In an email circular that went out from Bento Africa’s board of directors to the company’s customers and partners on Wednesday evening, the board announced that Ebun Okubanjo will be taking “some time off” and handing over all people-related decisions to his co-founder and COO, Chidozie Okonkwo. Chidozie will lead people operations alongside the company’s country directors.
Bento’s board’s decision comes a few days after TechCabal exposed the harrowing experiences of ex-employees of payroll startup Bento Africa and how Okubanjo had allegedly been the orchestrator of that through direct and indirect bullying, verbal abuse, and threats to employees.
In their email to Bento’s customers and clients, the board condemned Ebun’s initial reaction to the story, especially his tweets attacking the credibility of publication TechCabal.
“As professional Investors and Operators, we were aghast at the defensive and escalatory first tweets of Ebun on the matter, which we quickly moved against. Our responsibility and charter is to the Company, not the founders we invest in,” the board said in an email sent to all Bento employees, past and present.
Furthermore, the board said that while Okubanjo is taking a back seat with immediate effect, an internal investigation into Bento’s workplace culture has begun. It also announced that it would be reviewing Bento Africa’s internal management practices and processes.
“We are reviewing the HR and People practices and guidelines at Bento and will work with HR consultants and the company’s in-house team to make sure that it is reflective of human values that drive sustainable performance,” said the board in the email.
The board claimed to have “…ensured that the current team is safe and free to speak freely. We voided any NDA’s that may have been in place and instructed Management to let the Team know they were free to speak to any journalist that contacted them.” TechCabal reached out to current Bento Africa employees who confirmed that they had been granted permission to speak freely without worrying about consequences.
“I think not restricting us from talking to journalists and cancelling our NDAs is the right thing to do,” said one of the 3 employees TechCabal reached out to for the expose.”
Okubanjo also published a personal apology to current and past employees of the company via his Medium page. In the post titled From ebun. With Love, Okubanjo admits to encouraging a work culture of “long workdays and weeks” and apologised for his abusive outbursts. He also confirmed the board’s decision to appoint Chidozie to lead people operations at the company.
“I am sorry,” Okubanjo writes. “I have some work to do here and there is a lot of room for growth. It will [sic] be a lie if I say this is a switch I can make overnight, I would [sic] need to learn how to balance passion with empathy. I will step away from all people decisions in the company. Chidozie will take over along with our new Head of People — Her arrival could not have been more timely. The country leads will also be instrumental in helping shape a more humane people policy.”
In a bid to repair broken bridges, the CEO also encouraged former and current employees who have “felt that fire that burns [sic] so hot when we are in the thick of it” to reach out to him.
“We’re not in support of the way Ebun handled the situation, and we’re currently running an internal investigation to quantify the scale of the damages his actions have brought to employees and the business,” said board member and CEO at Zedcrest, Adedayo Hamza. “We’re open to speaking to anyone about this process.”