The Ooni of Ife, Yoruba’s foremost traditional ruler, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, is presently embroiled in a real estate mega fraud after some of his companies allocated apartments and land that existed only on paper to hundreds of investors.
Apart from the revelation that hundreds of investors were never refunded after several years, the housing scheme, Gran Imperio Group’s multi-million-naira Essential Homes, has been described by many as the biggest fraud seen yet in Nigeria’s real estate history.
According to a report by the Foundation for Investigative Journalism, Oba Ogunwusi and his companies have swindled a lot of housing investors and buyers to the tune of hundreds of millions of naira, as the king appeared to be above the law.
In October 2014, Mrs Offiong (not real name) received some documents from Metropole Interproject Limited introducing the sale of a “one unit of three-bedroom corner piece bungalow apartment at South Pointe II Estate” at Ajah, Lagos, for N17,967,000 million. She was instructed to pay 50 percent of the cost if she accepted the offer.
Retiring at the top cadre in the civil service after 30 years, she did not hesitate to invest her gratuity because the supposed estate was in a prime location: the building’s specifications and the estate’s facilities as stated in the contract looked top notch; the delivery date was less than a year away in August 2015.
Shortly after paying the initial deposit of N8,983,500 million to Metropole Interproject Limited, a receipt bearing the name of its parent company, Gran Imperio Group, was issued to Mrs Offiong. On a scheduled visit to the site, Gran Imperio Group took subscribers to South Pointe I, instead of South Pointe II.
“They told us that South Point II was not ready yet, so they took us to South Pointe I to show us what two would look like when it was ready,” said Mrs Offiong’s son, James (not real name), who went with his mother to the site. “There was a bit of confusion that day. We suspected that something was not right but we calmed down when they told us about another estate that would be completed before South Pointe II.”
In a letter to subscribers in February 2015, Adiukwu Kechi, an official of the company, notified subscribers of the need to pay their next instalment. To get them to commit to completing their payments, although no land was shown to subscribers during the site visit, Kechi added: “We have been magnanimous to move you to a site that is beside South Pointe II and will be completed earlier than South Pointe II too, which is Golden Leaf Estate, and a final allocation will be issued too.”
On the day Mrs Offiong made the final deposit of N8,983,500 million, she received a letter from another staff member of Metropole Limited, Nnamdi Ukpabi, notifying her of the allotment of ‘Block F Unit 1’.
But on the delivery date of August 2015, Mrs Offiong and hundreds of other subscribers found out that what they had were buildings and land on paper; they had been defrauded by companies headed at the time by Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, a man later crowned the Ooni of Ife in December of the same year.
Many investors, citing fear of backlash from the monarch, declined to go on record, but they accused the company of defrauding them.
FIJ managed to track five people who agreed to provide documents and correspondences with the companies’ officials on the condition that their identities were not revealed. Visits to the locations of the supposed estates, revealed that the estate schemes never materialised.
Gran Imperio Group’s subsidiary companies, including Howard Roark Limited and Metropole Interproject Limited, were involved in ‘Essential Homes’, an ambitious scheme to build and deliver 1,000 affordable bungalow houses to middle and low income earners by the end of 2015.
Launched in 2014, six estates — Lakeview Park I and II; Mid-Land Court; South Pointe I, II; Golden Leaf Estate; Y’hello Estate — were reportedly created by the company.
FIJ’s check on the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) portal of real estate companies with links to Ooni Ogunwusi revealed that Gran Imperior Group of Companies was registered in November 14, 2013, while Howard Roark Limited was registered in 2008. They have inactive status on the portal, which possibly means that they had not filed tax documents in a long time. Metropole Interproject Limited did not appear on the CAC portal.
Investigations by FIJ confirmed that Ogunwusi and 13 others are directors of Gran Imperio Group of Companies. The Ooni of Ife also sits as director on the board of Howard Roark Limited.
In 2015, Ogunwusi had stated that Golden Leaf Estate, a 380-unit apartment developed in collaboration with the British American Tobacco Company (BATC), was undergoing construction and would be delivered in a year.
Subscribers were required to make an initial deposit of 30 percent of the offer price, 40 percent at roofing stage and 30 percent upon completion. Six years later, hundreds of subscribers neither got apartments nor refunds.
Mr Jonathan Abu (not real name) was one of them. He initially subscribed to South Pointe Two but agreed to be moved to Golden Leaf Estate because of the ‘boys quarters’ attached to the bungalow and its proximity to his work place on the Island.
After he made the first deposit of N6,139,800 in March 2015, nothing happened on the land and he never heard from Metropole Interproject Limited until August 2016, nearly a year and a half after. In a letter signed by two directors of the company, Taiwo Akintayo and Isaac Etim, the company stated that it did not meet delivery schedule because of “unresolved land acquisition issue”.
It said a relocation of the project to another site was in consideration.
Having seen Ooni Ogunwusi rub shoulders with politically powerful people, including President Muhammadu Buhari, who many times said that no acts of corruption would go unpunished in his administration, some investors, at the time, got discouraged and simply “handed the matter over to God”.
Others who frantically headed to court soon found that it was an exercise in futility.
With multiple law suits, Ogunwusi’s company selected court hearings to attend and failed to honour out-of-court agreements and judgments, FIJ was told. While some were refunded a fraction of the money they invested, others got nothing.
“So when we went to court and they never showed up, I just knew nothing would come out of this. They probably would just kill the case,” said Oluwashina (not real name) who lost N5,010,000 to the South Pointe II scheme and was not refunded. It was the first major project he started with his wife.
In addition to suspicions by subscribers that Ooni Ogunwusi was using his influence to frustrate the court cases against his companies is the question: is the company financially capable of paying hundreds of investors it owes millions of naira?
Ooni Ogunwusi knew about the problems investors had with his company, as a letter to all subscribers shortly after he became the Ooni showed. The letter, signed by the Ooni, stated his position as Chairman and was co-signed by Taiwo Akintayo. It was written on January 2016.
It began with an apology for “slow pace of work” and continued by listing some challenges. He further urged investors, many of whom neither saw their land nor building on the supposed estate, to “support with your payment (if you still have any due) to enable us deliver as soon as possible”.
“I want to assure you that Gran Imperio Group remains a going concern and I am still committed to drive [sic] the vision of the company to even greater heights more than ever before,” Ogunwusi wrote.
Efforts to get comments from Gran Imperio were unsuccessful. A lady who answered the call to one of the phone numbers on the firm’s letterhead, claimed it was a wrong number.
A call to the second number was answered by one Humphrey Obadjere, who claimed to be an accountant that had left the company.