Kelechi Udoagwu on the Independent Investigation by Tizeti’s Special Committee
“Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.” — Henry Ward Beecher
Ten days ago, Tizeti published this blog post announcing the conclusions and recommendations (?) of an “independent special investigation committee” which doesn’t exist and never existed. My lawyers and I were not informed of the independent special investigation committee throughout the proceedings of this fiasco.
There was no process, transparency, clarity, structure, or independence in the activities that were jumbled into what is now being called an “investigation by an independent special investigation committee” by Tizeti.
We (my lawyers and I) liaised solely with Olumide Sofowora of Sofowora’s Chambers via email and a junior lawyer (Associate Counsel) in his firm via Twitter DM. I participated in a Zoom call with Olumide Sofowora in my lawyers’ office in Accra, Ghana on 30 June.
Filling in the gaps: Timeline
- A convenient start point. The beginning.
- I was contacted via email by Olumide Sofowora on 16 June, three days after I shared that I had not been contacted in the independent investigation Tizeti had allegedly begun into my case. This was eight days after Kendall had allegedly stepped aside.
- Sofowora stated that his law firm had been appointed by Tizeti to conduct an independent investigation into “my allegation of sexual harassment against Mr Kendall Ananyi.” He asked that I let him know when it would be convenient for me to answer questions which would assist the investigation. He also indicated that I could choose the communication medium I prefer though he’d prefer video — Zoom or Whatsapp.
- The next day, 17 June, I began my search for lawyers. On 18 June, I received another email from Olumide Sofowora. It was a reminder with its subject written in capital letters. He stated that if he did not get a response from me (via email or Twitter DM) within 24 hours, he would “take it to mean that I do not intend to have the matter investigated.” I responded and said he would hear from my legal team within three days.
- Some questions I already had raised at this point were: Is another law firm conducting the “independent investigation” the best way to go?
- What gives their lawyers power over mine?
- What was the scope of this investigation?
- Who would they report to?
- How will a decision be reached?
- Also, the fact that I was now receiving legal emails almost daily was a huge stress point. Sofowora was already giving me ultimatums in a case where I was the complainant, and he was supposed to be an independent party.
- The wording of his email had stated they were conducting an “investigation into my sexual harassment allegation” instead of “independently investigating Kendall based on my sexual harassment allegations against him.” — My “communicator neurons” already felt on the outs with Sofowora but I still held out hope for an investigative process that made sense.
- On 23 June, my lawyers responded to Olumide Sofowora. They stated that I was willing to cooperate with the investigation process and asked to receive the questions in writing to maintain a clear trail of transparency on both sides. I asked them to add that he includes a letter of his appointment by the Board of Directors of Tizeti. I wanted to be assured that there were indeed other independent individuals or parties involved, and not Kendall Ananyi, at the Tizeti end. See below.
- The next day 24 June, Olumide Sofowora replied with this. See below.
- To which, we responded with this on 25 June. See below.
- To which, they replied on 25 June. See below.
- A huge mistake made by my lawyers here is that they did not insist on receiving Kendall’s interview transcript (video or written) in exchange for mine. I haven’t been in a legal scenario like this before, so I listened more than I spoke, but my spidey senses were up, and I wish I spoke up more regardless of the environment. My lawyers seemed to defer to this other law firm. I raised concerns about some of my questions above, but they didn’t share my misgivings.
- On 26 July, Sofowora Chambers followed up with this.
- At this point, I’d begun to feel uneasy, like a fugitive running from the web, social media, and emails. I reminded myself that the truth does not need to be rehearsed and accepted Sofowora’s new deadline.
- On Monday 29 June, my lawyers responded with the copy below. We would have the video interview the next day.
The Video Interview
I have to admit I had weak legal representation, probably based on the length of my money (funds). I was assigned the most junior lawyers in the firm. This pair could barely see further than the next bend; they had no clue what curveballs the other law firm could potentially throw. Just before the interview started, one of the firm’s senior lawyers came in briefly, and could not believe we didn’t have an outlined scope for the interview that was about to take place. He echoed some of my questions from above, but it was already time for the interview.
I went in without armour to the video interview and answered their questions as they came. I could not hold back surprise when they asked me if I was in a relationship during the time of the sexual harassment. I responded, “what on earth does that have to do with this case?”
The interview was conducted by Olumide Sofowora and a younger male lawyer from his firm. There was no woman on their side. My lawyers were male and female. So, I sat amid these three strange men and one lady and shared all that happened since I met Ananyi when he was invited to share his entrepreneurial story with entrepreneurs-in-training at MEST in 2017.
I gave them all information about the day he spoke at MEST (May 2017) and the day of the sexual harassment incident (January 2018).
During and after the interview, Sofowora’s team asked that I send them full names, redacted screenshots of the stories women had shared with me in my DMs regarding Kendall Ananyi, personal WhatsApp conversations, and other corroborative information regarding the case. These, I overzealously, shared via Twitter DM with the Associate counsel.
I was lighthearted when done. Soforowa had me believing in justice. They gathered this information like they were going to follow up with the names and anonymous sources to get a bigger picture of the case. But they didn’t call one person. None of the people I mentioned was contacted.
Since finding out that Ananyi is 50% of the Tizeti board, with the only other member being his male cofounder, I haven’t been able to shake off the thought that I gave all my information to the accused and his partner.
And then the Conclusions and Recommendations announcement by Tizeti?
After the interview was concluded and information exchanged, my lawyers and I never heard from Sofowora Chambers regarding further questions, discovery, process, outcome, or anything conclusive about the matter.
On Monday 6 July, I tweeted that I would resume tweeting about the case to ensure accountability and closure. And the next day, 7 July, Tizeti published their conclusive blog post that stated that a case of sexual harassment had not been established, and they were reinstating Kendall Ananyi as CEO, effective immediately.
Moving on: Apology to Nigeria tech leaders and community
When I read Tizeti’s blog post, my first reaction was release. I was happy they were reinstating Kendall as CEO. Him losing his position is not the solution to this issue, and I’ve never asked for it.
The next thing I felt was anger. Anger at myself for being idealistic enough to expect a different outcome. Anger at my lawyers for not providing [what I consider] adequate guidance for the case. Anger at the fact that Tizeti thought this was a conclusion sufficient to shut the case.
Anger at the realization that this is the status quo, and that this would be yet another reason why females would choose to suffer sexual harassment in silence, rather than speak up, because, what is the point?
So I lashed out at the very people who were trying to help me/the workplace/tech ecosystem get the best possible results so far — the Nigeria tech leadership and community.
I apologize to the Nigeria tech community and leadership for these crass tweets after Tizeti published their empty blog post. It was a moment of pain, and I did not handle it with grace.
Thank you for your voice and actions. Thank you for your kind DMs. Thank you for pushing for justice in your way. Thank you to those who have supported this cause, not because they know or do not know me, but because it is an everyday reality, and sweeping it under the rug does not make it go away.
Now, what is all this for, you may ask?
Before closing with the answer to that question, I want to make clear that there is absolutely nothing in this for me. There is no gain when I look out now, disillusioned with the world’s systems. There is actual fear, pain, unease, and sadness as I write this.
But I am writing this so that this incident — me speaking up, being heard, participating in a supposed independent investigation, and lashing out tech authorities and colleagues — makes a little bit of sense and yields something of benefit.
This is a small story in a bigger landscape of sexual harassment in the workplace. The fact is that it happens every day, more often than you are thinking right now, and women are shamed into enduring and never speaking of these incidents.
We add it as one more thing that comes with being female and just deal with it, taking the blame, shame, and brunt of being the object of someone else’s desire.
As said by most of the active tech community voices on Twitter, Tizeti’s response to what could have been a teachable moment for the tech NG space has been weak and disappointing. But we can move on from that, and refocus on the more significant landscape #stopsexualharassment #protectourwomen.
Why focused on tech community when this is a global workplace issue?
Because I work in the tech space, and my experience happened in it. And because the tech space is a male-dominated one. An average startup may have eight guys and just one girl in the team, and it’s not that they hire men consciously — it’s just sort of a boys club.
But women want to come in too. We want to build the continent with you, and you want us to. That’s why we have so many women-in-tech programmes, funding opportunities, communities, code schools, etc. We focus so much on acquiring more women in tech than retaining the ones we have.
By focusing on the tech space, I am hoping that such an innovative, fast-moving, flat ecosystem will indeed put substantial measures in place to protect its women. Maybe an independent body that hears sexual harassment cases within the ecosystem? Maybe an ecosystem-wide sexual harassment policy that binds every tech startup incorporated or operating out of Nigeria? These are just ideas.
When going to market with a beachhead strategy, you start from a small entry point and advance and take over the environs. Tech is small, agile, and young enough to conquer sexual harassment within it and then spread through our culture to surrounding sectors, starting with banking :).
In this recent Harvard Business Review article (May — June 2020 Issue), 58% of women who have been harassed said that not being believed is a major problem.
Men, you don’t understand — sexual harassment is frightening. It is an encroachment of your personal space, with the aggressor intent on taking from you, not just any possession, but your very body; your most private of parts.
The excerpt above is why most women don’t bother to speak up, even to friends. What is the use of talking about something that is just a part of life? My story about my incident with Kendall is not shocking. What was shocking is that I spoke about it.
In addition to facing possible career annihilation, there is the insane amount of pressure suddenly put on your family and those who love you. They don’t want to see you in the news next to dirty stories. They worry about the kind of enemies you are making. They don’t understand why you are not normal and calm like everyone else.
Creating value out of nothing
I do not want to shame my family and friends or be misunderstood, or deprived of future serendipitous opportunities because I didn’t make my voice clear enough during a case such as this.
So this is a deliberate effort to answer all questions from my end and maintain the transparency I have demanded of others.
It has taken this long for me to distance myself from the situation, accept what is, and appreciate the progress that was made, no matter how small. I ask that we all hold Tizeti accountable to update and share their new sexual harassment policy.
The sexual harassment policy was the desired outcome I told Soforowa I wanted, in addition to an acknowledgement or apology from Kendall or Tizeti or both, not only for the sexual harassment incident but also for how this has been handled since then.
Now I have spent a lot of time in introspection, and realize that no one can make Kendall Ananyi acknowledge, apologize, or do anything. I do not ask for anything anymore. Only that we move forward and create a more enabling environment for our women to work in peace and without fear. This way, more women will get to management positions, be natural role models for younger females, and maintain financial/economic independence.
Let’s protect and support more women who are simply trying to navigate life and work without causing trouble to anyone.
In Adam Grant’s Originals, he shared that there are four responses to dissatisfaction about a situation: Exit, Voice, Persistence, or Neglect. Exit and Voice improve our circumstances while Persistence and Neglect leave us exactly where we are.
I have chosen Voice despite the fear of the unknown, in the stubborn optimistic belief that we, humans of this generation, are the ones to make a change.
Originally published on my website on 17 July 2020.
Any edits to this piece will come below this line. I am open to helpful conversations.