In recent times, the Nigerian tech space has grown tremendously, contributing significantly to the country’s economic fortunes and raising more than $1.7 billion in funding, according to the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC)
The industry has been described as an enabler of decent work and economic growth, however, recent happenings have shown that beneath the glitz and glamour lies a toxic environment with unsavoury work conditions.
A recent article by Tech Cabal titled ‘Tyranny in the workplace: The chaotic culture of Bento Africa’ opened a can of worms as hundreds of employees started sharing experiences of high-handedness, tyranny as well as emotional, verbal and physical abuse by startup founders.
Tech giants including Kuda, GoKada, ULesson, Prospa, LifeBank, WalletAfrica, and Bento Africa, amongst others, were all fingered in the toxic workplace scandal which has collectively garnered up to 100 thousand tweets according to Trendinalia, a social media monitoring platform.
More than 20,000 people joined the Twitter Spaces ‘#HorribleBosses Exposing Toxic Bosses and Workplaces’, hosted by journalist Kiki Mordi, where victims shared experiences working with toxic Tech Startups who underpay employees and make them work under terrible conditions.
Workplace Toxicity and Bullying
The Tech Cabal article highlighted how Ebun Okubanjo, co-founder and CEO of Bento Africa, allegedly subjected his employees to inhumane conditions including emotional and verbal abuse.
Ex-employees also revealed gaps in Bento’s employment contract, specifically where leave days and time off were concerned. Okubanjo promised employees that they could take time off when they needed it but employees dispelled that promise as a myth.
Similarly, a Twitter user, simply identified as Deji, accused his former employer, Goodness Kayode, CEO of Sprinble, of making employees work overnight.
Responding, Kayode admitted that “working late and overnight is a possibility to get things done…,” he also admitted to shouting at employees for reasons he described as “pressure from clients”
Daniel Emeka, founding partner and creative director of Surkreo was also accused of maltreating employees and going as far as sacking someone for not singing him a birthday song.
More than 30 ex-employees accused Daniel of harassing them emotionally and physically while working with him at different times.
In his response, the Sukreo CEO said his methods were very different and his passion could really be misinterpreted.
He went ahead to describe himself as “a young experimental genius who makes mistakes”
John Oke, the CEO of Wallet Africa, an online payments coy, was said to have arrested his developers on New Year’s day because the platform’s Application Programming Interface (API) was hacked.
One of the arrested developers, who spoke anonymously on Twitter Spaces for fear of reprisal, said working at the company was characterized by a series of abuses and harassment.
For Abdulmateen Tairu, Prospa – a Fintech startup, made him resign at his previous job only to terminate his employment offer before he resumed.
“Prospa sent me an offer letter, made me drop a notice with my company because they had a “no two jobs” rule, requested for a proof of resignation, just to send me an email a week before resumption date saying they can’t move forward with the offer,” he said.
Oversight and People’s Management
Tech and startup expert, Benjamin Dada, who offered some insights on the topical issues told THE WHISTLER that there was need for tech founders to pay more attention to people management as they grow and expand.
Dada, who also publishes Benjamindada.com – a publication that reports events across the African tech space, highlighted the need for more active and influential boards that check the excesses of and hold the founders accountable.
“In many tech startups, the founder usually wears too many hats (for a long time), so what happens is that there is a lot of pent up frustration, pressure, and inadequacies that the founder is dealing with,” he said.
“The founder might have his own core functions—like business development or partnerships—so he is now probably managing a team of business development associates and maybe the business development targets are not being met, so he’s already frustrated. And this can be further exacerbated by the pressure from investors to show traction following a round. Now, where inadequacy comes in is that, he might not have even been trained as a people manager and was just an individual contributor in his previous employment and that is if he has even worked elsewhere before founding a startup. The average 20-something year old founder has never worked anywhere, and for founders who are older, they might have been used to toxic workplaces growing through their career. So, they don’t know what the expectations of a good manager are and might think certain elements of toxicity in the workplaces are normal, perhaps because of the results at the end of the day. But they need to ask themselves, results, at what cost?
“What I would advise is when you start hiring past maybe 10 employees, you should start critiquing your competence—find out what you are stronger at, and where you could use some help either by going for coaching or hiring a People Lead or both.
“That’s one getting more aware about people management. But the active and influential board comes in when they need to help founders point out areas of weakness, and suggest the training/coaching, discipline and hiring components that could save the future of the company.
On the impact of the incidents on the tech ecosystem in Nigeria, Dada said; “When a story like this is told about a business, it holds every other affiliated party accountable. So, now, people are looking to the customers of that business, co-founders or execs and investors to see what their stance would be”
“Now people are calling for customers to seek alternative business providers, because they believe that if such call-out doesn’t affect the business’ bottom line, it might not force action or redress. Investors will now be required to carry out further investigations to see if CEOs are mismanaging the companies and by extension their investments”.
Continuing, he said; “investors and even customers will, in the future, start looking at preventive measures to avoid being involved with companies that, tomorrow, could be involved in scandals or controversies. Already, there are KYCs and due diligence processes to know the character of a company and its founders, but now things like ‘what do the employees say’ will now begin to matter more, as it should.
“I think there’s a lot the tech ecosystem (including future employees) stands to gain, as I think it’s a lesson for everyone involved to assess themselves through the lens of the recent revelation,” he added.
The inefficiency of Labour Laws
The Nigerian Labour law (Labour Act, 2004) is largely silent on workplace harassment and weak on implementation, a phenomenon many attribute to the impunity of Nigerian employers including the government.
For instance, the federal government recently threatened to sanction the management of the National Assembly over the flagrant breach of the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Act signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari since 2019.
The threat notice was contained in a two-page circular with Reference No: SWC/S/65/III/696 dated 21st February 2022, titled: ‘Implementation of the National Minimum Wage of N30,000 per month – Reminder’, signed by the Chairman, National Salaries, Incomes and Wages Commission, Mr Ekpo Nta, and addressed to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Amos Ojo.
The International Labour Organization stipulates that governments must develop and maintain a system of international labour standards aimed at promoting opportunities to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity.