The conservative, colonial-style building on the grounds of 17 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos State, home to a number of businesses, had enjoyed relative peace and quiet until the rainy morning of September 8, when hell was let loose on the premises by persons believed by eyewitnesses to be thugs and rented uniformed military personnel.
Trouble began when Felix Ezeamama, the property’s erstwhile landlord, ran foul of the law.
The asset management corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), the federal government agency established to resolve non-performing loans with Nigerian banks, had filed a debt recovery action against Mr. Ezeamama on the said property in Ikoyi.
Pursuant to this action, the federal High Court in Lagos had ruled on 18 March 2016 (see attached document below) that Mr. Ezeamama, along with any agent or proxy of his, was restrained from dealing with or charging any existing tenants’ rents. Furthermore, the ruling expressly directed that all tenants were to accord recognition to AMCON as the de-facto landlord going forward, and all rents due to the property owner be paid to the agency until the determination of the debt recovery suit.
No sooner had judgment been passed did Mr. Ezeamama and his gang swing to action. Being fully aware that the property was encumbered, they brazenly began demanding rent from tenants whose lease was up for renewal in defiance and contempt of the court ruling.
Counsel to one of the affected organizations revealed to SaharaReporters that on 6 June 2016, one of Mr. Ezeamama's cohorts contacted his clients by telephone asking them to renew their lease and pay rent. His client immediately responded by an official email asking Mr. Ezeamama's cohort for status on the matter in court, he said.
“According to our client, Ezeamama’s response was very disturbing. He basically suggested that our client pay the rent even though the matter was still in court and should the matter be decided in AMCON’s favor, he would refund any unused portion of the rent to our client. He further suggested that our client move out of the property and wait for the outcome of the case should they not favor his proposal. At this point our clients took the decision to move out of the property,” the counsel said.
“Written and verbal communication went back and forth between our client and Ezeamama’s gang over the cause of the ensuing couple of months, with Felix Ezeamama pressuring our client to pay and asserting that he was the landlord and AMCON had no rights or say in who he rents the property to. According to reports, he was quoted to have boasted on numerous occasions, saying ‘this is my property and even though it is mortgaged, it remains rightfully mine and no AMCON can harass you or kick you out.’
“He encouraged them to feel free to confidently make payments to him, as the case in court may last ten years, according to him. At this point, our client had taken the decision to move out of the property and had requested a couple of months to identify and secure a suitable alternative office accommodation. Our client also offered to pay for extra months and stayed beyond the lease expiry prior to moving out,” he added.
Things turn very sour
The counsel further narrates that in July, the Ezeamama gang hired a thug named Uche.
“When Uche contacted our client by telephone on the 27th of July, he barked, he threatened; he ranted and left our client’s personnel with no doubt that he would do anything and everything to ensure they make payment to Ezeamama. He unequivocally communicated that he would surely fulfill his mandate no matter whose ox was gored. Following this meeting, our client informed Ezeamama that they intended to move out of the property at the end of August and would not be renewing their rent with Ezeamama nor with AMCON.
“On September 6, our client’s staff arrived at the office to find the main doors to the building they occupied had been locked, preventing them entry to their offices. Confused, they enquired with the security men at the premises who informed our client’s staff that Uche, acting on Ezeamama’s orders, had locked the door, a desperately brazen, though glaringly unlawful act given the prevailing court orders.
“The staff subsequently went to the police station where they showed the policemen a copy of the court order and filed a complaint. They informed the police of their intention to gain entry by forcing the door open. They got the blessings of the police who availed them of their numbers and advised them to make contact with the police station should anyone interfere with them. Upon return to the office, the staff got a call from Ezeamama who said he was the one who instructed his “ thug “ Uche to lock the door and that all he was after was money. He told our client’s staff that he would instruct Uche to open the door if our client will pay him immediately.
“Our client’s staff speaking with Ezeamama reassured him that his company had all intentions to pay Ezeamama prior to moving out of the premises as they had earlier communicated and had experienced delays in closing out on alternate accommodation, which is why they hadn't moved out as planned at the end of August. He told Ezeamama that his company was committed to making payments for the two months (July and August) during which they had occupied the property, following their lease expiry and agreed to make the payment latest by Friday. Ezeamama refused to open the door and our client forcefully gained entrance into the property to assess their office.
“Following this incident, our client wrote a letter to AMCON informing them of the incidence.
“Uche and Ezeamama subsequently went to the same police station and reported that our client’s personnel had forcefully gained entrance into the building. The police, on realizing that our client had written AMCON, backed off the case and dismissed all parties.”
SaharaReporters learnt that on the morning of 8 September 2016, Nigerian military personnel led by Uche invaded the counsel’s client’s offices, manhandled and harassed the staff, bloodied some people and destroyed all the client’s office furniture and other property before dumping them outside the premises under the pouring rain. A young man who worked on the premises narrated his ordeal and that of colleagues.
“The soldiers asked us to move the office furniture they had damaged from the office on the third floor downstairs. On my second trip down, my colleague arrived at the office. One of the officers asked for her phone, and she declined, stating that the officers did not have any right to her phone. The officers got angry and agitated. I tried to soothe the situation down by explaining to her that it would be best to comply with the officers. She repeated the fact that the soldiers had no right to her phone. At this point, one of the officers pushed her on the mid chest towards the wall and reached out his hands as if to slap her. He then started verbally abusing her, accusing her of being stubborn.
“The second junior officer asked me to take the accountant’s documents downstairs. I complied with this instruction and left the room. On getting back, I witnessed the senior officer break the tables. He then ordered his boys to take the wood downstairs. This continued till everything in the officer was removed. We could overhear intermittent phone calls to an unknown person. The caller was asking the senior officer if he had finished clearing the place. The caller called at least 4 times during the course of the invasion. One of the former security guards wearing a polo shirt also came upstairs at some stage to report to a caller on the other side of the phone the progress of the demolition and invasion,” the source said.
Undoubtedly, the physical assault on this company instigated by Mr. Ezeamama was carried out on lawless grounds and speaks loudly to an unfathomable level of impunity pervading the land. Furthermore, Nigeria’s resources were recklessly deployed to execute this ignominious act, provoked by the desperation of a mindlessly ravenous group to rob AMCON, a Nigerian government agency, as well as upstanding citizens going about their lawful business.
Whatever AMCON’s plans are to prosecute what appears as a case of contempt of court displayed by this landlord, by the time the matter is over, people should remember him as the perfect example of how not to be a rogue landlord in Nigeria.