A lawyer and human rights activist, Chief Morah Ekwunoh, has raised the alarm over what he termed threats to his life by the children of his landlord.
He occupies a three-bedroom flat at 41, Irone Avenue, Aguda, Surulere, Lagos State.
Ekwunor said that he rented the apartment in 2012 from a developer, Alhaji Aliu Yusuf, who is now late. He said he had lived peacefully in the house and promptly paid his rent to the developer until the owner’s children came into the picture and began to torment his life.
Ekwunoh, who is a columnist with a national newspaper, accused Mr. Richard Gbadebo Adewunmi, one of the landlord’s children, of leading his siblings and others to make his life miserable. He alleged that, on many occasions, the landlord’s children had attempted to snuff life out of him.
When the reporter contacted Richard on the telephone, he described Ekwunoh as a liar and an illegal, troublesome tenant.
Contrary to the barrister’s claim that he rented the apartment in 2012, Richard countered that the man had been living in the house since 2000. He added that the tenant had dragged the Adewunmi family to different courts in a bid to remain in the house perpetually without paying rent to anybody.
He lamented that Ekwunoh had stopped payment for the apartment since 2008, and that he was boasting of using his influence as a lawyer to get away with the illegality.
Reacting to the last rent he paid, the lawyer said there was no truth in Richard’s claim. He said the last rent he paid to the developer’s family expired in 2016.
Punching the lawyer’s narration, the landlord’s son challenged him to provide receipts or any other evidence of payment in relation to the apartment. When Daily Sun asked Ekwunoh for evidence of payment, he said the developer’s family had not been giving him any receipt. He said he usually paid in cash, adding that there was neither deposit receipt from the bank to also tender as evidence. He said he only documented all the payments, dates and other details in his personal diary.
In a chat with the reporter, the lawyer recalled some of the attacks that the Adewunmis had allegedly perpetrated against him. He said the developer had developed the house on behalf of the owner, Adewunmi, but problem began thereafter.
His words: “The developer built the house under a lease agreement, but not too long after the family members of the owner of the house began to disturb him that he built the house with substandard materials. They went to court seeking to annul the developer’s lease agreement with the family. And I represented the developer in court; that was before I rented the house.
“The court ruled against the family on the ground that Yusuf had completed the building. They continued to patch their relationship, which has been very turbulent. Because I was his lawyer, the landlord’s family have done everything possible to bring me into the firing rage.
“The anger increased in them when I rented an apartment in the house. The bitterness rose to a point that the Adewunmis asked for an atonement of tenancy, and that I should start paying to them. But I told them that I only had a contract with the developer and that doing any otherwise would amount to betrayal and it is not sustainable in law.
“Yusuf died in 2014, leaving three wives and children behind. His family nominated one Luqman to be collecting the rent on behalf of the family. But it got to a point, there were disagreements among the developer’s children and they asked me to stop paying to Luqman until they finished their case in court.
“While that was on among Yusuf’s children, the Adewunmi’s children brought action against the former, who are the beneficiaries of their late father’s estate, to stop collecting the rent. They claimed that the lease agreement had expired and secondly that the developer didn’t keep to the terms of the lease.
“Yusuf’s children are still in court. The Adewunmis that sued Yusuf’s family are also still in court. I was privy to the action of the landlord’s children. Then I brought a personal application to be joined in the suit. But the judge said I could not be joined because I was not privy to the agreement between the developer and the late Adewunmi. He advised me to step aside, but said even if the Adewunmis get judgment in their favour, they would have to start a fresh legal process of my eviction, if they desired to evict me.”
Ekwunoh said as the case was protracting, the landlord’s children felt frustrated along the line and began to vent their frustrations on him.
“They have done a lot to me. On one fateful day in 2017, I was assaulted in the premises by Adewunmi’s children. They laid ambush on me and poured sand mixed with dangerous chemical from my head to toe. It inflicted injury on me. The perpetrator didn’t contest it. His brother, Richard, was there.
“On another occasion, they chased me from the house down to Sanya Expressway, throwing stones and other dangerous objects at me. I reported the case at Aguda Police Station. I had to stay away from the house for more than a week,” he said.
According to the aggrieved tenant, he petitioned the then Commissioner of Police, Lagos, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, urging him to intervene in the matter and investigate and expose the people that were allegedly attacking him. He said it was during the investigation that the police advised the Adewunmis to go to court and seek justice if they felt cheated.
“They eventually sued me to court. They served me paper to vacate the house within a week against the legal six months. No judgment on the case yet. We have been on interlocutory issues; so they have no locus standi. The last time we went to court, the magistrate adjourned the case,” he stated.
He said there have been series of phone calls, text and WhatsApp messages from strange numbers, warning him to leave the house or stand the risk of losing his life. He stated that his tormentors had assigned people to monitor his movements, as well as embark on other unlawful steps to forcefully get him evicted from the house. He said he had to move his family members from the house.
He said Richard led a team of about 20 people on April 2 to his apartment, including two policemen in uniform. He said he initially refused to open the doors out of fear of what they might have been up to. He stated that he had to construct three sets of burglary proof leading to his flat for security reasons.
“They started hitting the walls and pulled down all the burglary proof till the last one to my door. I wanted to open the door at a point but they destroyed the key, so I waited for them to force their way in.
“One of them said he was a sheriff from the court. I demanded his name but he refused to disclose it. He said he had a warrant. I asked him to give me, which I am supposed to counter-sign. Again, he refused. Then he later said it could have been a case of mistaken identity, having provided him my identity card on his request.
“Since that incident, I have been hiding for my dear life. The hoodlums that came with them made a big hole in my door, which can easily give them access to strike even when I’m asleep. They took the burglary proof away. I also reported the matter to the police,” Ekwunoh said.
The lawyer, who said his tormentors also damaged his vehicle about two months ago, said the world should know whom to hold responsible if anything untoward happens to him. He also called on the police to carry out a thorough investigation and charge his attackers to court.
However, narrating his own story, Richard said: “Someone who is a lawyer will live in a house since 2008 without paying a kobo. He has not even paid his electricity bills, which has accumulated to N700,000. He has taken us to different courts to remain in the house but we have won in all. He has harassed everybody, including other people in the area.
“He keeps sending me threat messages of how he is a civil rights lawyer. Everybody knows him as a petition writer. At a point, he ran to court to grant him an order of perpetual stay in my house, but the judge told him he couldn’t grant him the prayer.
“Anyway, we are in the process of making sure that things are done legally. If he feels anything is not done right so far, he should go to court and tell us to come forward because that is what he has been doing since 2010. Anytime he goes to court, we ask him to bring receipts or agreement of his rent payment, but he has not been able to provide any till date.”
Richard also claimed why Ekwunoh’s burglary proof was removed. He said it was wrong for Ekwunoh to construct iron protector on other spaces in the compound, and argued that it was the apartment that was rented to him, not the entire house.
“I wanted to have an insurance cover on the house. So, I brought people from the fire service to assess the place but they said what Ekwunoh did was against the law, and that the burglary proof shouldn’t be there,” Richard said.