Nigeria has missed an opportunity to make its #MeToo moment stick

Image: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
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Nigeria has a long history of not treating allegations of sexual and gender-based violence with the gravitas they merit. Survivors are often shamed, dismissed or cowed into silence by the police, family members, aggressor or all three.

Last week, a court dismissed the assault case against senator Elisha Abbo who was caught on camera physically attacking a woman in an adult toy shop in Abuja. It suggested the widely-shared video did not prove assault beyond a reasonable doubt.

The news came on the heels of local police’s controversial handling of a rape allegation against Afrobeats musician Dbanj, whose real name is Oladapo Oyebanjo. In a statement published July 24 on Twitter, his accuser, Seyitan Babatayo, wrote both parties had reached a non-financial settlement, and citing lack of evidence, the police ended their probe into the matter weeks after Babatayo claimed they had arrested and intimidated her for posting the rape allegations on social media.

Last month, another high profile case involving a tech executive accused of sexual harassment came to a similar anticlimactic end on the grounds of non-existent evidence.

After weeks of an investigation led by law firm Olumide Sofowora Chambers, internet service provider Tizeti announced in a perfunctory statement on its website it had reinstated Kendall Ananyi as chief executive. The move was quickly criticized by those questioning Tizeti’s decision to provide an update rather than a detailed report of its findings. It was also unclear who had composed the Independent Special Investigation Committee that hired the law firm to conduct the investigation and whether Ananyi, as one-half of Tizeti’s two-man board, handpicked the committee members.

According to the roughly 300-word post titled “Independent Special Investigation Committee Conclusions and Recommendations,” Tizeti stated the independent investigator interviewed Ananyi and his accuser, Kelechi Udoagwu, and found no evidence of sexual harassment before concluding it would institute training programs and update its code of conduct policy to check sexual harassment.

Following the statement, Udoagwu published an account of the investigative procedure she underwent. In her Medium post, the communications consultant asserted the law firm hired by Tizeti pressured her to operate on their own schedule in order to meet a deadline that had been predetermined by Tizeti, which she said gave her little time to secure legal representation. She also complained about the lack of transparency as her lawyer didn’t receive Ananyi’s transcripts prior, arguing there was no way of ascertaining they had interviewed him as claimed.

“What pains me is I’m answering all these questions and Kendall [Ananyi] hasn’t denied anything,” says Udoagwu about the muted response from Tizeti’s CEO. “I’ve provided 300 percent transparency compared to him. What I wish for is an apology or an acknowledgment [of his deed].”

Neither Ananyi nor Tizeti responded to email requests for comment.

Privately, investors in Tizeti have been very concerned with the lack of transparency, says one investor source who spoke with Quartz Africa on condition of anonymity. “The optics are so bad, if the guy had simply followed due process it would have been much better. At the very least it shows a lack of awareness and horrendous judgement and it’s destroying brand equity.” According to this source details of the report were not shared with investors.

One reason for investor frustration is that there’s little they can do. Though Tizeti has raised up to $5.1 million from 14 investors since 2017, according to Crunchbase data, Ananyi, who founded the company in 2010, controls the board with his chief operating officer Ifeanyi Okonkwo. A previous third board member, representing investor firm 4DX Ventures resigned early on in protest at what they saw as a sham process.

Bad faith

Odunayo Eweniyi, cofounder and chief operating officer of the Nigerian fintech company Piggyvest, isn’t convinced the probe into Ananyi’s alleged sexual misconduct was conducted in good faith. “The investigation left a lot to be desired,” she says, citing missing information in Tizeti’s press release. “Tizeti put out a statement, not an investigative report.”

Another factor that dented the credibility of the investigation is the fact Ananyi comprises half of the company’s board, which gives the impression he influenced the tenor of the board’s statement despite having relinquished his role as CEO during the inquest.

Investigative panels ought to consist of several sources that include legal investigators, security representatives and HR personnel, which should be external “in cases where it’s the founder or high-ranking employees [being investigated],” says Toun Tunde-Anjous, founder of the human resources solutions company The People Practice.

Lagos-based public relations consultant, Tolulope Olorundero, agrees. “It doesn’t make any sense for the person being accused to sit at top of the investigation,” she says, adding Tizeti blundered when it failed to distinguish Ananyi from the board.

There is also something to be said about the absence of a female leadership on the board. To be sure, sexual harassment prevails in male-dominated industries, and more often than not women in those fields suffer various indignities in silence in a bid to protect their careers. That is why for female entrepreneurs like Eweniyi, sexual harassment policies are important as they protect the company and can help prevent such incidents.

“I have my fair share of experiences and don’t think every woman in tech should go through those things to cut their teeth in the ecosystem,” she says support of implementing sexual harassment policies in Nigeria’s tech industry, adding her company, Piggyvest, instituted theirs last year. “I believe once I have the power to make things easier for people, I should.”

While high-profile cases expose an organization’s flaws to the public, they are opportunities for companies to look inwards and implement contingency plans. However, in Tizeti’s case, Olorundero is skeptical the firm learned its lesson.

“A crisis is not the time to say we are right because such a stance denies that organization the opportunity to refine their processes and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she says. “There’s no indication they would be able to handle similar crises in the future.”

For many women, such indifferent attitudes towards sexual harassment belittle the dilemma they face every day at work, one that leaves them vacillating between quitting and speaking up at the risk of reputational damage, emotional distress or career setbacks.

“I get people don’t say anything because they still need to care for their family,” says Udoagwu on the culture of silence surrounding sexual violence, stressing the need to bequeath a better world to future generations. “If you don’t do something, your princess is going to be messed up, too. She’ll be assaulted as well,” she adds.

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