Why I decided to investigate Flutterwave dealings – David Hundeyin

Investigative journalist, David Hundeyin, is the author of “Flutterwave: The African Unicorn Built On Quicksand” an investigative report on how Nigeria’s largest tech unicorn, Flutterwave, has allegedly been involved in shady deals, amongst other investigative pieces.

The report, just like previous reports Hundeyin has written has caused a lot of uproar on social media and has been one of the major conversations in weeks.

In an exclusive interview, Hundeyin walks Nairametrics through his journey in journalism, what he has achieved so far in the space, and why he will be retiring from the profession soon.

What informed your choice of area of specialization?

It started almost as an accident. The first ever investigative analysis that I did was the story about Badagry General Hospital. It was a story that kind of dropped in my laps. I didn’t really plan it. It just happened that at the time, I was then a producer at an online TV and we had funding from a certain foundation to work on any story we wanted and I got access to this particular story. Someone brought it to my attention, so we traveled to Badagry. We went undercover; we did the whole secret recording and did the story afterwards. We also recorded the documentary about it, and that thing had an impact because the story was about a hospital where the maternal mortality rate was around 40 Percent of the women that came to give birth.

The caesarean section was dying prior to that exposure. I did the story and the Lagos State Health Commission took action against hospitals. They started paying visits to hospitals and things improved. CS maternal mortality fell to just about 20 percent which though still too high, saved some lives. That was the first time it occurred to me that I actually wanted to do this because something I did had an impact. It actually mattered because I had been in and around the journalism space since 2013 but the story I am talking about was in 2019 and that was the first time I could say I was doing something and the purpose was not to get paid at the end of the day. That was in 2019 and since then, I never looked back. So every time I get an opportunity to work on a story that wasn’t reported widely at the time, I jumped at it.

Is journalism something you always wanted to do?

The first time I ever got some kind of widespread recognition was in 2003; I was 12 years old then. There was a nationwide essay writing competition then that was sponsored by one Peak milk brand and it was called ‘Peak mum of the year.’ It was a nationwide competition to basically state why your mom was mom of the year. My English teacher then (I was in JSS 2) had seen that I was good at writing and she insisted that I must put in an entry. I put in an entry and won the zonal competition in the Lagos and Ogun zone and then, there was a TV game show which was the nationwide leg of the competition on NTA 10. I went there and won that too.

The second time was in 2006. I was 16 at the time and there was some essay competition sponsored by a commonwealth society at the time; it was called ‘right around the world’ for people between 13 and 16. There were over 3,000 entries from around the world and I came third worldwide.

At the time, I was preparing to start my UCAS application to go to university in the UK. I was actually going to study Business Administration, but my English teacher called me aside because I wanted him to write my recommendation letter and he said, “Why choose business administration, you are a good writer?” That was the first time I ever had someone tell me that it was possible for me to make a living out of something I enjoyed.

I had a long back and forth with my parents who were not happy about the idea of studying Journalism. They didn’t understand, but I was determined that it was what I wanted to do. This cost me a year because instead of going to university in the UK in 2007, I ended up going in 2008.

In 2008, I was at Igbinedion University in Okada, Edo State, where I was studying Mass Communication and was there for about 8 months. That was when the ‘aluta continua’ side of me came to the fore because I started seeing things that I didn’t agree with. The head of Mass Communication department, for example, didn’t even have a Master’s degree. While he was lecturing us, he was running his Master’s program at University of Benin concurrently and we knew this, but officially on the record, he was a Dr. I knew that this was unacceptable so I wrote a petition to the VC. I almost got kicked out of the department basically, and got to understand that just because there is somewhere for you to report to in Nigeria doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true, because even the person you are reporting to might be in on it as well.

I ended up going to the UK at the end of 2008 and studied Creative Writing and Media Culture and Society in the University of Hull. The plan initially was to get a job at BBC but it didn’t work out because BBC didn’t hire me. As I didn’t really have a backup plan, I found myself drifting from job to job; I did data entry job, customer service room—I worked at KPMG in their customer service room. I felt my degree was wasting and thought the UK wasn’t really working out for me; things weren’t working out the way I wanted them, so I just came back to Nigeria. I did my NYSC at the broadcasting service of Ekiti state, and when NYSC ended, I came back to Lagos.

I started with PR. I was there from 2014 till 2016 then left to set up my own content creation agency, but it was really bad timing because that was in the middle of 2016 recession.

I ended up going back to paid employment at the start of 2017 and left in June 2018 to go after the dream of entrepreneurship again. I re-launched my agency. This time, it went well because I wasn’t targeting Nigerian clients. I was working with foreign clients so the money was good.

In 2019, I started doing work within the Nigerian space. That’s when I started doing more work in CNN Africa, and some media houses and because I was spending so much time focusing on my Nigerian work that my business was suffering and to be honest, I wasn’t good at running the business. I was good at delivering value to my clients, but being good at a job is not the same thing as being good at running a business. I was making a considerable amount of money and spending more than I was making consistently every month so in July 2019, I made the decision to close down the business and go back to being a one-man operator, focusing on myself.

Around that time was when I got the opportunity to start working with a TV house as the head producer. I was also freelancing on the side; that was when the opportunity to do the Badagry story came up, and for the first time, that was when I had this light bulb moment at the top of my head that it was what I could do that actually had meaning.

What motivated you to do investigative journalism?

It is funny when people say I am doing journalism for fame. I had the fame. I was already pretty well known and honestly, if someone is looking for fame in Nigeria, there are far easier ways to do it; I wasn’t going to create all of these enemies for myself all in the name of fame.

There is not enough money that can pay for the problems I have created for myself in so many different aspects of my life. As a matter of fact, fame is not a drug. The only reason I am doing this is because I feel I have a responsibility to do it. If I don’t do it, I don’t think there is anyone else that has the circumstances that I have to do it.

I am someone that has spent years complaining and mourning about how Nigerian journalism is not good enough and the analysis is shallow. Once I had the opportunity to go in and be the change that I wanted to see, it would have made me a hypocrite to sit down on the sideline and continue criticizing. That’s why I jumped in and that’s why I am still in now. I might not be there for a long time because it is not a career you do in ten, twenty years; it’s something you do within three to five years and then you move on.

I have already been in the space just over three years now, so I am getting towards the end of my circle and I am completely aware of that. I am an ideologically driven kind of person, not materialistic. The truth is that I am someone who was raised in an environment where, at risk of sounding conceited, I wasn’t materially deprived in anyway. I had everything that I needed and most of what I wanted too, so I don’t think that at this stage of my life, what I should be most concerned about are material things.

Which of your investigative stories would you say is the best?

The most technically challenging story I have had to do was the story, “Who killed Hinny Umoren?” The reason it was challenging was that all I got was a leak from someone who worked at a Telco. It was just a few pages of data, but it was the core data that belonged to the primary suspect in the murder on Hinny Umoren. This was a case that depressed the whole country. It shocked a lot of us, especially people in the younger demographic who have that experience of looking for a job and falling into the hand of horrible people. I personally felt pained by that and I had the opportunity of doing something about it to contribute towards bringing the culprit to justice.

After getting the data, I had to turn it into something that had value. I had to figure out from scratch on my own because the story had to be done in secret; first of all, what did the data even mean? I had to discover tools and things that I had never touched before.

What prompted you to work on the Flutterwave story?

First of all, it was the rumour about irregularities going on within the tech space. These had been flying around for years. I had met people who swore that a lot of the tech startups were fraudulent. But it’s one thing to hear, and it’s another thing to give substance to them. When I started getting the information towards the end of last year, I was under the impression that everybody knew that myself and the genius founder of Flutterwave didn’t get along, so I thought that if I did any kind of story about Flutterwave, it was just going to look like I had some kind of personal vendetta against him, so I didn’t even want to do the story.

Also, I initially thought it was a story about sexual harassment or bullying. Those things are bad but if you do a story about a business doing those things, people may not really see it as a big deal. It was when I got information about the company indulging in fraud that I decided to jump on it. Because this is very useful information from an investment point of view and from the point of view of the wider Nigerian economy.

If this continues, then it means the Nigerian economy will start getting filled with startups which have nothing in them but lies. And when this bursts, it will affect everybody because that’s how financial contagion works. So, I decided to burst the bubble before it got out of hand, to demonstrate to investors that the Nigerian tech space is maturing, as we can be relied upon to do the right thing.

What impact do you think your story will have in Nigeria and Africa?

With this, I believe whoever wants to misbehave will first have a little spark of doubt at the back of their mind that there is one crazy journalist somewhere who is communicating with people in this company, just for the fact that little consequence had been established. Nigerians respond to consequence. For instance, the guy who promoted the MMM in 2016 fled the country after the scheme collapsed and people were really angry with him. That guy is back on Facebook now and he is some sort of motivational speaker and he till gets positive replies. Everybody has forgotten so soon that this person stole N3 billion from Nigerians; there was just no consequence.

I feel like these are the reasons people continue doing these things; they feel like there are no disincentives for doing wrong things and so by implication, there are also no disincentives, and now that a disincentive has been established, even if nothing happens GB, which is unlikely, but even if nothing happens to him, the fact that his name and personal brand have taken a beating and because the things he has done have become public, just that alone is enough to give some people pause if they want to misbehave next time.

It doesn’t mean that people are going to start behaving well; I am not naive enough to think that one story will change the Nigerian tech space. People will still misbehave, but if even one of them stops doing it, or thinks twice about doing it, then I think the goal has been accomplished.

How would the development impact the airline and the bank mentioned in your report?

In the case of Arik Air, it is no longer news that they have been under AMCON’s watch. Technically, this was government corruption. The Nigerian government being corrupt isn’t exactly something new.

But with regards to Access bank, I have spoken to certain people who made me understand that while it seemed that Access bank was cooperating with Flutterwave, GB was actually just defrauding the bank.

It was a case that the GMD had basically given an instruction to give GB all the assistance that he needed because the GMD was under the impression that GB was building a solution called Capture Payment Solution for the bank, meanwhile, GB was building out that thing for his own personal enrichment. He went ahead to register Flutterwave without any single bit of equity from Access bank or from the GMD of the bank.

So basically, all the GMD was aware of was that Capture Payment Solution was the future and he was going to own a piece of it, because banks were not allowed to own non-banking subsidiaries as the holding structure wasn’t a thing in the Nigerian bank as at then. It was his own personal investment, he had equity in the capture payment solution and it was GB’s job to build that capture solution and GB diverted the resources to build out what layer became Flutterwave.

It was so terrible that during the 2018 audit, when this whole thing was discovered, the GMD closed down Capture Payment Solution and when he did, he discovered that even the developers on payroll had never actually been working on it. They had been working on building Flutterwave all the time and they just moved location and continued working for Flutterwave.

There were two main reasons why Access bank and the GMD never really took this up. First was, it didn’t portray the bank in a good light that its internal control was so weak. The boss gave an instruction and nobody asked questions. There were a lot of financial irregularities going on but and those were the things that the bank was supposed to catch. But because GMD had said something, even though he was under the wrong impression, it didn’t portray the bank in a good light.

Secondly, if it entered the public domain, as it is doing now, that one 37-year-old upstart was able to cheat one of the individual institutions of Nigerian banking, then it meant that somebody else could do it and people would line up and start trying their luck basically. But I can tell you for a fact that that bank is not in tandem with GB at all.

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