Two top executives at The Guardian, a legacy Nigerian newspaper, say the company is suing logistics startup Kwik to collect millions of naira in unpaid rent for two office floors in the newspaper’s Abuja building. Nearly a year after Kwik’s controversial lease ended, those executives claim that The Guardian has not regained access to the property.

The building, located in Jabi, Abuja, was leased to Kwik for over two years at no cost by Tive Alex Ibru, a director at the newspaper who is also a shareholder at the startup, according to documents seen by TechCabal.

However, The Guardian argued Tive was not authorised to offer the logistics startup the free use of the space.

”Until The Guardian contested my use of the office space, I had no idea that Tive was not empowered to make such decisions,” said Kwik’s co-founder and CEO, Romain Poirot-Lellig.

Kwik continued to occupy the office floors even after learning that Tive lacked the authority to make such an endowment.

“[We let him stay] because he signed a reverse contract with us and agreed to a payment plan,” Patience Illesanmi, The Guardian’s CFO told TechCabal.

“Kwik paid the rent in instalments for some time and later defaulted until its tenancy ended.” On several occasions, Poirot-Lellig requested more time to make payment and failed to.

According to Ilesanmi and a lawyer at the newspaper, the company has taken legal action against the startup.

Poirot-Lellig acknowledged The Guardian’s expectations of payment for the use of its property but refuted claims that The Guardian is taking legal actions against him or Kwik.

“The matter is between Tive and The Guardian. We assessed that we did not have to bear the consequences of his behaviour,” said Poirot-Lellig, insisting that he carried on using the offices for free as his contract with Tive stated.

A complicated agreement and another suit against Kwik

Tive gave Kwik the use of the office space in September 2021, the same period he brokered a deal for football Jay Jay Okocha to become Kwik’s brand ambassador. 

“Helping us secure Jay Jay Okocha earned him sweat equity—giving him shares in the startup even though he did not make any financial commitment,” said Poirot-Lellig.

Despite the lawsuit, Poirot-Lellig has a close relationship with the Ibru family. Lady Maiden Ibru, the newspaper’s publisher, invested in Kwik’s 2021 seed round. Poirot-Lellig claimed she will also invest in Kwik’s next funding round.

In addition to its legal issues with The Guardian, Kwik is also facing a lawsuit in Holland where its parent company, Africa Delivery Technologies, is domiciled. Adam Grant, a former consultant fired in July 2023, is demanding $200,000 compensation for unlawful termination. 

Months before he was fired, Grant claims he was promoted to lead the marketing team and was never notified of underperformance. 

“He was expensive but not meeting his KPIs,” said Poirot-Lellig, who described the lawsuit as frivolous. “He displayed anger issues and also had a disruptive relationship with the staff including making racist comments.”

Grant blamed the low acquisition of new corporate clients on tax compliance issues and delayed payments to third-party partners including delivery drivers, vendors, and other service providers.

In a 2023 company report seen by TechCabal, Kwik affirmed that delayed payments were causing rider churn and threatening Kwik’s relationship with its partners and clients.

Poirot-Lellig chalked up the delayed payments of riders, vendors, and often-time employees to the economic conditions of Nigeria but insisted that it has not affected its fleet in any way.  “We currently have over 4,000 riders on the platform. We also have 75,000 more customers today than when [Grant] was here so was the impediment him or us?”  

Poirot-Lellig who was absent at the scheduled hearing of the case in Holland claims that he has proposed a compromise to Grant which he refused.  

Get the best African tech newsletters in your inbox