For Chief Nicholas Obi and his immediate family, the tears have refused to stop flowing. Their sorrow has been unending since July 11, 2019.
On that day, they watched helplessly as a bulldozer pulled down their house located at No1 Benster Crescent, Alahun Ozumba, Monkey Village, Mazamaza, Lagos.
Also destroyed, it was learnt, was equipment in a warehouse located in the building as well as personal belongings worth about N500million.
Obi, while speaking about his predicament, lamented that he had been reduced from a landlord to a homeless man with nowhere to go with his family.
Narrating how it all started, he traced his ordeal to an alleged refusal to sell the said plot of land to one Samuel Oguegbu, who he described as a pastor with the Lord Chosen Charismatic Renewal Ministry.
He said trouble started when Oguegbu allegedly approached him and other landlords to sell their properties behind his fence to him. He said three of the four landlords approached rejected the proposal.
Obi alleged that an infuriated Oguegbu then threatened to acquire all the land. He said the pastor claimed to have bought all the land, including his own. He also accused the pastor of threatening to demolish the houses built on the land behind his fence.
He recalled that he bought the land in 1992, built the house in 1997 and moved into it in 1998. The man said he lived peacefully for years in his house without any trouble.
His words: “That was where I lived with my family and did my legitimate business. I had a warehouse in the building and I bought the land from the locals who are original owners of the land in 1992.”
Displaying documents to prove ownership of the land, he explained that after buying the land from its legitimate owners, he was issued receipts by the late Oba Okiki of Kirikiri, through one of the family members, Mrs Mojisola Olayemi.
Obi recalled that the only time he had issues on Oguegbu’s property was with the initial owner, late Basil Obodoekwe. He explained that before the man’s demise, he had warned that there should be a three-feet setback from his fence as demarcation before any structure was constructed. Obi said he complied with the directive.
He also stated that no one complained of any boundary adjustment until Oguegbu, bought the house from the late Obodoekwe’s son.
He alleged that as soon as the pastor assumed ownership of the land, Oguegbu began to send different people, including thugs, to threaten him.
Obi said in order to prevent Oguegbu from carrying out the threats, he and other landlords wrote a petition complaining about the threats to life and attempted illegal acquisition of land. The petition was sent to the Deputy Inspector-General of Police (AIG), Force CIID Annex, Alagbon, Lagos. The letter was dated February 25, 2019.
Obi said it dawned on him that Oguegbu had perfected plans to take over his land when the pastor took the matter to the police. He said Oguegbu told the police he bought all the land, including his own.
“I was surprised at our next appointment in Alagbon that Oguegbu changed his statement. He claimed, among other things, that the buildings were under high-tension power line and that they constituted a nuisance. He also told the police that we attached our buildings to his fence. The policemen had to come to the place to verify his claims and discovered that the buildings were not attached close to his fence as he claimed,” he said.
Obi said unknown to the landlords, Oguegbu had gone to Alausa, Ikeja, to make another complaint against them. He said he and the other landlords were surprised when they were served a letter asking them to come to Alausa.
It was learnt that in a letter containing the seven-days quit notice served to the landlords by Oguegbu’s lawyer, Philip Nyitni and dated April 23, 2019, the buildings were described as illegal structures attached to his client’s fence and which, according to him, contravened the physical and urban planning laws of Lagos State. It was also alleged that the structures were obstructing the walkway, which contravened the environmental laws of Lagos 2011.
Obi also stated that Oguegbu had called the affected landlords, and after appealing to them, asked each of them how much they would sell their portion of land. Obi said the landlords refused to sell.
He said when Oguegbu continued to mount pressure on him to sell his land, he told the pastor that if he would sell at all, it would be for not less than N15million. Obi said he was however, surprised that Oguegbu offered to buy his portion for just N1million.
“I asked him if that was for rent. I told him that I could not sell it for peanuts that could not buy me another land, thereby making me to drop from being a landlord to tenant,” he said.
Obi further explained that Oguegbu went to one Goddy Okafor, a friend of Obi’s, and prevailed on the friend to persuade him (Obi) to sell the property for N1million. He said after his discussion with Okafor, Oguegbu increased the offer to N5million.
But Obi said he stood his ground, adding that the other landlords also refused to sell. It was only a widow that inherited her husband’s property that sold her land, he said.
In the words of Obi, since the landlords refused to sell their land, Oguegbu levelled all kinds of allegation against them and finally hired fake military personnel and fake officials of the Lagos State Government to demolish their property.
Obi maintained that since he built and lived on that land for 25 years with original receipts and documents from the real owners of the land, he remained the bona fide owner of the property. He stated that in one of the letters, Oguegbu gave the address of the property he claimed was his as 52 Alahun Ozumba Estate instead of No. 1 Benster Crescent. “One then begins to wonder how someone would just forget the number of his property,” Obi said.
Obi appealed to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to help retrieve his land from Oguegbu. He said since the demolition, he had been going through hell with his family. “As I speak with you, I don’t have any place to go with my family,” he lamented.
But Oguegbu has insisted that Obi’s narrative was a long piece of undiluted fallacy. Oguegbu’s lawyer, Nkiruka Okeke, denied any act of intimidation by the pastor against Obi. She said the demolition was carried out by officials of Lagos State
Government from the Ministry of Environment. She explained that both the state government and residents of Benster Estate were totally aware that there was no setback between the building and the Oguegbu’s fence.
She admitted that her client indeed approached Obi and six others. She said several meetings were held and monetary offers were made to the landlords so that they would allow Oguegbu have their land. She said Obi connived with three others to reject the offer and the rest collected various amounts of money.
Nkiru faulted the claim by Obi that he had genuine documents as the owner of the portion of land behind the fence. She said the documents he is brandishing are fake, as her client has the original titles of the land, including the portion Obi is claiming.
She said: “Nobody demolished his house, rather it was the state government. Obi is an illegal occupier and he refused to adhere to instructions from the police and the Lagos State Ministry of Environment because the place constituted a nuisance and it contravened environmental law.”