From Okey Sampson, Aba
He sauntered into the Aba office of The Sun. With hands akimbo, he was speechless for a moment. He adjusted his necktie before he dejectedly went down on the seat he was offered and this reporter did not need a soothsayer to tell him something was amiss.
Eberechukwu Leonard Nwagwu is from Inyishi in Ikeduru Local Government Area of Imo State. He left Nigeria in search of the golden fleece in Greece in 1993 but has since been faced with a fleet of troubles that has made it impossible for him to pick up his bills anymore.
Prior to his moving over to Greece, Nwagwu was what is known among the Igbo business community, as a struggler. He, in his early ’20s, joined others to traverse the high seas in the most horrendous condition to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea to do business.
When he made little money out of that risky business, Nwagwu, who has seen some of his fellow traders perish in the high seas, decided to leave that line of business and travel to Greece where he established a thriving Internet business. But years later, everything tumbled, orchestrated by high wired conspiracy to kill his thriving business and, perhaps, send him back to Nigeria.
In a voice filled with disgust and pain, Nwagwu narrated the hell he is passing through in Greece, how his estranged Greek wife connived with his landlord and some Greek officials to put him out of business by locking up his shop. He was turned into a near beggar in a land where he was an employer of labour, leveraging on a court order he said was obtained with forged documents.
Nwagwu said he had on October 10, 2004 leased a warehouse at Street 42, Zaakinthou, Kipseli, Athens, from Georgios Mandilaras Nikolaou, who inherited the property from his dad, Nikolaou, for his business. The lease agreement covered from 2004 to 2007 with a monthly rent of 240 Euros.
According to the Imo State-born businessman, trouble started for him in the country where he had made appreciable impact in the Internet business in 2010 when his landlord, Georgios, took him to court over rent-related issue.
Part of the rent agreement was that “after the first two years, rent will be readjusted free.” But Nwagwu alleged that after one year, without his knowledge, his landlord erased that aspect of the agreement to read “rent will be readjusted after one year by five per cent per annum to be paid in advance on the first day of every month.”
It was the Nigerian’s insistence that letters of the rent agreement be followed to the letter that is responsible for his present predicament. While they were still trying to iron out the alteration in the rent agreement, Georgios dragged Nwagwu to court, claiming that his tenant refused to pay rent, running into five months and prayed the court to allow him repossess his property.
While the matter was in court, according to Nwagwu, racism crept in, as every Greek official involved in the case, including his own lawyer, worked towards seeing that the Nigerian was nailed even when they were aware that the documents with which his landlord took him to court were forged.
Nwagwu said this conspiracy against him by the Greek officials started playing out from the court bailiff, one Michael Korre, who never served him summons but went to court to swear to an oath that he did.”
The Nigerian hired the services of a Greek lawyer to defend him in the matter. But surprisingly, the lawyer toed the line of his countrymen, as Nwagwu alleged the lawyer showed unbridled bias, as he handled the matter with disdain.
After listening to counsels of both parties in the suit No. 1906/2011, Magistrate Panagiota Vasilatou Bozionelou on November 2, 2011, based on the forged document, ruled in favour of the applicant and ordered that Nwagwu should give back possession of the shop to the landlord and pay 1,463 euro as rent over the period the matter was in court. He was also ordered to pay another 120 euros, as trial cost.
But Nwagwu noted: “In this case, Greek officials collaborated with their lawyers to make my life difficult and, perhaps, force me out of their country by using forged documents in court against me and despite all the evidences I have at hand, I did not find justice simply because I’m a black man from Nigeria.
“Even the court bailiff took sides with his people. After lying that he served court summons on me, he never listed the total of my belongings kept in court so far and he still holds a DVR recorder he collected from the police station. On the trial proper, for the six times I was in court, he (bailiff) did not appear in court and on the seventh time of the court sitting when nobody informed me, the bailiff appeared in court and the trial and ruling took place in my absence.
“Again, the judgment was against me despite the fact that both the lawyer of the applicant and the Judge saw that my contract paper, which is genuine was different from the one my landlord was holding. Yet they went ahead with the trial and decided it against me. So far as I’m a Nigerian, I must be nailed. They told me that if I was not satisfied with the ruling that I could return to my country.”
Nwagwu said based on the court ruling, instead of his landlord repossessing his shop and allow him carry out his property inside, Georgios on February 2, 2012 locked the shop with everything he was using to do business inside, insisting that all monies owed him, including those not granted by court, must be paid before he could be allowed to carry his belongings.
Before this, Nwagwu was in 2005 and 2012 respectively arrested by the police on the spurious reason that he was an illegal immigrant and on both occasions he was seriously battered by the Greek police. Explaining the two arrests, Nwagwu said on April 4, 2005, a Sunday, a Greek lady came to his business centre to make calls after which she could not pay the correct bills and his wife alerted him. He said before he could come out of his office, the lady had dashed across the road and in an attempt to see who the lady was, when he stepped on the road, two policemen jumped down from their van and allegedly said to him, “asshole get over here”. As he tried to find out what the matter was, the policemen beat him blue and black before taking him to their station.
He also informed that on September 19, 2012, as he was coming out of a commercial bank and running back to his shop, which he left open, police officers arrested him on the suspicion that he was an illegal immigrant. To them, a black man cannot run in daylight for nothing. His explanation of having genuine papers and that he was running because his shop was open and he had customers to attend to fell on deaf ears, as the police officers beat him up and took him to the station even after his Greek wife came to identify him.
The Nigerian informed that he filed a suit against the police officers, who arrested him on April 10, 2005 in front of his shop. Characteristically, the matter was struck out despite the overwhelming evidence of police brutality against him.
Nwagwu revealed that despite all his travails in Greece, including his shop which had been locked over the years, the Nigerian High Commission in that country had not done anything to intervene in the cases.
When asked if he had brought his travails to the notice of Nigerian Embassy officials in Greece, Nwagwu responded thus: “First of all, I would say that I don’t understand why Nigeria is spending money on foreign missions when they are not doing anything to help the situation of their citizens. Despite the lodgements I made at the Embassy during all this period, the officials have not cared to follow the matters up and find solutions to them.
“It is not the same with other countries’ nationals in Nigeria. For example, when Customs intercepted a container loaded with arms at Apapa seaport with weapons, we read that it was an Iranian national and a Lebanese that were involved. When they were arrested, their home government did not leave them to their fate. It does not matter if they were guilty or not, their countries stood by them.
“This is what the Nigerian Mission in Greece is not doing for us, no matter the situation. The Nigerian Mission is not protecting Nigerians that are making investments in Greece and when you ask for their help, they will tell you to go and sort yourself out because you are doing a private business and the Greek citizens and officials capitalise on this to deal with us.
“I am now broke as a result of the locking of my shop over the years. Not only me, but many Nigerians are suffering from injustice and nobody cares. Greek people fabricate cases against Nigerians and the Nigerian Mission will do nothing. When we have a matter in court and we appear, they will postpone the cases and said a new date of trial will be communicated to us, but they will not. Most of the cases are decided in our absence.”
Nwagwu said rather it was a policy introduced by the new Greek government that is trying to protect them in that country, but that policy, he observed, is meeting a brick wall in the officials of government.
“No matter what the central government is doing, the psyche of the old public servants is not changing so easily. It will take long before things will change dramatically in this direction. When you, as a Nigerian, apply for something in any government office, it will be unnecessarily delayed and when you complain they will tell if you don’t like it, you can go back to your country.”
Nwagwu is crying to the Nigerian government to intervene in the case so that all his efforts in setting up a thriving business in Greece will not be in vain.
“I want the Nigerian government to borrow a leaf from other governments around the globe and save us in Greece. If the Nigerian foreign mission in that country had intervened early, the damage wouldn’t be so much. You can see that for almost four years, I have been out of business due to the fact that my shop was locked and the Embassy officials here do not care to solve the problem. So, I am asking the Nigerian government to come to my rescue because I don’t want to engage in things that will tarnish the image of my country.
“The problems I have at hand in Greece, just like some other Nigerians, are not something that should be left to individuals to handle. It needs Federal Government’s intervention and it should be done without delay,” he said.