In the last few days, Ridwan Adebola has been stuck in a conundrum. He is unsettled at home and workplace each time he remembers that the new owner of his rented apartment on Demurin Street, Ketu, Lagos State, could suddenly surface and send him and his family packing. A clearing agent at the Apapa port, the six-month notice to quit he was served had elapsed in August, making him to fear that the current landlord could take possession any time soon.
As a responsible father of two, Adebola prepared for the next accommodation to relocate his family immediately he received the notice. Towards that, he worked very hard to increase his savings and by April, he had successfully raised N150,000. He was happy, believing he would not be caught napping when his tenancy expired.
On his way to work on a Monday morning mid-April, he saw a notice advertising a 15-apartment building for rent at No 1 Karimu Street – about 2 kilometres away from his residence. Swiftly, he called the number on the ad and hooked up with one Akin who identified himself as an Agent. Adebola later met with the developer in charge of the building, Teslim Alabi. He inspected the house which was almost completed then, and agreed to rent a bed-roomed flat.
Mindful of losing the apartment to other house seekers whom he was told had also indicated interest, he paid N150,000 into Alabi’s bank account and few days later, he paid another N165,000 to complete the payment for the rent, agreement and commission fees. That day in early May, he arrived home with a receipt to the embrace of his wife and his two kids who were happy they had got another home. But few hours before June 23 when he was supposed to get the keys to his supposedly new apartment, it turned out that he had fallen victim to a fraudulent syndicate.
“We were about to sleep around 11 pm on June 22 when my wife’s friend alerted us that there was a crowd in front of a newly rented apartment on Karimu Street, lamenting that they had been defrauded,” Adebola recalled, sounding dejected.
He said, “I rushed down there and met a lot of people protesting. The 15 apartments were already occupied whereas over 200 people paid rent to the developer. I paid N315,000 in two instalments. Rent was N220,000 and N100,000 for commission and agreement fees. I begged them before they removed N5,000 from the total sum. Unfortunately, the agent that took me to the house is nowhere to be found and his line is not going through.
“My landlord has sold the building I live in since February and he gave us 6 months’ notice which ended in August. The owner can send us out any time from now. I have been running around, looking for means to rent another apartment. Where will I take my wife and two children to when they send us out?”
Saturday PUNCH learnt that Adebola was one of the 279 intending tenants Alabi and his accomplices allegedly swindled out of about N65m rent. The middle-aged developer was arrested by the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigerian Police in Ikoyi following a petition by the victims. His cohorts are still at large.
Our correspondent gathered that the police also invited a suspect who leased the land to Alabi for 20 years. While police investigation continues, tales of regrets and frustrations have taken the better part of the unsuspecting victims. Many of them had taken loans to pay the rent, thereby leaving them with a double burden.
A hotel worker, Akeem Mohammed, is another victim whose plight dwarfed Ademola’s. He had anticipated Sunday, June 23 with bated breath. Before the deal went awry, the 38-year-old man was supposed to move into one of the flats within the building having paid a rent of N400,000, including commission and agreement fees.
“I received a six-month notice to quit from my landlord and it expired in June,” the father of three said as he began to narrate the chain of events leading to his tribulation to Saturday PUNCH. He went on, “I got a loan from my employer to pay for the rent. It was a friend who informed me that the building was open for rent. I made a series of inspections before I paid in January when the building was under construction. I paid directly to Mr Teslim Alabi.
“He and his agents told me to come for inspection anytime I like. I went there and saw the progress of the work. They told me and some people I met in the course of my inspection to come on June 23 for our keys. On getting there, I met an angry crowd. About 20 people paid for one apartment! In my own flat, we were over 30 persons that met there. It was a woman lawyer who arrived first that got the key.”
After being thrown out by his landlord upon the expiration of the notice, Mohammed, his wife and their three children had turned squatters. “My wife and our three children are with my sister-in-law while I squat with a friend. I have been struggling, by all means, to raise money to get another apartment while I am still repaying the loan I collected from my employer. School fees of my children are also there, but I am not thinking of that now. I want to get an apartment first,” he remarked, his eyes red with tears.
“At least, 279 people were affected. The building contains ‘five room-and-parlour apartments’ (five units of one-bedroomed flat) while the remaining 10 are self-contained apartments. Mr Alabi collected N400,000 from me. By the time all of us came together and calculated the money, it was about N65m,” Mohammed, who coordinates a platform comprising all the victims, added.
Saturday, September 14, 2019, was a landmark in the life of Regina Onyeke, a Public Administration graduate and fashion designer, as it was the day she turned 30. In lieu of fun, merry and excitement that should characterise the historic day, the single mother was soaked in sorrow.
Five months ago, the native of Benue State relocated to Lagos upon securing employment at a logistics company in the Ogudu area of Lagos metropolis. Cheerful and expectant of better days ahead, she arrived at Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre with her five-year-old son.
Onyeke pleaded with her married cousin to allow her and her son stay with the family for two weeks while she searched for an apartment to rent.
“My cousin recommended an agent who took me to the house on Kareem Street,” she intoned. “I sold my machines to raise the money and pay for the rent. I was supposed to pay N350,000 for a year and six months’ rent. I had paid N250, 000. I was awaiting my June salary to complete the payment when I knew about the fraud. I paid into the man’s (Alabi’s) account on May 15 and he said the house would be ready in June.”
As if the woe was not enough, Onyeke while shuttling between rights groups offices and police formations in search of justice, she got relieved of her hard-fought appointment. “My boss said I was not regular on duty and he sacked me. I had to take my son back home. My plan was to enrol him in a school here in Lagos in September (this month) when the school resumes,” she disclosed emotively.
A civil servant, who gave her name only as Yetunde, is still struggling to reconcile her memory with the drama that played out at the disputed house on June 23. That day, in the morning, she bid her neighbours in Ikorodu farewell as she crammed her belongings into a pick-up van, heading for her newly-rented apartment.
“I met a large crowd as I arrived at the house,” she exclaimed. “I have yet to come out of the trauma. I paid N250,000 into the man’s account. He assured me that I would move in on June 23. My aim was just to collect the key and move in that Sunday.”
Similar to Yetunde’s unpleasant condition was that of Maria Adegbenle, a mother of two, whose husband also lost N250, 000 to the fraud. “We had already moved out of our former place. My two children and I now live with my mother-in-law while my husband is squatting with his friend,” she said.
At 32, it is time Stanley Nwankwo, a pharmacist, tied the nuptial knot and plans were in the pipeline. First on the preparation list was to get an apartment relatively befitting of a new couple. He stated, “I saw the notice at Tipper Garage (Ketu) and called the phone number. It was a lady who picked the call. She directed me to an agent called Joseph who took me to the house, where I met with Teslim (Alabi). I paid N350,000 for a room and parlour with two toilets. The rent was N250,000 while the remaining N100,000 was for agreement and commission fees. I had gone there on June 23 to collect the key only to find out that it was a fraud.
“I planned to marry this year but the incident has shattered my plan. It was a huge setback but I believe God has a reason for everything. I borrowed money to pay for the house. I am still repaying the loan. Except there is no God, those people (who defrauded me) won’t go free.”
Emeka Chukwura from Delta State had been visiting “the megacity” on and off since 2012. In May 2018 when he secured employment at an IT company on Victoria Island, he relocated permanently. As he saved part of his salary, he put up with his relation in Surulere pending when he would have enough money to rent an apartment.
Like most of the victims, he came across an agent, one Prince, in March through a contact number he saw on a notice pasted by the roadside. “Prince took me round the compound and he told me that once I paid, he would give me the key,” Chukwura disclosed. “I paid N230,000 directly into Alabi’s account in April 2019 for a self-contained apartment and he gave me a receipt. The rent was N150,000; N80,000 was for the agreement and commission fees as well as the caution fee.”
He explained that when he wanted to move into the apartment in April as it was initially agreed, the fraudsters told him they had some issues with the Lagos State Government which delayed the completion of the house. He stated, “They begged me to come back in May. I went but they asked me to come back on June 22. They said that was when they would give everybody key. I was there to get the key so that I could move in the following day which was a Sunday. Surprisingly, I saw many people who also rented the same apartments.
“I was looking for an apartment I could afford and the house was perfect for me when I saw it. It was within the range I could afford; that was why I quickly paid not knowing I was dealing with fraudsters. I was supposed to leave my cousin’s house 6 months ago, and now I have overstayed. I just had to beg him. Unfortunately, he is packing out by the end of the year. I have to struggle to raise money by December and get an apartment. He married recently and it is like I inconvenience the new couple because the original plan was for me to leave in March. Though the apartment is a 2-bedroom flat, we have so many loads there and everywhere is filled up.”
Chukwura commended the Lagos State Government for taking up the matter, urging it to follow through the case and ensure that their money was refunded. He added, “We went to a human rights lawyer. Unfortunately, the money she charged us was so much. She requested about N1m to begin the case. We just lost money and you are asking us to bring such an amount of money. That is why we are happy that the state government is getting involved in the issue. We hope that the case will be followed through. What we want is a refund of our money.”
An official of a second generation bank in the Anthony area of Lagos, Theresa Amadi, also shared her sad encounter with the conmen with Saturday PUNCH. She had paid rent for a self-contained apartment to Alabi so she could relocate from the one-room apartment she resides in. Part of her plans was that her two children who are based in Ibadan, Oyo State, would move to Lagos.
She explained, “I go to Ibadan every two weeks which is not very convenient for me. I wanted my daughters to be living with me here in Lagos so that I can properly look after them. I paid N175,000 for a self-contained apartment, remaining N25,000 balance which I promised to pay on the day I get the key. I got the apartment through an agent called Akeem. His number has not been going through since the developer was arrested. I saw his (Akeem) number in front of the office of an estate agent in Ikosi-Ketu, but I later found out he was not the owner of the office.”
Alabi has been charged and remanded in Ikoyi prison just as the office of the Attorney General of Lagos State is taking up the prosecution. While the judicial process lasts, hundreds of families affected by the fraud continue to bewail their losses. For how long they will wait to get justice, is unknown to them. For now, they are still bemoaning, crying that they get a refund speedily.