Can we solve workplace improprieties in the Nigerian tech industry?

Avatar
*Clara’s grievance is that she had to fight legally for what was hers contractually; her exit salary | *Clara says that the CEO of Flutterwave, Olugbenga Agboola, tried to sabotage her
What will it take to salvage the tech industry from improprieties?
Image source: StutterStock

In the wake of Clara Wanjiku Odero’s Medium post, a series of tweets about her experience since exiting Flutterwave, and highlights of abuse from a recently published piece on the company, conversations about workplace improprieties have reached a fever pitch.

Clara’s grievance is that she had to fight legally for what was hers contractually; her exit salary.

In a follow-up to her Medium post, she added during a Twitter Spaces session that the CEO of the company, Olugbenga Agboola, had tried to sabotage her, including during her recent investor round.

Odero started the company Credrails. Read our interview with her here.

In response, Flutterwave said in a statement to TechCrunch that:

There is no place for bullying or harassment of any kind in our workplace. We have a zero-tolerance stance on bullying and a robust independent disciplinary committee and processes in place to stamp out abuse of any kind.

The company spokesperson also told TechCrunch that “all monies due to our former employee at the time were promptly disbursed and we have records to confirm this.”

After Odero’s thread, Twitter users were quick to question the credibility of her claims, even though she mentioned she had to sue the company, and a court ordered Flutterwave to pay her $2,500. The court case alone arguably underscored impropriety in Flutterwave’s exit policies.

In David Hundeyin’s article about Flutterwave, an ex-employee of the company, “felt strongly enough about the injustice done to her that after leaving Flutterwave in 2021 without any resolution, she decided to go to court. She retained the high-flying law firm Banwo & Ighodalo to work on her case. Payment was made and things seemed to be moving well.

Suddenly and without notice, shortly after presenting a professional opinion stating that Flutterwave was in the wrong and had a case to answer, B&I quietly informed Jennifer that they had been retained by Flutterwave and they would have to drop her case.”

Apparently, Odero’s story is only one of many stories of impropriety by tech founders in Nigeria that have operated seemingly unchecked, bubbling to the top of the news.

Case studies

Kendall Ananyi, the CEO of Tizeti was accused in 2020 of sexual harassment. Tizeti said that it launched an investigation into the accusation and has since reinstated Ananyi back on its board. Ananyi is still the CEO of the company.

Ebun Okubanjo was last month accused of creating a toxic workplace for his employees at Bento Africa. Okubanjo said that he was going to step away from “people decisions,” but still remained at the company.

It is a clear pattern, typical of the Nigerian system, and only a few companies are put in the spotlight.

The famous line from Hulu’s show, WeCrashed about the rise and fall of the American co-working space WeWork from Jared Leto’s Adam Neuman “I am my board,” seems to be more than just fictitious in the Nigerian tech space.

What will it take to salvage the tech industry from improprieties?
Image Source: ShutterStock

Over the years, as the profiles of tech founders have risen, they have gradually begun to inhabit a new kind of Twitter rockstar status, dishing out entrepreneurial advice, quips on gender discourse, and strange hiring and firing processes, sometimes lasting for months.

With the industry being oligopolistic, how then can the powers these tech founders wield, be checked?

Fixing the problems

“Tech founders need to employ experienced organisational behaviourists while adopting an effective and efficient business ethics and corporate governance within the organisation,” Idris Adesina, a researcher on Organisational Behaviour at the University of Lagos, who consults for tech companies said. But even then, the ball is still in the courts of tech founders to do the right thing and create seamless operations in their companies.

The Startup Bill, which has been lauded by tech industry insiders as the path forward includes incentives for tech founders in the country but says next to nothing about the staff of these tech companies, or what happens to founders who break existing labour laws, which even hardly highlights consequences for employers who treat employees without regard.

The focus in Labour Laws is provisions for daily breaks, annual leave, leaving women out of night work, sick leave, etc. You will not find anything that protects the employee from abuse or post-exit periods.

Regardless of all these high profile accusations, the culture in the Nigerian tech space is still rife with rampant improprieties. “Culture is a significant factor,” Adesina added, speaking about what can remedy the situation. He said that to “mitigate the situation” it must start from the top.

Culture sets the standards and behaviours in a workplace. Everyone in the workplace contributes to workplace culture, however, management has a greater influence and responsibility for establishing a positive culture in their workplace. Setting values and standards will help mitigate the situation.

Idris Adesina

But without at least “a code of conduct for employers in the space,” Adaobi Oni-Egboma of Kenner Partners, who represents some tech companies, said that it will be almost impossible to regulate the system. “There is a Labour Act in Nigeria…that primarily just regulates contracts of employment…It doesn’t talk about how you should treat employees in the workplace,” she said.

Olabinjo Adeniran, the co-founder of the Nigerian Venture Capital firm Future Africa, said that the high-level unemployment rate in the country is very must responsible for the situation of the industry. “What we’re seeing in our growing industry is an aftereffect of a poor justice system and high unemployment rate,” he said. He is also worried about the implications of “these behaviours” on the good image that the Nigerian tech industry is steadily picking up internationally.

We’re just beginning to see the fruits of the Nigerian tech ecosystem having a good image internationally. These behaviours should not be encouraged at all.

Olabinjo Adeniran

Unionisation?

It then rests on the shoulders of tech employees to protect themselves from this behaviour. The oldest trick in the book is unionisation.

A union of the Employees of Nigerian Tech Startups in Nigeria seems to be one of the few meaningful ways people that work for these founders can protect themselves from their bosses – just like the one for e-hailing apps drivers.

With little in the NSB to protect them, they will need to take the bull by the horn, put themselves first and do what’s right for them. They could take a cue from the staff of Amazon who, after many years, did what was right for them and unionised.


If you’d like to get featured on our Entrepreneur Spotlight, click here to share your startup story with us.


Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!


Related Posts

Technext Newsletter

Get the best of Africa’s daily tech to your inbox – first thing every morning.
Join the community now!