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By now, if you live in or have friends and family living in Lagos and are on BBM, Facebook or other social media, chances are you’ve heard of the 3 Orekoya boys that were kidnapped last week by their nanny, shortly after their parents left for work. Since the news broke, some details surrounding the kidnapping have emerged and in addition to the stream of words of sympathy, empathy and prayers, there have been comments from various people wondering what could have been done differently to prevent it; a way to help parents re-evaluate their childcare and hiring procedures. I have had a number of conversations with parents and non-parents alike, and while there is no sure-fire way to prevent sick, greedy and evil behaviour from people, there are definitely things we can learn from other’s experiences and about the specific city, state of country we live in.

As you know, this is not the first child(ren) kidnapping in Lagos or Nigeria and there are more kidnappers out there hatching future plans as we speak; some of them are currently working with you, making their plans and already counting the money they are sure you will pay. In the movies, the kids that get kidnapped for ransom tend to be children of rich parents because, let’s face it, their wealth is usually common knowledge, their home addresses are easy to find out and their routines can be discovered from their domestic staff (nannies, maids, drivers, etc). In Nigeria, it’s a bit different in that the middle class and even the lower-middle class have maids and nannies as a result of the low wage scale for domestic staff and overall poverty in Nigeria. Some poor parents practically give away their children to wealthier families with barely promises of schooling just to have one less mouth to feed, clothe and house. Kids are sent to live with relatives in the “big city” and even where such children send feedback of being abused and maltreated, their parents take no heed because they feel they can’t afford to do a thing about it.

Of the domestic candidates who are a bit mature, they are usually not interested in being domestic staff (let’s face it, how many of us love or even like our jobs?) but feel forced for want of alternatives, so are surly from the get go. Some plan to work for a while so they can continue their education or start a small business but others come with very specific agendas – stealing, snaring the man of the house, getting pregnant for him or the son of the house……and then there’s kidnapping. Be real, how many people in their right mind would want to do menial labour for an indefinite period of time without elevation in their status and not have a family of their own? The issue of course is how they go about doing so, but it’s no different from:

– politicians robbing our nation and killing to stay in power

– your colleague that is robbing your company blind in the Administrative, Purchasing, Finance or IT departments

– insisting on a bribe before you’ll do your job and even seizing hardworking people’s goods if they don’t “settle”

There are so many angles from which to view this whole gamut of problems that arise and why, but let me get back on topic. Today’s post is really about sharing some core ideas regarding the safety of children in the hopes that we can collectively review what we do, close any loopholes and hopefully prevent this sort of attack on yet another family’s home; this kidnapping case could have involved you or I:

1. GOD: Prayer and Being Spiritually Sensitive                                                       I’m so sorry, really I am, if you’re atheist or agnostic but I believe in God and I also believe that we need His help in anything that pertains to our lives. I believe in covering our children in prayer every day and allowing the Holy Spirit guide you when hiring staff or taking any decisions, especially decisions concerning your kids: where they should go to school, what activities they should do, who you should or shouldn’t leave them with even for a short while, etc. Some people might call this intuition, others a nudging or knowing. This works right alongside some basic common sense so I’m sure it goes without saying that you shouldn’t leave your children alone with your driver, your inconsistent nanny or a pedophile relative because it “just feels right”. No, I mean in instances where you would normally not have a problem with a certain arrangement but for some reason you’re getting an inner prompting to not do what you’d normally do and instead take another tack because that could just be where the kidnappers had planned to nap your kids but couldn’t, thank God, since you listened to that “nudge”. Place your children in God’s hands always for there’s only so much you can do to protect them no matter how much money you have or how locked up you keep them.

2. Avoid Having Your Children Be With Other People Without Your Watchful Gaze?                                                                                                       Practically speaking, I recommend keeping your kids in day care / after school care during the working week. Most are open till 7pm after which you should be back home. Of course you need to thoroughly vet any school or facility that your child is in to be sure they are not just in it for the money and actually care about the well being of children. You also want to be sure your child’s care is to the highest standard and they don’t have practices you disagree with. You might have to vet quite a few before deciding on one. At the weekend, take them to weddings and parties with you and on the occasion when you don’t or can’t like date night with your spouse or some gathering that’s inappropriate for kids, make arrangements for a baby sitter to mind the kids with your existing nanny for the hours you’ll be gone. This should be a lady who is over 18 at least, whose background you know a bit of and who can think on her feet in an emergency. Having 2 nannies in your employ works for checks and balances but only for a while; sooner or later they tend to form a bond and can collude to your disadvantage. You can also leave instructions with your security guard not to let the kids leave with your nanny or anyone else but they too have been known to collude with nannies or just decide to run personal errands in your absence.

3. Be Paranoid With No Apologies To Anyone                                                        They are your children so feel free to be as paranoid as you want without stunting their emotional, mental and spiritual growth. They need to gradually grow into making age-appropriate decisions for themselves but need the right guidance. Don’t feel like you have to apologize for how protective you are or how strictly you expect those responsible for their care to be. I once tested a school’s security protocol by sending my teenage cousin to pick up my daughter from Day Care. The school let her in without calling or asking for ID so I promptly removed her from their care for that laxity. Some things can’t be discussed for future correction as a school’s procedures often take a while to change; it’s more of an organizational culture issue.

Also, nothing is worse than having rules that your close friends or family don’t share your ideals. You are then caught in the awkward position of wanting to not flare up or not seem like you’re being anal and letting your kids spend time with them despite your reservations. In my opinion, there’s no better way to teach your kids how to say “No” than saying so yourself to anyone that doesn’t uphold your ideals. It could be your parents whom while you love them, you don’t approve of their parenting style or they’ve become more lax since they became grandparents because giving them a treat before dinner instead of after is one thing, allowing them to go out alone with the driver coz “you worry too much, they’ll be fine” is another. Everyone’s standards or parameters are not the same, even with people you’re close to. A friend used to share school runs with another parent in her kid’s school till she found out the parent often sent a driver or some other person to pick up the kids. People have been caught in the “crossfire” of other people’s drama like a parent that lost her children to gunfire because they took a ride with the children of a public figure-friend when an attempt was made on the public figure’s life. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries – time and locational – in the end, they are your kids, your responsibility and anything that happens to them because you didn’t put your foot down when you should have will rest squarely on you. Our children shouldn’t have to pay for our mistakes and where you’ve had a bad experience in one area before, you’re downright irresponsible for not bringing that knowledge to bear in future instances.

4. Be Careful When You Discuss Money Matters                                                      You want to be mindful of what you say around your staff, especially with respect to money. Domestic Staff in Nigeria are paid an average of N15,000 ($50) monthly with some paid no more than food and board and others paid way more so when you discuss going out and spending the equivalent of their quarterly or annual wage on a party, shoes, a meal, yet another gadget for your child, what do you think goes through their mind? It’s like working at a restaurant but not being allowed to eat the food you serve; sooner or later, even if you don’t really dig that cuisine, it’s all you can think about…..tasting the food that is beyond your reach and that all the beautiful people flock to eat. Have pity on them (and yourself) and don’t talk about money spent or earned around them, plus avoid sending them to get cash from the ATM or some money bag for you.

5. How Much Do You Trust People?                                                                     I have seen people place a shocking amount of trust on others and it makes me wonder if I live in a different world. Some people say you attract evil if you expect it….so naive. I assure you, millions of ignorant, innocent children are currently being abused in the world right now and the first they knew about evil in the world was when harm was done to them. Work from the premise that all people are generally negligent or evil until proven “innocent”. The thing is, harm can be done unintentionally but how does that make it a better experience for you? If some careless cousin left a lit candle in your curtained living room and went for a walk while your house burned down with your children inside, how does the knowledge that it wasn’t intentional help you bear the devastation? A few years ago, I heard a story of a man that got a call and went out of the house without sharing with his wife who called or why he was going out. A few minutes later, he was gunned down near his gate and his phone stolen so his wife lost her husband and never knew who was responsible for luring him to his death. You might feel you have valid reasons for not sharing everything with your spouse but that’s on you and your family could suffer for it. If your spouse is some sort of irresponsible, evil person, planning your demise, then you probably want to deal with that? As for other nefarious reasons for concealing your movements or conversations from your spouse, well, there are always consequences and most of them will not harm you alone. Try to think of someone other than yourself for once; put your family first.

6. Who Is Watching Or Following You?                                                                   We see it in the movies. The kidnappers case the house and take note of their proposed victim’s routine before striking; It happens in real life too. Be observant of your surroundings, note vehicles that seem to follow you and drive past your house if you so much as think you’re being followed then circle back when you’re sure it’s a false alarm. Note a person or persons that might be loitering by your gate before you have it opened and teach your kids to do the same.

7. What Do You Share On Social Media Or Elsewhere?                                 Does your profile on Facebook have your street address, places you frequent or names of people or locations near your house? Have you shared pictures or updates with the names and locations of your children’s schools? Do your maid, driver or guard know about your travel plans? Do you tend to always let them know where you’ll be or for how long? Do you share your children’s names with every acquaintance? How careful are you about the information you share with friends and colleagues? Do they know almost every purchase you make and for how much? Some of the people in your circle have loose lips; maybe you shouldn’t be sharing a wealth of information with them? What about testimonies or contributions in church? Are you always getting a promotion, changing your cars frequently or just “landing a major government contract”? There are some testimonies you want to only share with maybe your Pastor or Pastoral team and not the entire congregation. Share more testimonies about the souls you’ve won and the non-material love you’ve shared with others….there are more important things in life than how many more assets you’ve acquired. Yes, we need to share God’s goodness, but with wisdom please.

8. SACRIFICE: Are You Ready To Make Some Very Difficult Choices?                If you can’t seem to find good help, then you and your spouse need to sit down and re-evaluate your priorities, work schedules, career paths, etc. You could get a lower paying job and cut out lesson teachers (they learn better when their parents help out with homework and any trouble-areas) or summer trips abroad till the kids turn 12 or some more convenient age. I’m not naive to assume all families can afford to have a parent stay at home but there can usually be cuts and compromises that lead to a better home for your kids and your family. You could decide not to have more kids till you’re more financially stable and focus on the care of the ones you have, both parents might have to pitch in more towards sharing the daily, physical responsibility of caring for the children in place of a nanny, you could change jobs to lower pay and less frills in life but more time for your children, you could get a job in a school so your kids don’t pay fees yet you still have some income and get to go home with them, you could put a plan in place to get you to some critical place in a year or two that will let you cut back on work and ask your spouse to help out more or your mom or mom-in-law to come live with you till you meet your goal, etc. If you’re single or divorced, it can be very tough and I don’t have all the answers but with enough prayer, focus and determination, nothing is impossible. If you don’t yet have kids, now’s the time to have this conversation. Life rarely turns out exactly the way you plan but I do know that God will give you the [unselfish] desires of your heart and help you provide the best environment for your kids; question is whether you want to make that difficult, uncomfortable sacrifice.

9. Teach Your Kids To Be Security-Conscious                                                      I read a story of a mom that had a “safe” word for her daughter so no one could take her home without that safe word. You might have a driver or school bus but the idea I just shared is not without it’s merit. Overall, your kids stand a better chance of handling difficult situations if you prepare them for the possibility. What age is appropriate for what training is really relative to the child’s awareness; the important thing is to teach them some things:

– You can make a game of getting to look out for cars that are following them. What kid doesn’t like a good spy/super hero/thriller play role? Also teach them to keep all external doors locked at all times, day or night.

– For a kid in elementary or secondary (high) school, a phone shouldn’t be a statement piece to show off his/her parent’s wealth, it should be given to them for the real purpose: to reach you and be reached by you. Some schools may not allow phones in school, so your kids can be taught to leave it in their school bag and only use it for emergencies. GPS tracking is a useful outcome of this too.

– Listen to your kids if they complain about any staff; listen hard. Their ramblings may sound silly, but the more you show you consider what they say important, the more confidence you give them to point out any anomalies. They need to know and be comfortable challenging the authority of your staff. Safety before an over-focusing on respect for elders. I’d rather have rude, safe children than respectful, missing ones. I’m not saying raise tyrants…..I’m sure you know how to balance their behaviour. You want your kids to be able to say “mommy said I shouldn’t leave the house without her or daddy” or scream like banshees if they’re forced into an unfamiliar car till hopefully someone stops them and asks the kids questions.

10. Don’t Let Your Kids Get Too Comfortable With Staff                                      I had a neighbour some years ago whose driver and security guard were so familiar with the kids that they could often be seen playing with them on the street and the driver would plant kisses on the daughter’s lips or steal food from her mouth. Their parents usually weren’t around during these overt displays but the point is the staff were given access to the kids and the kids didn’t know that anything was wrong with this behaviour. I spoke to their grandmother whom they spent the most time with but she didn’t see a thing wrong with my noted concerns; their parents were hardly available so I couldn’t stick my nose any further into their business. Your children shouldn’t be rude but they need to be aloof and not too friendly with staff; the exception of course is their nanny, but even then once you see signs of a preference for spending time with your nanny, listening to instructions from your nanny very easily or sharing secrets with your nanny, you need to review your parenting – chances are you’ve seriously dropped the ball and you’re losing your kids. Should your kids and nanny be on good terms, yes, but not without some friction. Too much friction on the other hand means you probably need to change nannies as she might be abusive, but too much warmth is also very dangerous as your children will start keeping things from you….dangerous things even, so:

– Don’t let your nanny put your kids to bed or sleep in your kid’s room

– Don’t let them sleep in the house where they can access your kids while asleep

– Don’t let them have the key to open the kitchen in the morning. Yes it’s more convenient but it’s also very dangerous. They might mean you no harm but an external party could gain access to the compound and force them to open the door. You don’t want to be woken by some dudes looming over your bed.

– Don’t let your kids interact with your driver other than basic greetings and never let your driver or nanny pick up your kids without you or your spouse along for the ride

– Limit the contact between your kids and your security guard. Cordon off their play area so the guard can’t engage in friendly conversation with your kids. Don’t bother with leaving that instruction with your nanny……she’ll ignore it and probably tell the guard what you said and simply watch out for your return to give a semblance of your instructions being carried out

11. Vet All Candidates For Employment, Thoroughly.                                                You can’t eliminate the possibility of hiring a bad apple but you can greatly reduce the chances. Using an agent is not ideal but it’s better than advertising online and just gives you a link to the person. A nanny or maid that’s literate and savvy enough to answer an online ad in Nigeria, probably has other plans for her skills. There are obviously some better educated people that fell on hard times and so are forced to get jobs below their skill level but a nanny or driver role is not likely to be their real aim

– Get suitable Guarantors: people who are married with kids and who have fairly stable jobs in mid-size or large organizations. Some will not be able to provide Guarantors so it’s left to you to decide if you’ll proceed without any

– Ask for references from previous employers and get the names, locations and contact numbers for them. Call them up and ask about the candidate. If possible, randomly visit the address given to verify you’re talking to someone who really hired them or was in a capacity to do so and not some number from a random person. Again this doesn’t mean that while they didn’t rob a previous employer, yours won’t be the exceptional first, it just helps you with a person’s background

– DON’T LEAVE THEM ALONE WITH YOUR KIDS, especially not in the first year. Have a baby sitter over if you need to go out at night and there’s day care during the week. Of course you’re aware that some inside kidnapping jobs were carried out with the help of a long-standing member of staff, someone you have come to trust like family. If family can be envious and set you up for money or whatever, then why not someone who isn’t family?

– Don’t let existing staff recommend or bring new staff for you to hire.; doesn’t matter how much you like the existing staff. Be conscious of how some staff might be wily enough to make you fire another staff, to create a void to be filled. Also don’t use the same agent, source for all your hiring requirements. Chances of collusion are possible.

– CCTV helps, especially one with motion sensors for the main front and back doors that can alert you when they are opened. If the maid is running off with your kids, you may be able to get a neighbour to stop them or something. CCTV serves other purposes, such as letting you know if your staff let unauthorized people into the house. If they do, fire them immediately.

12. Avoid Rotating Staff Frequently                                                                  I’m not advocating that you keep staff that have proven incompetent, careless or unstable, rather that you don’t make your house a revolving door for strangers. If you’ve gone through more than 2 in one year, you need to rethink your childcare situation. Use more After School (please see my comments about vetting After School facilities, above) and maybe your parents. Also see point 8 above.

Be mindful that some of these tips are good ideas even to prevent the parents from being kidnapped because we all know that this trend is not exclusively reserved for the children. In all situations, one of the best outcomes is the kidnappers asking for ransom and hopefully keeping their end of the bargain by returning your loved one. What sometimes happens however is (a) you pay but you don’t get your kids, parent or spouse back, (b) They sell the children to people who paid to have children, sometimes in another country like Benin Republic or Togo (c) They sell your kids to sex slave traffickers (sick though that their biggest patrons are fathers themselves), (d) your family member is sold for ritual uses and butchered for body parts…..the list goes on. We can wince all we like but as much as I wish it wasn’t so, this is gruesome reality.

Please share some of your tips, not covered in my list above. Educate me and other people out there.