Tenants in the buildings at No. 5 Raymond Street andNo. 8 Thurnburn Street in Yaba, Lagos, have said the caretakers of the properties disappeared into thin air immediately the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission began investigations over the properties’ connection with the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The properties are among the 56 houses on which a Lagos Division of the Federal High Court placed an interim forfeiture for being allegedly bought between 2011 and 2013 valued at $22 million (or N3.3 billion).
Justice Abdulaziz Anka had directed the EFCC to publish the order for interim forfeiture in any national newspaper and adjourned till September 8.
But at the next adjourned date, Emmanuel Bassey, counsel to the companies linked with the properties, said he had filed an application requesting the EFCC to serve it with the ex-parte application with which the Commission used to secure the interim order of forfeiture.
Anselm Ozioko, counsel to the EFCC, argued there was no such order mandating it to ‘serve the ex-parte order to the respondents.’
During a recent visit to the properties by PREMIUM TIMES, some of the tenants who agreed to be interviewed said they are aware of the ongoing proceedings at the Federal Court.
While some of them, unsure of the government’s next line of action, are bemoaning their losses, others are already looking to cut their losses by seeking an alternative accommodation.
The property at Raymond Street, which extends into the one at Thurnburn Street, consists of two en-suite 2-bedroom apartments and one 4-bedroom apartment.
The one at No. 7 Thurnburn consists of 21 mixed housing units of eight 4-bedroom apartments, two penthouse apartments of 3-bedrooms each, and six 3-bedroom (all en-suite) terrace apartments.
Both properties were allegedly bought for the US dollar equivalent of N937 billion by Mrs Alison-Madueke, through Chapel Properties Ltd.
“Some of us were not aware of anything before now, we just started hearing news of ownership by (Alison-Madueke),” said a tenant who preferred not to be named.
“And even if the Commission will take over the building, we would not be affected because that should not affect our own contract.”
Another tenant said some EFCC operatives had been visiting the buildings.
“The truth is the EFCC guys came here already and they have started saying we should be ready for the takeover,” the tenant said.
“Even after the last issue, there used to be a management committee here but they all ran away after the Commission showed their readiness to take over the building, although there have been disagreements on issues of maintenance before now, when EFCC came everything just became bad.”
Asked whether any tenant had moved out since the forfeiture proceedings began, the tenant said most of the tenants are waiting to see the government’s final decision.
“There is serious apprehension as you can see that the building is one of the biggest in the area, although many occupants were caught napping at the news of forfeiture of the building.”
Just like several tenants at the properties, the private security guards said they are unsure when they would be told to stop work at the facilities.
“When they wanted to start this place I was here and everything was almost done in secrecy and now they are saying that Madueke owns this place,” a security guard who did not want to be named said.
“Really I don’t know what to do, although we are contract staff, we really have been shocked.”
When contacted, Wilson Uwujaren, the EFCC Spokesperson, said the Commission would not send the tenants away if granted possession of the properties.
“We take into consideration the welfare of the tenants, we cannot just throw them on the streets because of the order,” Mr. Uwujaren told PREMIUM Times.
“They have a tenancy agreement and we respect that since they are not the owners of the house but only tenants.”
The EFCC spokesperson also said that the commission has started the process of permanent takeover of the building, should the court decision swing in their favour.
“We have called for interested persons to bid to manage the properties.”