Embattled members of the Renaissance Homeowners and Residents Association who were ejected from their houses by a Supreme Court order in Rivers State are demanding compensatory actions from the initiator of the housing scheme, First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc, formerly known as FBN Mortgage Bank Plc (a subsidiary of First Bank Plc) for selling properties with defective titles to them.
Residents of the Renaissance Homes Housing Scheme which is situated at Plot 96 GRA Phase 3, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, have been rendered homeless since March 1, when men of the Nigerian Police Force invaded the premises to execute a Supreme Court Judgment delivered as far back as January 2003 in favour of the Nigerian Airforce.
In a letter by the solicitors to the homeowners, AK & CO, to the Managing Director of First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc, titled “Notice of demand to reinstate homeowners and residents of Renaissance Homes at Plot 96 GRA phase 3 Port Harcourt or payment of N4, 000,000,000 (four billion naira) as compensation for your bank’s gross negligence”, the aggrieved homeowners accused First Trust Mortgage Bank of gross negligent for failing to investigate the title it acquired from Vestor before transferring it to the Renaissance homeowners.
The letter read in part, “It is imperative that we state that as of 31st January 2003 the decision of the Court of Appeal was already reversed by the Supreme Court, and then in June 2003, Vestor bought the land from Ex-Squadron Leader Obiosa. First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc, thereafter, bought the land from Vestor in 2008.
“In the light of all these facts, a modest due diligence, going by a reasonable man’s test would have revealed that at the time your bank was about to purchase the property from Vestor in 2008, there was a Court Martial judgment registered on the property, that there was also a Court of Appeal judgment in furtherance of which Vestor then registered its interest, which would ordinarily arouse the curiosity in anyone, especially your bank, to conduct due diligence on the status of the appeal to the Supreme Court.”
According to Efe Ize-Iyamu, a lawyer from Adeniji Kazeem and Co, the counsel to the resident association, First Trust Mortgage Bank who conceived and birthed the idea of Renaissance Homes neglected to register its title in the property which it originally acquired from Vestor Properties Limited which led to the unbearable condition his clients have now be subjected to.
He said the homeowners in February 2010 bought several units of 4 (four) bedroom flats by subscribing to the Renaissance Homes Housing Scheme, an initiative of FBN Mortgage Bank Plc now known as First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc (a subsidiary of First Bank Plc) and for over a decade, they enjoyed undisturbed proprietary and possessory rights over the properties until they were chased out of the premises on March 1, 2022, for no fault of theirs.
“Ever since then, the homeowners have been displaced, dispossessed of their various belongings and have been living at the mercies of whoever may show empathy,” the lawyer said.
The property was said to have been a subject of litigation between the Nigerian Airforce and one of its former personnel, Ex-Squadron Leader A.
Obiosa, who was court-martialled and allegedly found culpable of financial malfeasance which eventually led to the confiscation of the disputed landed property by the Force.
The dismissed Obiosa allegedly got a reprieve at the Appeal Court and quickly sold the land to Vestor Properties Limited which in turn transferred the ownership to the First Trust Mortgage Bank.
“It is also curious to note that the Supreme Court had delivered its judgement of January 2003, five (5) years prior to First Trust Mortgage Bank’s acquisition of the disputed property from Vestor Properties Limited in 2008,” Ize-Iyamu said.
“Ideally, these facts would have been revealed through modest due diligence investigating the title of Vestor Properties Limited by First Trust Mortgage Bank before initiating the Renaissance Housing Home Scheme and conveying defective title to the unsuspecting homeowners considering that the Supreme Court had restored the property to the Nigerian Airforce, therefore the Bank had absolutely nothing to convey or sell to the homeowners.
“Given the circumstances and sensitivity of this issue, it is only fair and conscionable for First Trust Mortgage Bank to take steps towards adequately compensating Renaissance Homeowners having negligently ignored the encumbrance in the disputed property and foisting a defective title on the homeowners.”
Conversely, the bank denied prior knowledge of the delivery and execution of the judgment, insisting it had no reasons to doubt the credibility and validity of the title of its predecessors in-titles, over the land.
The bank’s lawyers, Onyeke, Ideho & Ighomuaye LP, in a letter written to the counsels of the affected homeowners, which was seen by our correspondent, said its client is pursuing a course of action that will lead to the reclamation of the properties.
“First, in conjunction with Vestor Properties Limited, to engage Chief Olusola Adekanola, the purchaser of the land from the Nigeria Airforce on an amicable resolution of the matter, towards a possible restoration of the possessory rights of the subscribers of the Renaissance Apartments.
“Secondly, to commence interpleader proceedings at the Rivers State High Court, Port Harcourt, before the same court that granted the warrant of possession, and contend before the court that Supreme Court Judgment executed at the property, that the execution of the judgment by the Air Force on the order of restitution, can only be executed on the known and established property or properties of the judgment debtor,” the letter read.
For 12 years they were enjoying peaceful, undisturbed possession until the early hours of that fateful day when a team of Nigeria Police officers together with some dreaded-looking young men allegedly invaded the apartments with guns, cutlasses, and axes to forcefully and brutally evict residents of the estate.
Dr Doyle Edeni, the Chairman of the Renaissance Homeowners and Residents Association whose three apartments were wantonly vandalized, said residents lost billions of naira worth of property and valuables during the sudden eviction.
Edeni noted, “They denied and restrained landlords and tenants in the estate from removing their vital belongings and properties, including priceless pieces of jewellery and other inherited ancestral ornaments from generations past as reported by some members, who were crying and begging at the gate to access their flats but vehemently denied by the armed policemen, who blocked off the compound.”
“I bought three apartments of four-bedroom facilities which were remodelled into a 13-bedroom facility with five sitting rooms, four kitchens, one gym, one game room, 24- seater conference/training room, and three offices, all furnished to international standards to accommodate and cater to the needs of international and local Nigerian teams.
“But today that place has been completely vandalized and our foreign partners chased away. Following the trauma of the incident, some experts, who scurried into safety in hotels for shelter insisted to abandon their contracts and leave the country. Particularly painful is the issue of Mr Corrado Bottazzi – our Chief Operating Officer and a former Managing Director of Saipem), who lived in one of the terrace apartments.
“He was physically assaulted and pushed out by hostile strangers and has now relocated back to Europe,” the United States-based engineer said.
Edeni, who resides abroad and who was operating his business and guest house for staff members at Renaissance Estate, Bimkol Road, Port Harcourt, said, “We are not interested in the bank’s course of action; what we want is immediate compensation. It is unbelievable that First Trust Mortgage Bank, a subsidiary of a big institution like First Bank could perpetrate this fraudulent act by selling properties with voided documents to unsuspecting Nigerians. Our members, the majority of whom are retirees, have been rendered homeless because these were the only properties they had and you are talking about going to court. If something like this had happened in the US where I am, First Bank would have provided temporary apartments for the affected people immediately after the incident occurred but they aren’t even talking to us let alone do anything to ameliorate people’s sufferings.
“It is hard to adequately quantify our losses, some of us who converted our apartments to offices have seen our businesses grounded. First Bank is saying they have gone to court to challenge the eviction because they were unaware of existing litigation on the land but what is our business with that? Shouldn’t they have conducted due diligence before acquiring the land? Should we stay homeless throughout the litigation? What we are saying is that they should refund us today’s value of what we paid for the properties and indemnify us against our losses as a result of the invasion. I have lost my business; only a few days ago, I received an email from our partners who are requesting compensation for the abrupt termination of the contract and the damage they suffered during the attacks. The government is saying that Nigerians in the diaspora should repatriate their money and invest in the economy but will these kinds of experiences encourage people to put their money in a system like this? We have some of our members, about three of them who are based in Canada, they were not even in Nigeria when the eviction took place but today nobody can account for a pin from their apartments.”
Dr. Felix Geroge, (not real name; he preferred to conceal his identity) another homeowner said he was yet to recover from the trauma, saying First Bank has displayed utter insensitivity to their plight.
He said: ‘We live in a jungle in this country; You wake up in the morning and somebody comes to chase you away from the house you have lived in for 12 years. I have not been able to cope with this trauma, I have been having sleepless nights since then, and my family has been thrown into this mess.
“There is a case that went up to the Supreme Court and the people living in the properties were not told, there was no information whatsoever until they were evicted, it is so sad.
“Some of us are living in people’s houses, sleeping on people’s chairs and we know how court things run in this country and you want us to wait with our families for five, 10 years for the case to be dispensed with? Why should will be punished for being honest Nigerians who bought properties from First Bank? It doesn’t make sense; they are not even talking to us.”
Green Ekeledo echoed Geroge’s sentiments insisting that First Bank through its subsidiary should compensate them immediately.
“I am a retiree; I should be thinking about how I’ll bequeath this house to my children but I have now been thrown into the street. It is only in Nigeria that this kind of thing can happen. We are not interested in whatever First Bank is negotiating with Chief Adekanola, that should be the problem of the bank, but what we are saying is that they should pay us off. We have told them our demands, they have to sit with us, and whatever figure we both arrived at, they should pay and let us move on with our lives,” he submitted.
Ekeledo, a retiree, in 2010, had splashed a whopping N50 million of his savings on a subscription for a unit of flat in the Renaissance Homes Housing Scheme, an initiative of FBN Mortgage Bank Plc now known as First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc (a subsidiary of First Bank Plc). There was no way he could have arrived at an inclination that a deal powered by a big institution like First Bank would be shrouded in fraud that would end in a fiasco for him and other subscribers.
He had hoped to enjoy his retirement in the cozy apartment and that dream was sustained for 12 years until the morning of March 1, 2022, when the operatives of the Nigerian Police Force in conjunction with hoodlums stormed the properties for the execution of a Supreme Court judgment delivered as far back as January 2003 in favour of the Nigerian Airforce.
“I will call that day Black Tuesday; it’s been about six months now that we were dispossessed of our properties; families are scattered here and there. Let me speak about myself, my in-laws can’t do too much, they gave us a small apartment to manage but it couldn’t contain us, I had to move into a friend’s house, as I am talking to you now, I am squatting somewhere. It’s been a horrible experience and an agonizing period for me and my family,” he said.
Ekeledo and 15 others bought the houses located at Plot 96 Bimkol Close, GRA Phase 3, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, consisting of 16 units of four-bedroom terrace houses through FBN Mortgages Limited now First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc in February 2010 at the cost of N50 million per apartment.