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Culture and Arts

At the Mercy of Handy Men!


Hunting for a competent and honest handyman in Nigeria is like searching for a needle in the proverbial haystack. Stories abound of handymen from hell, who do shoddy work, abscond with advance payments leaving uncompleted work, wage disputes and messy workers. Almost every adult who has ever had a need to engage a handyman from carpenters, plumbers, masons, tillers, electricians, builders, painters etc. have experienced untold hardship at the hands of these tradesmen.

There are few options available to seek redress from these tradesmen, Option A, is cut your losses and start over again with another tradesman whose work might make the first one look like a saint. Option B is less palatable, report the handy man to the police, this process will expose you to additional financial expense, paperwork, time wasted and no guarantees of justice at the end of the day.

The Nigerian judicial system is not structured to deliver justice in a fair and timely manner. There are no small claims court, set up to adjudicate disputes between a customer and the service provider.

With the demise of technical schools, few handymen are formally trained, most of them start off as apprentices who learn their trade from their bosses or some are simply self-taught. The dearth of skilled artisans in the country is taking its toll on all aspects of our lives. Government has set up agencies whose roles are to train and certify artisans; a lot of these agencies are simply put in a comatose state.

A lot of handymen are imported from neighboring West African countries like Togo, Benin Republic etc. to carry out a number of artisanal trades in the building industry. To redress this lopsidedness it is important for State governments to strengthen existing technical schools or where absent set up modern state of the art technical schools to absorb the teeming unemployed youths, as well as unemployed graduates who might need to acquire additional skills to set up small scale businesses.

States also need to set up Licensing Tradesmen Board to certify handymen who want to work in their domain. The State Houses of Assembly need to promulgate laws that would require handy men to register with the State licensing board, be certified and have these licenses renewed annually.  These laws should also require for the handy men to be insured against workplace injuries. As well as stipulate that building and construction companies take out the requisite insurance policies for these handymen.

The state licensing board will make it an offence for any handy man who is not licensed and registered to do any job where he gets paid,  and be appropriately sanctioned. The state can also be able to keep a register of the trades men that operate within its jurisdiction to prevent criminals from engaging in misconduct, because some criminally minded people posing as handymen get into  homes, scope it and there after carry out their nefarious activities

Handymen need to be exposed to modern cutting edge skills and equipment in use in developed countries. To build a modern society as we aspire to, the relevance of skilled workers cannot be overemphasized.

My experience of undertaking the renovation of my home in a new city was a harrowing one, when you  are new and don’t have people to call on for references, you get taken advantage of by all sorts of dubious handymen, and sometimes those that are recommended, use the opportunity to rip you off, seeing as you are in unfamiliar territory.

Here are some tips for how to embark on finding reliable handy men.

  • Ask family, friends , co-workers  or neighbors for referrals, word of the mouth referrals are one of the best ways to locate good handymen. As they have probably established a relationship with these handymen and can vouch for their competence. You can ask them to provide you with a minimum of three good references.
  • Ask  Architects , Civil Engineers, or Building Contractors to recommend competent handymen for the job, because they work with these people often, they will be able to recommend qualified people for you.
  • Ask building materials retailers to recommend qualified handymen, I advise you do this only after you have established a good relationship with the retailer, and you trust their judgment. You can also ask them to give you a price list of the materials you might need for your project, to cross check prices.
  • A reliable handyman may also recommend a good one in another field, who works with him on other projects.

When you have gotten the handyman, the next steps to embark on before you commence the project is to:-

  • Define the Project; describe in detail what you expect done, make a list of all the tasks you want him to do.
  • Invite quotations from a few handymen, so you can compare prices of materials and labour costs, and determine the most competitive.
  • Request a cost estimate for all the materials needed for the project and agree on a final labour price before any work commences. If midway through the project you make additional requests, be fair enough to pay extra labour costs.
  • Confirm who is going to procure the materials, most handymen prefer to procure the materials as they will tell you they are the ones who guarantee the quality of the materials, alternatively if you have a trusted building material retailer, you can ask them to pick the materials they need from the retailer.

Most handymen prefer to do the procurement themselves as they are able to inflate the prices thereby make some extra money.

If you insist on buying the materials, you need to ensure you give them a fair price for their labour or you might end up with shoddy work as revenge.

  • Inform your handyman ahead of time, if he is making the purchases, that you expect him to turn in receipts for all purchases.
  • Establish a time schedule for the start and completion of the project, regardless of this; you should also be reasonable in your expectations leaving room for some “unforeseen circumstances”.
  • Be wary if they ask for advance payment upfront, you can agree to make payments on completion of milestones.
  • Extract a promise that they will stay on the job until it is completed. As some handymen will start the job for the first few days and disappear, leaving the job for their apprentices to do unsupervised.
  • Test the handyman with a small task, before engaging them in major tasks.
  • Insist they clean up after themselves, outline your expectations before they commence on the job.
  • As you are admitting a total stranger into your home, ensure you feel comfortable with them before engaging them.
  • Get a guarantee of workmanship: all good handymen will be ready to give you a “warranty” of sorts depending on the type of job that is done. Have an agreement in writing if possible, that they will correct any defects in the job of it fails within a given time frame.
  • Insist on inspecting the completed work and ensuring it meets your expectations before any final payments.
  • Communication and mutual respect is key and vital in managing the relationship, you should feel free to ask any questions, and to voice your opinions on aspects of the job you are dissatisfied with and ask him to make amends.
  • Try to keep your emotions in check and not treat the handyman in a disrespectful manner.


Finally put into consideration that you will more often than not get what you pay for, if you settle for a ridiculously low price. This may result in poor quality work. If you pay a fair price, you could most probably get a handyman who would do a good job in a timely and professional manner.


If the handyman proves to be competent and trust worthy pass on the favor and recommend him to others.

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