I hold no grudges against Iyin Aboyeji and Edmund Olotu for attempting to smear my good name – Marek Zmysłowski
I’ve never done any business with any of them, I’ve only met Abjoyeji once in 2014 when he asked me on Twitter for a meeting.
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In 2018, a Polish internet entrepreneur, Marek Zmyslowski was arrested and detained by the INTERPOL in Warsaw. The arrest order was issued by the Nigerian Police. When Marek shared this ordeal in a medium article the whole internet in Nigeria almost went burst. Apparently, many Nigerians were not pleased. His ordeals are over, and he shared his account of what transpired in the book titled: “Chasing the Black Unicorn”. The book is not all about that single experience but his journey in Africa as an internet entrepreneur. In this interview with Jonah Nwokpoku, he speaks about the book and the business-deal-gone-bad which landed him at the INTERPOL. Excerpts
What have you been up to since you left Nigeria?
Besides fighting for justice in courts and writing a book, I took a break from start-ups and took some advisory roles at bigger tech companies expanding their operations in Sub Saharan Africa. I still come to Nigeria pretty regularly for business, as it’s a crucial market for the whole SSA region.
You just published a book about your experience in Nigeria building a unicorn, tell us about the book.
It’s a story of a young, overconfident entrepreneur that matures once he faces the challenges life gives him. I wanted to share my insights from running tech businesses in young African and Eastern European markets, as this knowledge was scarce back when I was starting. I’ve put those insights between my life stories, usually funny, but sometimes very scary. I hope it gave the book an edge and made the business aspect of it more entertaining to read.
You spent no fewer than five years in Nigeria, did the single experience you discussed in the book define your whole experience in Nigeria throughout the time?
I assume that you are referring to the arrest warrant against me that was issued illegally by Nigerian Police. It hasn’t changed at all the way I look (as a businessman) at my whole experience in Nigeria – a market with huge risks but huge opportunities too.
I’ve made that very clear in the book, as well as all my articles, conference speeches etc. I believe that my voice has become even more reliable, that after what happened to me – I’m still a firm believer in Nigerian business and always encourage entrepreneurs to do business with and in this country.
Marek Zmyslowski making a presentation about Africa
Many people say your narrative from the book, where you gave instances illustrating why you didn't want to raise money from Nigerian investors, and how positioning HotelOga as a Nigerian company made raising capital rather difficult, smacks of regular stereotypical condescension common with the West about Africa, would you agree?
I’m not sure how many people you were able to speak to since the book has just been published this week, and not too many had a chance to read it yet. I guess it’s safe to assume then, that whoever you spoke to, built his/her opinion based on some random stuff they read on the Internet. This is why I wrote the book in the first place - because we live in the world when narration comes before facts.
And as for the narration in the book – I was telling a story when the negative image of Nigeria scared some investors – so it’s not my narration, It’s the narration others had, and I was fitting with it. As for the second situation from the book, I’m telling a story where I was scared to bring a Nigerian business partner to the company, exactly because of the stereotypes, so I invited foreigners instead.
The people that abused the law against me had non-African passports. If it wasn’t for the Nigerian Federal Court, and for the Nigerians who helped me, I wouldn’t have been able to win many of the battles ahead of me. This is stated in the book very clearly as one of the biggest lessons in terms of dealing with stereotypes.
How much objectivity pervades your narrative in the book, seeing that you also had positive experiences working in Nigeria?
For every negative experience I had in Nigeria, you will find ten positive ones. Simply because in total, my experience in Nigeria is positive and I couldn’t be clearer about it in all my activity and communication.
Angry reactions trailed your first medium article on this subject, at least from Nigeria, and some say it has damaged the goodwill you enjoyed? Would you say that is true?
When the dust settled, we’ve done an analysis of online reactions to my first post. In total, more than 70% were positive and supportive. But negativity is always louder. People who didn’t like what I wrote accused me of showing Nigeria in a bad light.
There were also voices, that since I’m not a Nigerian, I have no right to criticize Nigeria, and I should go back to my country. In my post, I went hard on corruption in the police specifically. I attacked the issue, not the people.
I provided plenty of sources about the state of corruption in Nigeria to back up my personal experience. I finished my post however with a very clear statement. The people who wanted to hurt me were a foreigner and the people who helped me were Nigerians.
I believe that we need to be able to enjoy the positive and we need to be able to deal with the negatives, not pretend they don’t exist and be upset just because someone is bringing them up. You can’t fix a problem until you admit the existence of it.
Talking about your issues with the Nigerian investors, has it eventually been resolved? Did the Nigerian police pay the court settlement you were awarded in the court?
After examination of my case, in May this year, the Interpol has taken down the Red Notice and admitted it shouldn't be issued in the first place, as my case was a purely civil conflict. The Polish prosecutor has waived the extradition request due to lack of evidence of a crime.
The Nigerian arrest warrant was struck down by the Nigerian Federal court and ruled illegal; the court orders were never appealed and are in full power. The court ordered Nigerian police to pay me 2 million naira to cover the damages. I treat this amount as a symbolic win; since real damages have couple more zeroes. I have committed the amount to a charity organisation in Nigeria; unfortunately, the Police haven’t paid it yet.
Have you visited Nigeria ever since the incident? If no, do you ever plan coming back?
Yes, I come fairly often, as like I said earlier, Nigeria is a key market for the sub-Saharan Africa region, which is still my business focus.
What missing link did you see in the Nigeria tech industry?
Not sure I can point to one specific thing. The Nigerian tech industry is at a very exciting stage, and I want it to succeed. I encourage everyone to do business here, just chose your partners wisely.
Still, on the investors’, what do Iyinoluwa Abjoyeji and Edmund Olotu have against you?
I would love to know the answer to it. I’ve never done any business with any of them, I’ve only met Abjoyeji once in 2014 when he asked me on Twitter for a meeting. I only learned about the existence of Mr Olotu, when he published a defamation libel attempting to smear my good name.
Mr Olotu never replied to any journalists about his motivations. His post was since taken down. I believe both gentlemen might have good intentions, I think they thought they defend Nigerian by attacking me.
I think they acted emotionally, without getting to know the facts first. We are all human. Seems like both gentlemen want to forget about their not the most reasonable actions. They never apologized but I hold no grudges, I also want to move on and focus on better things in life.
With what you experienced trying to build a business in Nigeria, what 3 pieces of advice would you offer potential foreign investors coming into Nigeria to do business in the tech ecosystem?
I believe that investing in Nigerian tech is a long-term play. There’s an abundance of talent to work with, but the consumer market is still very small and needs time to grow. To be honest, I don’t like to give advice, since there’s too much of it in the World. I like to share my experience instead, and this is why I wrote the book. All of my income from book sales goes to charity initiatives in Nigeria. A country I’m grateful for also a lot of good things that happened in my life.
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