access to everywhere.”
He decried Nigerians’ predisposition for “the cheapest labour.” “Why would you have so much money and asset and you employ the cheapest labour to control or guard it? The use of foreign domestic workers is an unmitigated risk because you don’t know who they are. You don’t know whether they were criminals that ran out of their countries. The names they give you, you don’t know if they are fake just like in Nigeria where people give fake names.”
Ekhomu also spotlighted the difficulty in arresting or prosecuting culprits from Francophone countries. “The only countries that I can send detectives to are Ghana and Gambia because we have a similar culture and police system,” he said.
His ABC of how to employ a domestic staff is an algorithm of security measures.
“The first is a risk mitigation measure. Don’t hire anyone that is not a Nigerian. If you must, they need to get a permit that they need to work here; by so doing, the officials will get their fingerprints. They will document them, which mean the likelihood of committing a crime is lower. The best measure (however) is to avoid them.”
Second on his list of measures is background verification. “Homeowner can take their photograph and store it somewhere. You can get the police to do documentation. If they know that you are serious, they will be much more careful.”
Thirdly, exclude them from your bedroom, advised Ekhomu. “If they don’t see the valuables, they will not make any attempt to enter. Restrict them to the general areas in the house. Look at the case of the Togolese; he was employed for just three days and he already had access to the man’s bedroom. If you must invite them into your bedroom, you must secure your room. Remove those things that will attract their attention.”
His fourth recommendation: “A good guarantor and take the pain of confirming who they are.”
His suggestion also included regular days off for domestic staff. “When you keep people indoors working all the time and you think you have security, you are wasting your time. Let them go; when they come back, you will notice a difference. If they said that they don’t have people to visit, then you should be worried.”
Never allow them to have visitors in your place, he cautioned but advocated fairness in dealing with them. “If you treat them well, you will get the best out of them,” he asserted.
A former director of State Security Service (SSS) who spoke with Saturday Sun also reinforced the imperative of a thorough background check.
“We have heavy usage of foreigners as domestic servants. They are our guards, cleaners, cooks and even nanny. They have easy access to our bedrooms. There are so many strangers we allow into our houses without knowing who they are but they know everything about us.”
He said: “I won’t say that we should abolish them, but use the proper means of engaging them. Always do good background checks, make sure that they have good guarantors.”
He pointed out the laxity on the part of most Nigerians who employ solely on references and, therefore, do not have the home address of their drivers or domestic help, let alone know the guarantors.
“If you must employ one, request for the services of a security company that is certified to do background checks, get to their root, confirm their guarantors and get them to sign an undertaking before you employ them,” he advised.