Posted by By Yetunde Oladeinde and Christy Anyanwu on
For Anthony Okechukwu and Philomina Ezeonu, 17th September 2005 is a day they look forward to with joy, as they plan to be formally wedded on that day at The Church of Assumption, Falomo, Lagos.
For Anthony Okechukwu and Philomina Ezeonu, 17th September 2005 is a day they look forward to with joy, as they plan to be formally wedded on that day at The Church of Assumption, Falomo, Lagos. Unfortunately, that joy has already been fouled as they lost all they had worked for all their lives in a fire accident that gutted their house on 2b Madike street, off Raymond Njoku, ikoyi, Lagos.
In an emotional voice, Ezeonu recalled how the disaster happened on Saturday, August 6th.
“I was driving out to school (Ikoyi campus of the Lagos State University), I saw the contractor renovating the house coming in. I drove out and he went to my wife who was still in the house. He asked her to open the passage near our bedroom and they went in.” By the time Ezeonu came back home about 5pm, his wife had gone to market. He also left for church five minutes later.
But about one hour later, tragedy struck at the home front and what both he and Philomina had worked for for years went up in smoke. Ezeonu continued the sad story: “By 6p.m, my wife called me that our house was on fire. I ran back from the church. My wife told me that she came back from the market about 5.30 PM. She tried to rescue some properties but by the time I got there the whole place was filled with smoke”, Ezeonu recalled sadly. “All this while we had no electricity, when NEPA brought back light, the thing increased and I had to call Engineer Uzoh to put off the light. Meanwhile, the carpenters and the security men were around when all this happened. They claimed the fire started from the kitchen but again the kitchen is intact.”
Three international passports, agreements with clients, and all his properties were burnt in the fire. “The only thing I had from that room was the trousers I wore. I came here in 1997 and my rent was for two years at N50, 000 per annum. I got this property from a lawyer, Oladipo Johnson, who I thought was the landlord until recently. His daughter, who is married to an Onitsha man, Mrs. Onyekwere, gave us this place”.
Then, the person he wanted to marry used the side as a gallery called Arts Innovation, while he used the other part to distribute juice. “In 1998,I started living in the boys quarters plus the attachment built by us. When my rent expired Johnson wrote and said that the payment I made was an underpayment. He said I should pay an additional N10, 000 for the two years that expired. I paid that and wanted to pay N60, 000 for the new year but he refused. He said I should pay N100, 000 and again I paid.”
By year 2000, the rent was jacked up to N150, 000. “The lady I was running the gallery with died a day before her wedding . They said she had asthmatic attack and I had to keep the place for about six months. Then, he sublet the place that I had paid for to another woman for N200, 000 per annum and collected two years rent. I called in my lawyer, Senator A. N. Anah, and that was how he asked me to pay N150, 000”.
The woman, according to Ezeonu, left and he started living in the apartment. “Every year, once your tenancy expires, he would not collect the money until you agree to more N50, 000. So, this last one started around June last year. My rent was due and he started writing me. Actually, I thought it was the same pattern it always took. Then, the real owners came and said that they were taking this place from Johnson because he was their lawyer and was underpaying them”.
Ezeonu spoke about the efforts he made to get another place. “I paid for a place in Anthony but the place was not ready. It should have been ready in May but unfortunately, it was not. Some days when I came back from work I would find my wife crying because they had come to harass her. I was forced to look for another place and this time around, it was Ajah. I paid in April but I told him that I was ready to move immediately. Unfortunately, the place was also not ready.”
Later, Ezeonu learnt that a contractor had taken over and would renovate the building. “Adeyemi came in July and said Johnson was no longer in charge. I told them to give me a month but he was more bitter than Johnson”.
The climax, Ezeonu said, however, came on Thursday, August 4th, 2005. “He came here and was talking to my wife. Then I was seeing off two visitors and I greeted him but he did not answer. Then, he shouted: ‘You would leave like one of our tenants in Surulere. You will pack crying without taking a pin’. So, I told him is this a threat? Then he said, if you do not want to leave in peace, then you would leave in pieces.’”
Daily Sun also got in touch with 75-year-old Mr. Oladipo Johnson, who was the caretaker of the property at 2b, Maduike Street off Raymond Njoku, Ikoyi. He tells his own side of the story.
“He was not our tenant, it was one lady who was the occupant of the two rooms. Then, this lady died and the owner wanted to take it over, Tony said no, she is my wife. Tony took over the rooms. This was about six years ago. I am not the landlord. I took Tony as a son, he was living at the boy’s quarters.
Since January this year, I called him and other tenants that the owner of the property wanted his property. I wrote several times but he didn’t reply. I have always told him that it is good to maintain good relationship with the owner of the property. I wrote him every month that the owner of the property wanted to renovate it but he did not move out, he said they should start with the renovation and he would move out.
“My son left, he was in the compound too and I offered Tony two rooms in my office premises. He refused the offer. He is claiming that he lost almost N8 million. If he is a child of God ask him, did Mr. Johnson come here? He would say No. They started the renovation of the compound four months ago and since then I have not been there. Did Tony tell you I am the landlord? I am not the landlord. That very day of the incident the security men telephoned me, I was shocked and I went to the place. They said the fire started from his room. In fact, it was his bedroom. Either he left the AC on or something. I’m not sure. The wiring in that house is very bad. That fire must have started in that place.
“Somebody said I shouldn’t take Ibo again in my house, my wife is Ibo and all my children speak Ibo. I told Tony that I would still do good to people no matter their tribe. I did not employ contractors, I didn’t even know them. He put it into writing that they should come and start working.
“Mr. Adeyemi Adewale is the contractor of the owner of the property and since he started the reconstruction of the house I have not been there.”
As the brick-bat rages, Tony is left with nothing but woes.
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