BOLA BADMUS, CHUKS OKPARAOCHA, AYOMIDE OWONIBI-ODEKANYIN, NAZA OKOLI and LANRE ADEWOLE examine the dwindling acceptability of the much-heralded paternity leave in Lagos and how the few who observed it made a huge adventure of it.
A little over two years ago, a former governor of Lagos State, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN), took a novel and somewhat amusing step of fraternity with the menfolk of the state public service. As a father himself, he wanted to help homes, especially new homes, bond stronger when there is arrival of a new baby. He threw paternity leave into the traditional age-long maternity leave for nursing mother. Obviously importing the idea from the Western culture where paternity leave runs smoothly with maternity leave, Fashola supported the idea and the push for its legislation with the argument that by granting paternity leave to “nursing” fathers, too, they would be handy at home to help their wives in all areas of “baby sitting” and provide emotional and psychological boost for the family.
Possibly factoring the restless nature of an average young agile man, the Lagos paternity law was pegged at just ten working days which, when added to the weekend, would make two full weeks away from the duty post, while the maternity leave for nursing mothers moved from the conventional three months to six months, for the purpose of the special deliveries.
However, in packaging the men’s “baby sitting” holiday, Fashola’s government took the chink out of it. No leave bonus was attached and all excitement that accompanied its introduction evaporated.
A former member of the state House of Assembly, while going down the memory lane with Saturday Tribune, recalled that the debates in the House which eventually led to the adjustment of the extant laws to create room for the new law that empowers government to grant such leave, were as hilarious and mischievous as they could get during plenaries.
With the Assembly overtly populated by men, such is understandable as the debaters could read themselves into the bright and dark sides to the compulsory holiday that many are shunning now. Even for the few that have explored it, findings showed that it has been mainly for “dark” adventures rather than for the intended home bonding.
How we fix it –Lawmaker
The former Assembly member, who participated actively in the debates, disclosed that issues that came up during the sessions kept drawing laughter among the lawmakers, because they could “see” and “read” into the unintended implications.
Preferring to be quoted anonymously, the ex-lawmaker said: “Oh yes, I remember the deliberations we had when the proposal came from the executive asking for an amendment of the existing relevant laws to create room for this novel idea. Even though many of us felt then that the amendment would eventually prove superfluous, we still felt the need to give Lagosians and the entire nation as a whole something new.
“This is because, we all knew then that hardly would male workers opt for the 10-day leave, especially when no special allowance or bonus will be paid. We also knew that the few who would opt for the option of the leave would rather prefer to use it on other things totally different from the real reasons they were given. I personally knew then that quite a number of those granted the leave would rather spend it sleeping at home doing nothing, while others would spend it in pubs and joints with friends instead of spending it with their wives and kids. But we knew it was only right for us to carry out the necessary amendments in the existing laws, as anything that would bring smiles to the faces of Lagosians was, and would always remain, a top priority to all major stakeholders in the Lagos State government, including us, lawmakers,” he stated.
The lawmaker could be said to have seen “tomorrow” because Saturday Tribune’s digging proved all the lawmakers’ suspicion and more. Beyond going to drinking bar in the morning, travelling out of town, hanging out with friends and hardly staying home with wives and new babies, out of a few that had gone on the paternity, were also philanderers who spent the leave period attending on a daily basis to their concubines and girlfriends.
The lawmakers saw it coming. The administration of Fashola also perhaps saw this “conversion” coming. Saturday Tribune gathered that the decision to make the holiday period a no-bonus one was to further discourage men observing it to stay more at home.
The discouraging administrative move didn’t appear to discourage new fathers from feathering their nest elsewhere outside of their homes and playing ‘away games’, as cheating on one’s spouse, is popularly referred to in street lingo in Lagos.
When Saturday Tribune set out to check the effectiveness of the law after 27 months of its introduction, the touchy reactions from civil servants and their neighbours showed that the use to which one puts such controversial leave period outside of the home will always be a hush-hush affair.
“You know it is a matter that can scatter (break) homes. We know that it is the truth but who will go to the pages of newspapers to identify his neighbour as a civil servant who went on booze and carrying women (philandering) when he should be caring for his wife and new baby at home. When the couple fight over such matter in their home and you hear about it, you pretend as if you heard nothing. It is their life” Saturday Tribune was told by a neighbour.
At the government house in Alausa, civil servants were either not keen to speak about the controversial leave or were afraid of some unstated consequences of being identified. Those who volunteered to answer Saturday Tribune’s inquiry treated the matter almost like a non-issue. None of them had also activated it, though it should be to their advantage.
Though the actual number of those who had gone on the said leave could not be ascertained since it is also applicable to employees in all the 57 local government and local council development areas, findings revealed that a negligible percentage of the beneficiaries had activated the law.
One of the very few is a staff of a local government (identity hidden). But the wife, who is also a staff of the local government, doesn’t have a good memory of those two weeks. The couple who live at College Road, Ogba (house address withheld) got a new baby recently, with both father and mother embarking on leave. While the nursing mother is still observing her six-month leave, the father of the house has concluded his but the tale of the paternity leave is still being told by the wife.
When Saturday Tribune approached her on her experience having her man at home all to herself, she replied sarcastically, “e ti si address mu” (you are seeking angels in hell). She now recounted how her husband spent the 10 working days doing the usual routine of going out early in the morning and returning late in the evening as if on normal working days.
“ (he was only around at the weekends to lend a hand). The suggestive accompanying laughter and innuendos pointed at a known secret, better kept secret. Without doubt, she knew where her husband was reporting to every morning but she would rather let go. Her husband’s leave activities fit into the imagery in the head of the former lawmaker.
Findings also showed that the operation of the paternity leave at the local government level could be of controversial legality because the proper channel of communication between the state government and leadership at the 57 council areas hasn’t taken place.
According to a senior council source, “though we are covered by it (law establishing paternity leave) being public servants in the state, up till now the Source Document that is the normal administrative procedure of communicating such development to us, has not been issued. Fashola signed paternity leave into law but didn’t issue it and the current administration hasn’t so done. We read it on the pages of newspapers like others but we have not been officially communicated to commence it.”
When asked who should issue the Source Document, the council source replied “the Secretary to the State Government (SSG).
Saturday Tribune discovered that the enthusiasm that heralded the coming of the policy has nearly completely evaporated.
The proviso on eligibility is likely responsible for the diminishing interest, according to Olu, a staff of a government agency at Alausa.
The policy has a clause that it can only be enjoyed by anyone for the first two children only, as subsequent deliveries by any employee would attract only 12 weeks maternity leave for the female officer, while the male officer would not be entitled to the 10-day leave.
“I stand no opportunity of benefitting from it as I now have more than two children and have even stopped procreating,” Ola said without any element of regret.
Another respondent who did not want his name in print said he knew some beneficiaries of the largesse, even though he could not benefit from such as he, too, had stopped procreating.
Without doubt, awareness about it is sufficient but a lot factors make it unattractive to many civil servants interviewed by Saturday Tribune. The lack of popularity of the perceived holiday opportunity is so huge that it was tough getting someone to point out colleagues who have “enjoyed” it, despite the state government making it mandatory for men in the service, irrespective of their level in the offices where they work.
According to one Kike, a staff of one of government corporations in the state, she knew the paternity leave as granted to men working in the service by the last administration existed, but quickly said that she was not aware if anybody had taken advantage of it so far.
Kike said the reason could be because there were some clauses attached to it such that one could only enjoy the opportunity when having first and second issues, and not beyond that.
She said the other problem is that the opportunity does not offer any monetary reward to the beneficiaries like payment of an allowance for the 10 working days that such beneficiaries would be off duty, wondering why one who finds himself in such a situation should be excited to want to go on leave.
“There are clauses like it is 10 working days that beneficiaries are allowed to go on paternity leave and it doesn’t attract any monetary reward like payment of leave bonus, so why should anybody be excited about it?” Kike said.
But for Kehinde, another Alausa staffer who spoke with Saturday Tribune, money issue was the put-off. “I had wanted to apply for it last time when my wife put to bed, but somehow I forgot the idea because I saw that there was no monetary attachment to it.
“How will I be sitting down at home doing nothing, what will be my gain? he queried, adding, that “there is no monetary reward attached and you will find out too that it is that period that too many pressure will be on you to spend more, so I forgot the idea of applying for such leave,” he said.
For men who use the period for away-game, divergent opinions have been advanced as responsible for such act. One of them is said to be lack of control for sex “and with the woman still “wet” (not too sex-compliant physiologically), a man with high libido can look out, since he has time to waste. But I still see it as an irresponsible act. They should stay at home and bond with the family even if they are not helping in house chores” Layi, a contributor said.
He added that such men must have been engaging in the illicit act before their wives are delivered of babies, “because you don’t go out in just two weeks to have girlfriends if you are not into it before, because you have a new baby.”
Mr Jimoh Bashir, a young father of three who owns a cybercafé near the University of Lagos, has a different opinion, saying it is not a man’s responsibility to look after little children.
“To me, it is odd,” he said. “Usually, when a new baby is born, the mother needs to take some time off work to look after the baby. Most times, the woman’s mother or the man’s mother comes to help. The man doesn’t have to be there. He needs to go out and look for money. So, you see, that is even the time he needs to work more, because he now has more responsibilities. That is why I don’t like government work. They don’t do any work there. If they really have things that they do at the office, they would not be going for paternity leave.”
But it is known that given the peculiar condition of living and working in Lagos, it is decidedly difficult for parents (especially fathers) to spend adequate time with their families. Considered in this manner, isn’t paternal leave, after all, a welcome development? Matthew Ighalo, a marriage counsellor, disagrees:
“What every family needs is continuous bonding, not occasional bonding,” he said. “If the reason is for family bonding, then it should be more regular. To have to wait until a child is born before a father can spend quality time with his family isn’t very encouraging. I have talked about off-days. Give parents a day off each week. If he is a father, he can use the day to take his children to school, bring them back, or even visit them during break. Let it continue regularly throughout the man’s career.”
Perhaps if there is a place in Lagos where paternal leave has not proved to be popular, it is the Lagos State University (LASU) – particularly among members of the academic staff. Speaking via telephone, Thursday morning, a lecturer in the Faculty of Arts, who did not wish to be named said it was “almost insulting” to ask academics to go home and look after their babies.
“To begin with, it is foreign to our culture,” he said. “Traditionally, it is not the responsibility of a man to wash the baby’s nappies. That is not to fail to be appreciative of the government’s gesture. But it shouldn’t come to anyone as a surprise that many lecturers would prefer to sit in their offices or stand before their students, doing the serious business of scholarship, even while on the so-called leave. Academics don’t take a break. That’s why you hear us talk about study leaves and sabbatical; because whenever we need to leave our stations, it is to advance our skills, to broaden our scope, to add to scholarship.”
It is perhaps in response to this attitude that the management of LASU, in a September 2015 bulletin, decided to “remind” male members of the university staff of the “existing” law.
Parts of the bulletin read: “The university authority hereby reminds members of staff (male) of the existing Lagos State Maternity and Paternity Leave approved for employees in the state’s civil service.
“It would be recalled that the university authority at its meeting on September 8, 2014, considered and approved the implementation of the new Lagos State maternity and paternity leave for officials in the state’s public service.
“In addition, for deliveries that fall on weekends, the application should be forwarded to the establishment on the first day of work. Please note that paternity leave is for the first 10 days in relation to and at the time of the first two deliveries of a male staff’s spouse.”
A number of others who spoke with Saturday Tribune during the week described the whole idea as mischievous, at best, alleging it was created to cause confusion at home.
“A man told me that when his friend got the leave earlier this year, his wife practically converted him to a houseboy,” Mr Tunde Balogun who works at bank told Saturday Tribune on Thursday. “Every time he didn’t help to wash the baby or wash the clothes, the woman would keep shouting at him and reminding him that the leave was for the baby and nothing else. The man has sworn he would not take the leave a second time.”
According to human rights activist and President, Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, the Federal Government and states of the federation need to emulate Lagos State by giving paternity leave so that fathers could provide adequate family bonding and involvement in child care activities.
“The father also needs the leave to stay with his family and give them the necessary attention,” she said.
Speaking with Saturday Tribune, a staff member of the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Akin (surname withheld), pointed out that the paternity leave, though a welcome development, is just an avenue for men to rest.
“I seriously would not apply for paternity leave when my wife gives birth. The truth is that the man is the breadwinner of the family. It looks somehow when the husband and wife stay at home all in the name of paternity and maternity leave. Someone has to be out there to ensure that there is money in the house.
“Even if I am forced to apply for paternity leave I use the period to get much needed rest. I would help my wife around the house and also use the avenue to importantly rest,” he said.
Also speaking on the issue, a housewife, Mrs Ijewere Agnes, said that her husband took a few days after the birth of their second child.
“He was quite helpful around the house. About drinking and womanizing I believe it is only an irresponsible man that would do that. My husband got seven days paid leave and he works with a private firm. I was touched because he really helped me in doing so many that needed to be done around the house.”
As if to further compound the matter, the paternity leave appears to have brought to the fore yet another fundamental issue – that of the true ownership of the child. Does a child belong to the mother or to the father or to both? If a mother gets six months to look after her baby, and a father gets only two weeks, does it make one parent more responsible for the baby than the other?
A Twitter user, Demola Balogun (@CallMeBenfigo) captures the confusion of paternity leave beautifully in a tweet posted on the 2nd of August, 2016.
“In Lagos, maternity leave is 6 months; paternity leave is 2 weeks. Say no to gender inequality.”
Paternity leave may lead to another pregnancy –CMD
The Chief Medical Director of the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital, Dr Richard Adebayo, in reacting to the psychological desirability of paternity leave acknowledged the importance of father/child bonding during early childbirth and nursing.
He said, however, that bonding can be achieved without paternity leave.
According to him, paternity leave might add extra responsibility on the mother as well as lead to unplanned and early pregnancy.
He said: “Bonding between father and child and husband and wife is significant. Fathers can achieve bonding through spending quality time with their children.
“I don’t believe, however, that bonding can only be achieved with paternity leave, pinning a man in the house for months is not to not the way to go about it. Otherwise we have to look at the possible effects of this:
“It is possible that before the leave is over that the woman will be pregnant again.
“While the mother needs to be with the child constantly, the father does not have such necessity.
“The call for the increase of maternity leave to six months is because of exclusive breastfeeding, but if the same opportunity is afforded fathers it might lead to accidental discharge; it will also create additional responsibility for the mother as she will not only be taking care of the child, but also the man,” Dr Adebayo said.