Africa: Why former Jumia Travel boss Marek Zmysłowski left Nigeria
It felt like paradise, in 2013, when the serial investor and entrepreneur, Marek Zmysłowski, started Jovago, a hotel booking platform, and Hotelonline.co, a hospitality software company.
Nigeria had become his latest home and it brought success, Jovago, which became Jumia Travel, experienced double-digit growth monthly and quickly became one of the biggest hotel booking sites in Africa.
Still, Marek left.
Marek had overtly professed his love for Nigeria, sharing pictures of things that endeared him to the country severally, and also getting the alias ‘Chinedu’ which he uses as part of his social media handles @marekchinedu.
Marek confirmed in a blog post that in spite of his ups and downs he was “confident of the bright future of Nigeria and the business opportunities it presented for entrepreneurs like myself. Great opportunities come with great risks though.”
Fast forward to 2017, Chinedu was played a ruinous hand. Everything went poof! Assets were seized, bank accounts frozen by an order from the Nigeria police. He was up-to-date with his taxes and had not broken the law. It was all very murky. However, things got clearer.
“Like in a shitty Hollywood B movie, I was quickly given an offer. A shady individual told me that all my problems will go away, all I need to do is to send a symbolic sum of a couple of hundred thousand dollars to a specific bank account,” Marek wrote.
He found out that it was an attempt at the takeover of his company and blackmail by his local business partners (whose names he won’t release at this time), who had corrupted police officials.
The Polish citizen didn’t budge, refused to negotiate, and took the Nigerian police to court.
“But just like in a Hollywood movie, the good guys don’t negotiate with the bad guys. I had nothing to lose, so I sued the Nigerian police. Yes, you read that right.
“What’s even more amazing, I won. That was one of the “faith in humanity restored” moments. I’m probably the only foreigner in the history of Nigeria to sue its police and win. And to be still alive.
“The court ruled illegality of all the actions by police and even set a symbolic sum of ten thousand dollars to cover my “moral damages”.”
It was a big win for Marek, but it also signalled, according to him, “how fragile your position, and how illusory your sense of safety can sometimes be.”
“I came out of my Nigerian blackmail adventure safe and sound, mostly because of tons of luck. It could have been much, much worse. The experience made me, however, reach my threshold.
“Especially when you live and work in countries with a struggling democracy and economy. I’ve decided that I need to move my assets, tax residency, or even citizenship to a country, where abuses like that can’t happen, where the law is respected and corruption is marginal.”
He left the shores of Nigeria for his next adventure, he kept the name though and he needs pointers on how he can get his money the court told the police to pay for damages.
“The police haven’t paid yet and I’m still trying to figure out who I should call for help to get my “win money”.”
Marek has a second passport, these days and it isn’t the shiny green one of Africa’s most populous country.
“I chose one of the Caribbean countries. I fell in love with their zero income and inheritance tax.
“The government has a great opinion among international entrepreneurs and the likelihood of becoming a victim of criminals, as it happened to me in Nigeria, was significantly lower.”
By Solomon Fowowe