StarTimes, a popular Chinese pay TV company in Nigeria, has come under weighty allegations of systemic racism and anti-labour practices by its Nigerian employees and ex-staff.
Nigeria CommunicationsWeek investigations confirmed that five Nigerian senior management staff and numerous junior executives have recently resigned from the company also known as NTA-Star TV Network following widespread discontent between the Chinese handlers who occupy the topmost seats and many Nigerian senior staff.
The ex-staff accused the top echelon, mainly of Chinese nationals, of deep-seated racial discrimination, management highhandedness and widespread discontent.
But, Mr. Henry Eyo, director of Human Resources at the Company in an email Nigeria CommunicationsWeek described the allegations as "very untrue and quite unfortunate".
However, investigations confirmed that five Nigerian management staff have recently left the company in 2017 with Mr. John Esoimeme, its erstwhile National Sales Director being the latest causality in July 2017.
Recently, apart from Esoimeme, Dare Kafar, its former Nigerian Marketing Director resigned in March over the unsatisfied and awkward leadership style of the management while its Head of Public Relations, Israel Bolaji left in June 2017.
It was also gathered that both Habeeb Somoye, marketing manager and Ayokunle Idowu, content marketing manager had left earlier in very unclear circumstances amongst countless others.
An insider revealed that: "Most of the Nigerian senior staff who left have had face-offs with the most senior Chinese staff, Mr. Justin Zhang, who typifies raw racism and Chinese mafia at StarTimes. He is the mastermind of the reign of terror in the Chinese company."
It was alleged that “Any Nigerian who confronts Zhang Justin was always sacked. There was a particular sales manager, Olumide Olawuyi-Oke, a very brilliant sales manager who was sacked on the spot for always disagreeing and raising counter opinions with Justin in meetings. Olumide was summoned to Justin’s office on September 18, 2016 after a minor argument with Justin Zhang during a management meeting and that was his last day at StarTimes.”
A middle aged female employee in the Dealer Sales Department who craved anonymity lamented thus: “Since I joined StarTimes in 2002 as a graduate, racism has remained an endemic problem here. Only a few Nigerians who can spy on others are promoted. Please check the records, 80 per cent of Nigerians have received no significant promotions or pay raise for the last 5 years in the company’s 7 years operations in Nigeria.
"It is an issue we have been battling for years and even the Nigeria Labour Congress has once picketed StarTimes Lagos office over anti-labour practices. Nigerians are really treated poorly here compared to their Chinese counterparts. There are terribly sharp differences in salaries, working conditions, and benefits such as insurance policy and promotion; arbitrary demotion of Nigerians is also a common practice and no corporate governance.
“But most importantly, the Chinese are like mafias here. No Nigerian employee dare argue or make comments when they talk. They are like the typical Chinese imperialists in traditional Chinese movies. You can tell from the air of arrogance they carry around here. They see and treat Nigerians like second fiddle no matter the office. Strangely, the Chinese bosses have lesser qualifications and experience compared to Nigerians, but as soon as they spend a few months they are appointed director over many senior Nigerians.
"It is pathetic but because of the economic hardship, people cannot help the situation. Those of us who are junior are suffering in silence but they have been having running battles with the senior Nigerian employees most of whom were employed few years ago. That explains why many senior enlightened bright minds are leaving in anger. In fact, the Chinese often boast about Nigeria’s worsening unemployment rate which they consider an advantage. Justin Zhang usually says there is always another local guy who will do your job for a lesser pay so I can fire you, ” an insider source said.
According to the Source, Esoimeme left in anger after he was recently demoted from his post of national sales director to regional director and transferred to Kaduna to pave way for two new Chinese employees both of whom joined the company less than a year ago – Mr. Thunder Lei and Mr. Boby Wang. Both were appointed national sales directors following Esoimeme’s unceremonious ouster. Both Lei and Wang were junior employees who earlier reported to Esoimeme before the Chinese pulled the plug on him.
It was alleged that the move was again spearhead by Justin Zhang, the former Vice President of marketing and general manager of Lagos who was just promoted to be CEO.
“Mr. Justin is known to all in StarTimes as a die-hard sadist and racist who has held sway for years. As against the practice of two-year tenure as GM, he was in fact rewarded for his highhandedness on Nigerians by the Chinese headquarters with his promotion to the post of CEO recently. The former CEO, Jack Liu was said to be too soft”, said a former staff.
A former employee of StarTimes, Charles Imomo expressed dismay over what he described as the “growing catalogue of atrocities of Chinese companies in Nigeria.”
He said, “StarTimes like many other Chinese businesses in Nigeria is full of fraud and Nazi behaviours. It is just like a Nazi detention camp where Nigerians lament in silence. I have been here since they started. No promotion and no single increment for 5 years, yet different Chinese bosses come and rise so fast within months to become directors. For instance, to our greatest surprise many of the Chinese bosses are either fresh graduates or those with much lower experience compared to their Nigerian subordinates.”
“Racism is so rife and pathetic that Nigerian senior managers merely carry big portfolios without requisite powers as only Chinese staff call the shots. For instance, every February, the Chinese bosses usually travel to China for their New Year festivity. Before the Chinese bosses travel, they would announce a junior Chinese staffer who takes charge of the company in spite of having Nigerian directors.
"No structure, no hierarchy, only Chinese and Nigerians. That’s all. For example during such trip in December 2015, Mr. Berlin, the logistics manager in Lagos was announced as the acting GM of Lagos office by then vice president marketing, Justin Zhang, in the presence of two Nigerian directors – Dare Kafar and John Esoimeme who watched in utter disbelief. There is a pervasive air of superiority and crude arrogance that the Chinese carry around the company. They order Nigerian staff around and threaten to sack at the slightest provocation.
“We once had a Chinese boss in Lagos office called Mr Stone who was so notorious with a violent temperament, so much that he was fond of slapping Nigerian staff at will. When his excesses became unbearable, the NTA, our partner company, having received so much complains from the Nigerian staff came to the rescue. NTA insisted Mr Stone be banished to China. He was smuggled out of Nigeria overnight. It was that bad.
“The Chinese are fond of cutting corners and engaged in sharp practices. Many of them have neither the required immigration papers for residence nor the professional licenses or locally required certificates to perform their local roles in Nigeria. For example, Mr. Justin Zhang, the new CEO was the Vice president Marketing for over three years without any APCON certification, license or membership (Find attached letter to him from APCON) When queried by APCON, he denied and continued his role with impunity. Such is the behaviour of the average Chinese.
“The practice at StarTimes is that while Chinese staffers are treated like royalty most senior Nigerian staff are contract staff, even directors. The trick is to offer employment to Nigerians with a clause that the contract is renewable per annum. This makes it easy to ease out stubborn Nigerians. They simply refuse to renew your contract when you argue with any Chinese. Nigerians no matter how highly placed are fired at will or frustrated to resign. Government should deploy undercover intelligence to unravel the underhand deals in StarTimes. On the average, no fewer than 10 Nigerians resign from StarTimes monthly.
There’s definitely an impending implosion if nothing is done. NTA is aware and has tried hard to wade into this matter but with no results. That Nigerians are enslaved on their own land is absurd,” said another ex-staff.
StarTimes Responds to Allegations
When contacted, Mr. Eyo told Nigeria CommunicationsWeek that the allegation of racism in organization was very untrue, quite unfortunate, "and it is disturbing that anyone would make such an allegation. Like every other multinational organization with employees from different nationalities (i.e. Nigeria and China) , it is impossible for you not to have misunderstandings, and occasional healthy arguments.
"There is no multinational in the world, where cultures haven’t clashed or individuals from different nationalities have not had misunderstandings, either as a result of communication challenges of lack of it; but we constantly ensure such issues are addressed promptly and none of such have been as a result of racism.
Commenting on five Nigerian management staff that recently left-over power struggle, face-offs with the most senior Chinese staff, Mr. Justin Zhang, he said, "As the HR Director, I am quite surprised at the news that five senior management staff had recently resigned. As far as I know, Dare Kafar resigned because he got another job, and was immediately replaced by the next in line in the department who is also a Nigerian.
"Olumide Oke-Olawuyi had a record of poor performance for over a year, in spite of this management still gave him all the resources and support required. Even when he was not measuring up to the expectations and targets set by management he was given over a year to turn around his performance.
"Olumide voluntarily resigned after a series of warning letters.
"As for John Esoimeme, he also voluntarily resigned. The three (3) individuals I have mentioned above are those we consider as senior management staff.
"Justin Zhang the new CEO is an individual with very keen interest in excellent performance, and many of the hard-working staff have been promoted and rewarded financially in recent times under his administration, irrespective of their nationality.
"Our current acting Marketing and Branding Director, a Nigerian is one of the beneficiaries of Justin Zhang’ s reward for performance policy. We also had two new Zonal Director positions created and the positions are currently filled by Nigerian’s who had shown a track record of excellent performance. Also, we just recently promoted one of our hard-working Nigerian female staff to the position of Assistant Director in charge of our Business Halls and all these have happened within the few months of Justin Zhang taking over the helm of affair of StarTimes Nigeria.
"It is quite unfortunate that anyone will dub StarTimes or Justin Zhang as being racist. As a country, it is important for us to continually imbibe the culture of excellent performance to ensure we achieve major feats; and that is a culture we are not ashamed to promote in StarTimes Nigeria.
"Finally let’s not forget that StarTimes Nigeria also officially known as NTA-Star TV Network Limited is a joint venture between NTA and Star Group of China, and the Chairman of the board is the DG of NTA. NTA will never close its eyes and allow any form of racism or malpractices".
He however admitted that Mr. Justin Zhang introduced new policies that could have let loose the fury in some of the staff.
"We do have policies in place to ensure that our staff members respect each other and are well protected. These policies cut across all staff without
"Under the leadership of Justin Zhang, we have extended Life Insurance cover for our contract staff, we have created over 30 managerial positions at State levels as a reward for our excellent performing sales people. We have extended health cover for our contract staff members. We also recently introduced an education and professional development policy for all our staff, to help them further their education and become better at what they do.
"As an organization, we provide direct employment for over 1,310 Nigerians, and we have over 3,000 individuals employed nationwide by our dealers and various vendors and partners who rely on us for business.
"We do not and have not in anyway gone against any labour regulations. As a matter of fact, a Nigerian HR Director (in my person) was employed for close to 3 years now, and this was due to management’s interest in ensuring that someone knowledgeable about the Nigeria Labor practices should handle the affairs of the HR department".
Speaking on the alleged flouting of APCON regulatory orders especially by Zhang, the Director of HR said, "As for the APCON issues I am not aware of this. But Justin Zhang respects the rules and laws governing business practices in Nigeria.
"On a final note , we trust that you would provide a well-balanced information considering your track record as a respected news reporter".