Sexual harassment allegation in Nigeria’s tech community draws line on loyalty
On a normal day, the Nigerian tech ecosystem is nearly a close unit where leaders almost intuitively defend one another. However, the recent allegation of sexual harassment on Kendall Ananyi, cofounder and until Monday, the CEO of Tizeti, has drawn a line on the limits of that loyalty.
And the reason is simple.
Although the tech community has made significant progress and even made a few global headlines like in 2019 when it attracted the most investment on the Africa continent and recorded the first unicorn in Interswitch, it is still a very immature market with loads of challenges.
A sexual harassment – or worse, rape – allegation by workers on one of its leaders is one more problem the community cannot afford to condone.
Also, failure to nip it in the bud now could mean the Nigerian tech space inherits a problem that has become endemic with tech communities around the world. For instance, as far as sexual harassment goes in the US, the technology and telecommunications industry comes in second only to the media in terms of number of incidents experienced by workers.
“We’re the custodians of this ecosystem. If we see unacceptable behaviour, we need to take a public stand so that more women can speak up. And hopefully, we can create a safer space for them to work in,” said Timi Ajiboye, CEO of BuyCoins Africa, a local cryptocurrency platform.
Kelechi Udoagwu, an Accra-based Nigerian entrepreneur, consultant and former communications director at MEST Africa had on Thursday, accused the Tizeti CEO of pulling out his manhood and dropping it into her hands while begging her to do anything to it.
Udoagwu who said she was shocked at his action, said she had no close relationship with Ananyi – who is also married – prior to the incident.
“I could barely assimilate and react that this was really happening because I had put the guy on a pedestal and knew about his wife,” she said.
Shortly after the allegations were made, many members of the tech community took to her timeline to commiserate with her on the incident.
Following the allegation, Kelechi’s former employer MEST Africa, which has also invested in Tizeti, was the first to denounce the behaviour, promising to stand behind her and escalating the matter if she so desires.
Four days afterward the embattled CEO Ananyi replied with a statement in which he claimed never to have had a one-on-one mentorship session with Udoagwu, despite meeting her in Accra. He also denied sexually harassing or raping her.
More allegations more condemnations
Odun Eweniyi, cofounder of Piggyvest posted a screenshot suggesting more women have previously been harassed by Ananyi but did not speak up.
“There have already been multiple accusations against @kananyi (Kendall Ananyi, Founder of Tizeti). I (always) believe the victims or survivors. With situations like this the burden of proof should be on the accused,” Ajiboye said.
Udoagwu on Monday corroborated the multiple victims’ allegations in a tweet where she expressed willingness to further expose Ananyi’s dealing with other girls who have had similar experiences and shared with her.
CEOs who said they had reached out to Ananyi with the goal of helping him set the record straight and do the right thing, said the statement issued by Ananyi had sent the wrong signal and was an indication he wasn’t willing to make amends.
“I thought we were making a headway when Tizeti announced yesterday that Kendall would be stepping down for an independent investigation. Sadly, though, the announcement was deleted and Kendall put up a message which neither addresses the issue nor suggests a path forward,” Kola Aina, founder of Ventures Platform tweeted on Monday.
Tizeti had released a statement on Sunday announcing that Ananyi would be stepping down to enable an independent investigation. The message was deleted and later reissued on Monday morning after Ananyi posted his statement.
Aina was not the only founder who was rubbed off the wrong way with Ananyi’s statement.
“This statement is empty and clearly did not address the issue. It places the burden on the accuser. Add that to the deleted press release from Tizeti and hiding of tweets, it shows there’s no progress in sight, 3 days later. When you are in a hole, stop digging,” tweeted Oluyomi Ojo, CEO of Printivo.
Fola Olatunji-David, former Head of Startup Success and Services, Google Launchpad Africa, also condemned the statement
“People reached out to you directly (private and public), and you should know it is wrong to attempt to explain it away when you clearly did this shit. We have created hurtful environments for women, and refusing to acknowledge your actions is a new low. Fix up,” he said.
Other CEOs and founder who had something to say about the incident include Ikpeme Neto, CEO of Startupper; Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, co-founder and General Partner, Future Africa; Victor Asemota, board member at PlaceFund; Tayo Oviosu, founder and CEO of Paga; and Opeyemi Awoyemi, cofounder of Jobberman.
The community is anticipating the outcome of the independent investigation ordered by the Tizeti board while hoping this would be the last time it is having to clean up the mess from its leaders.
Ananyi has since the incident locked his Twitter and as a result, lost hundreds of followers on Twitter. The company continues to maintain his title as “Chief Executive Officer” on their website despite appointing two interim CEOs to replace him for the period of the investigation.