My Jumia Experience Some Nigerian tech startups are replicating "labor and employment practices from the West that are not necessarily fit for Nigeria’s work environment..."

My Jumia Experience

Published on Fri, Nov 01 2013 by Web Master
 

 
Interesting email I received from an ex-Jumia employee. As I review all of these emails and information trickling in, I can’t help but notice some of the replicated labor and employment practices from the West that are not necessarily fit for Nigeria’s work environment, and also occur without explanations, civility, compassion and respect for the Nigerian employee/worker.
 
Take for instance IROKO's firing of its employees. If it where here in the USA, IROKO is not under any obligation under federal law to provide an explanation to an at will employee for firing him/her. It is nice if they do, but they are not obligated to. Second, while it might seem odd and shocking to employees in Nigeria to be fired, told to leave the same day and not permitted to access their former place of employment, the act is not necessarily shocking in the USA, per se, if indeed the employer believes there is an action that the employee has committed warranting an immediate exit from the premises. With a high rate of disgruntled employees returning to remit vengeance i.e. gun violence at the workplace, employers are permitted, under the law, to engage the building security and also ask that a fired employee not return.
 
In the case of Michael Ugwu, an executive at IROKING, if his version of the facts are correct, then it begs the question as to the non-compete clause that appears to be at issue between him and IROKO. Indeed such clause would need to be revisited; and the entire agreements Ugwu signed, to see if there was anything that dealt with what happens if IROKO Partners decides to get rid of IROKING. Did Ugwu ever agree to a continued confidentiality and non-compete agreement in the event IROKING was “scrapped.” There is a high probability Jason and Bastian did not even anticipate they would shut down IROKING as quickly and that such a provision was not included in their contracts with Ugwu.
 
Even if it was included, from a legal standpoint, the clause may be unconscionable. Why are you restricting the ability of an employee to earn a living in a market you no longer compete or even exist in? By the way, whatever happened to all the deals IROKO signed with tech companies in South Africa and Nigeria (for music mobile streaming)?
 
In any event, is this same method of firing employed by IROKO conducive to the Nigerian environment, I would say “no.” First, the Nigerian employee is already very demoralized and little, if any, distinction is shown from the way the employee is treated versus a housemaid/boy, in my view. Indeed, there are countless stories that call for a major reform in labor and employment practices and the law in the country.
 
Second, if you will implement Western styles of firing, then you should do it all the way. This means there should be performance reviews, progressive discipline and then finally a firing if it does not work out, among other measures in place, both to limit legal liability and create a positive environment for those left behind.
 
Also, lining up employees at an employment termination meeting and allegedly asking them to “beg” for their jobs back is on a whole different scale that I can’t even begin to comment on.
 
In short, when a British-Nigerian like Jason Njoku or a Nigerian-American returns to Nigeria to try to establish a business, he/she MUST take a clear look at the new environment he/she is relocating to, be tuned in to cultural sensitivities, understand the local labor and employment laws and not use a Western approach to solve Africa’s specific problem.
 
Also, half the time, many who return to run businesses in Nigeria and other parts of Africa have only been employees through their adult careers in the West. They have no clue what it takes to run a business; and to do so on a large scale whether in the West or in Africa. It’s trial and error for them. This is not a crime.
 
What is a moral crime, and possible violations of applicable codes is how you treat people and the massive ego that gets in the way of respecting the persons who work for you, and got you where you are.
 
Folks, I do believe there are cultural differences between a Nigerian and Nigerian-American or a Nigerian and British Nigerian, despite having been raised in Nigeria. As such, I believe a healthy respect for the culture you re-immerse yourself into i.e. when you move back home has to be present, especially if you are looking to import Western cultures into the workplace.
 
Yet another example of culture clash in the context of employment practices is the one raised below in the email I alluded to about the use of independent contractors/seasonal workers within the context of Nigeria’s labor work force. Here in the USA, in every industry sector, from technology to law, healthcare to fashion and entertainment, independent contractors appear to be the order of the day.
 
Of course it is alarming for workers in terms of job security, healthcare benefits and more. However, from the employer standpoint, it is arguably what ensures the employer stays in business to employ workers. However, when you take such a culture into Nigeria, a place where labor is already dirt cheap, to me, you are asking for trouble and once again demoralizing workers, who already feel reduced to meaningless nothings.
 
So here we are. Jumia, IROKO, adopting what appears to be certain aspects of the Western model of employment practices in an African setting but without (sensitivity, compassion, respect and) the legal infrastructure and of course it is backfiring.
 
This is quite interesting to me and raises complex issues within the context of Nigeria’s labour and employment law and relations.
 
I would be interested in local attorneys in Nigeria in the aforementioned specified practice area sharing their fifty kobo/two cents on the Jumia issue and also IROKO. I am well versed with labor relations within the context of fashion in Nigeria but I have not taken the time to research and study other industries, just yet. I, therefore, would be very interested in hearing what you all have to share.
 
Also for the record, Jumia has denied the similar allegations levied against it which was first published by a Nigerian newspaper last year.
 
Cheers,
Uduak
 
Good day Uduak,
 
. . . I just read your post with the iROKO staff’s experience, and I felt I had to just speak up and forget. Honestly, this isn’t an iROKO disease alone, other Nigerian tech startups (especially those with German ties) are following this route.
 
I used to work in a top position for Jumia Nigeria, a retailer whose parent company, Rocket Internet’s hiring and firing speed followed it to Nigeria and Africa.
 
If you have ever heard about Oliver Samwer’s famous blitzkrieg, trust me, the things that happened in Jumia Nigeria were worse. Labour laws in Nigeria need to be revisited or well publicized. Do Nigerian workers even have rights? In Jumia, you are smiling one day, the next day you are fired.
 
First in 2012, fifty members of staff were fired, then more were hired, then more fired again, the total number of staff fired in this period was over a hundred. One of the most annoying things were having to take pictures and smile when members of the press came visiting! Lies! All lies!
 
Jumia is not a Nigerian company, and for all I care they don’t care about Nigerians! Don’t be deceived by the Cameroonian and Nigerian figurehead ‘Harvard CEOs’, they have puppet masters pulling their strings. Jumia Nigeria has been sold! Their balance sheets are worse than you can imagine! And in a few months to years they will become subsidiaries of a bigger company and the CEOS are just waiting to cash out on their cheque, and present staff are just pawns to be used till the time comes.
 
Jumia Nigeria’s strategy was to lure staff from their companies with big salary promises, and after a very short time, leave you with the lower end of the straw, they never leave you even after they “fire” you, but continue to follow you to your new place of work trying to ensure you never get another chance at working
 
The company leaves out its investors code – hire, fire, move and dispose with rocket speed. They sack staff and hire like the wind.
 
I worked with over 60 different faces in the period I was there. Working for Jumia was like hell; we would resume at 8am and leave at 9pm for normal staff and much latter for management staff, understandable for a startup but not when the bait is threats of firing and legal actions.
 
The line managers were tools to perpetuate the acts, and the coup de grace would be when the line manager gets fired after he had fired the other staff, I saw this happen in marketing and human resources while I was there.
 
And if you are wondering, I was sacked and plan to take legal action soon for continued harassment and for wrongful termination. Why was I sacked? Was it for going home early at 9pm or not sacking my entire team? Well I hope a court of law will get it out of them.
 
I believe all ex jumia staff need to speak up to help end this madness.
 
God bless you.
 
J. U
This article was originally published on the author's blog.

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