ON September 17, 2018, Zakari Uthman and his wife Aishat walked up to the corporate office of Paradise Estate, Abuja, with the dream of owning a house.
Prior to the visit, the couple had visited one of the firm’s project sites at Idu Sabo, a suburb in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Being a homeowner in the nation’s capital is mostly considered a rare feat and a lifetime dream for many residents.
The couple had spent over a decade paying high rents in a highbrow area of Abuja. So, it is only reasonable to want to seek an end to rent payment. They resolved to buy the property using the wife’s name, Aishat Olajumoke Balogun.
The couple eventually made a N5 million part payment for a three-bedroom Maisonette Duplex at the Paradise Estate in September 17, 2018.
The entire project cost was N9.9 million. And they were subsequently issued an offer letter to that effect.
Four months after, precisely January 3, 2019, the couple made the second tranche payment of N4.9 million.
These payments completed the total project cost. The project’s initial delivery date was scheduled for December 31, 2019, but it was later shifted. Now, the due date has been shifted more than five times in three years. And as of the time of filing this report, the couple was yet to get their property.
“…We have not only lost money that could have accrued on the mutual funds we liquidated at 12 per cent to quickly pay off the initial money but also took a facility at 27 per cent to complete the payment with the hope that by the end of 2019, we will no longer have to pay rent,” Balogun said.
Other subscribers for the property in Paradise Estate have been confronted with this shocking reality.
On Friday, March 11, The ICIR obtained footage of aggrieved clients who stormed the firm’s office to protest over issues regarding their land titles.
“Give us our money…we will make sure the world hears our cries. We don’t have money but we will continue to make noise for the world to know…they are 419ers.”
Also, four years earlier, in August 2018, the Association of House Owners and Residents (AHOAR), led by Samson Oche, held a similar protest against the same property firm owned by Lekki Homes. This time, the house owners protested over poor job delivery and non-issuance of house titles, among other concerns.
Some inscriptions read: “where is our title document Richard, we are tired of your deceits,” “Our roofs are giving way with the slightest rainstorm.”
“We have been promised for three weeks from the date of handover of our units to receive our title documents but three years down the lane, it’s been stories upon stories,” Oche said.
Ogbugo Ukoha was among the protesters. As of the date of demonstration, he had lived on the estate for more than a year but was more concerned about the land title. He told the News Agency of Nigeria the property kept selling despite having litigations hanging on the property.
He said the Federal High Court, Abuja had earlier issued a judgment against the Paradise Estate in favour of a third party, yet continued to sell to ignorant members of the public.
“The developer sold the property to everyone off-plan…surprisingly, after having paid, we discovered that they have been in court for the last, probably, five years during which he was selling and still assuring the owner of the place.
“By February, the FCT High Court gave a judgment against paradise having gotten this land through a third party, which means those of us who bought have been deceived into buying an asset we don’t own.”
The ICIR‘s check shows that Ukoha is an Executive Director, Distribution Systems, Storage and Retailing Infrastructure at the Nigerian Midstream and Downstream Petroleum Regulatory Authority (NMDPRA). But, he could not be reached as of the time of filing this report to further find out if some of the concerns have been resolved as of date.
On Friday, April 8, this reporter visited his office at the NMDPRA but was denied entry access.
Staggering figure of Nigeria’s housing deficits
Nigeria is crippled by housing deficits. A considerable larger part of its population lived in slums due to a deficit put at about 17 million in 2018, and the figure has continued to rise.
The Speaker of the House of Representative Femi Gbajabiamila, in October 2021, said the nation would require N6 trillion to bridge the housing shortage nationwide.
Besides, the home deficit is expected to surge to 22 million by 2030, according to Tambaya Suleiman, a property expert. Still, the situation has continued to linger despite several housing policies churned out by successive governments.
Meanwhile, full payment made by the aggrieved couple should have resulted in quick project delivery, rather Paradise Estate has repeatedly failed on its promised delivery date.
Apart from the original date set for December 31, 2019, the firm rescheduled to January 3, 2020, due to reasons such as the cost of building materials.
Zakari and his wife Aisha later met with the firm’s Managing Director Blessing Nyong-Essien, including another top official identified as Taofeek, a doctor. The couple was assured of the project completion by March 31, 2020, while the infrastructure would be fully sorted by May 31, 2020.
They became confident with the level of assurance after the meeting, that they paid the project’s Value Added Tax (VAT) of N495, 000 to the Federal Government, and notified the landlord of their intention to vacate their current building once the rent expired in May 2020. But it all ended in failure.
Another delivery date was set for July 2020 when the firm could not meet up with an earlier promise. It was further shifted to November 12, 2020; December 31, 2020; and, February 28, 2021.
This implied the couple was yet to get keys to the complete building over three years after payment.
“In the offer letter we were issued on September 14, 2018, it stated that our property will be delivered to us within 12 months which had elapsed by December 31, 2019, going by the payment dates,” a furious Aishat Balogun told The ICIR.
“We visited the site on January 1, 2020, to ascertain the level of completion because the company lines [phone] were not going through, and we were disappointed with the state of progress.”
At this point, they demanded a refund since the firm had repeatedly reneged on its agreement.
Aishat reached out to a popular social media influencer who was consulted to amplify the estate project at the outset.
The complainant was shocked when the influencer advised she deploy whatever legal means necessary to get her project delivered or seek a refund.
“Based on the contract of sales, the house is to be delivered 12 months with a three-month grace period or four months in cases of force majeure. All these, I have graciously given. Then according to the contract, the buyer has the right to terminate the contract after two months of non-delivery and you guys would have eight months to pay me,” she wrote in a letter to the firm dated Monday, September 6, 2021.
“Even if I add all of these together, you have all grossly defaulted on all grounds,” she added.
On September 8, 2021, Eniola Olaoye, an official from the Client Services Unit responded to the mail announcing her allocation.
“Kindly find the attached letter with respect to the delivery of your allocated unit M3C Unit 1, Paradise Ville, Idu Sabo.”
Paradise Estate Limited’s last post on the social media platform (Facebook), as of the time of filing this report was on April 25, 2018.
Who is behind Paradise Estate, Abuja?
The Paradise Estate, Abuja, is a brainchild of the Lekki Gardens, a frontline real estate firm based in Lagos, Nigeria.
In August 2015, when it berthed in Abuja, the vision was to deliver about 100, 000 housing units by 2018 and one million by 2023. It is not certain if this goal has been achieved.
The LinkedIn Page of Blessing Nyong-Essien shows that she is the MD of the Paradise Estate. owned by Life Camp Paradise Estate. She is also a signatory to the company’s account.
The ICIR attempted to establish the actual owners and shareholders of the Life Camp Paradise Estate, but the check showed that the company has been inconsistent with its name.
For instance, the name found on Aishat’s payment document – The Life Camp Paradise Limited – was different from the name – The Paradise Abuja found on the letterhead containing the official allocation of a unit of the three-bedroom duplex to the complainant.
Also, the provisional allocation signed by Nyong-Essien and Motunrayo Oloruntoba was on behalf of Paradise Estate Limited, this is also a different name from that of the letterhead.
The name, Paradise Estate Limited, was subjected to public search and it showed a firm registered at 15, Erie Street, Off Sakonba road, Benin City, on June 26, 2002, with registration number 455426. It has only two directors, Arigbe Ebuwa and Ibude Osazee.
A similar search was conducted on The Life Camp Paradise Limited. The findings showed it was registered on May 6, 2016, with two persons – Imeh Christiana Amida and Stella-Marie Omogbai – as directors of the company as well as the shareholders.
Amida, in 2015, as the Chief Operating Officer of Lekki Gardens announced the launch of the Paradise Estate located in Abuja.
She said, “The Paradise is a new lifestyle community conceived to provide Abuja’s growing upwardly mobile middle class the rare privilege of owning choice homes at extremely low prices just like we have done in Lagos and Port Harcourt.
Amida further explained that the new project was necessitated by the demand for the Lekki Gardens debut project – Games Paradise –, which sold out barely one month after it was launched, The Guardian reported.
Findings based on information gathered from multiple sources showed the Lekki Gardens Estate Limited referenced by Amida is owned by multiple directors – which includes Richard Nyong, Olusola Nyong, Hon. Gbenga O., Engr. Kemi A. and Christiana Amida M.
Richard in an interview with City People, a lifestyle platform was described as “the chairman of The Paradise, Abuja”.
Nyong-Essien manages the Paradise Estate introduced in Abuja in 2015 and there is a likelihood that the three persons are related based on our findings.
Richard is linked to five other firms – Lekki Springs Limited, Get Too Rich Investment Limited, Lekki Gardens Facility Management Limited, Lekki Gardens Emporium Limited, and Lekki Gardens Horizons Limited.
His fellow director, Olusola, has interests in about seven others. They include Get Too Rich Investment Limited, Lekki Gardens Facility Management Limited, Lekki Gardens Emporium Limited, Lekki Gardens Horizons Limited, Lekki Palms Limited, Lekki Springs Limited, Lekki Gardens Horizon Limited, and Lekki Gardens Estate limited.
Paradise Estate firm reacts
The ICIR reached out to the firm to verify the actual reasons for the delay and repeated failed delivery date.
Paradise Estate’s client service officer, who had done repeated mail exchanges with the aggrieved couple, Eniola Olaoye, did not respond to calls and a text message sent to her phone number.
Nyong-Essien, the authorised signatory in the entire deal, neither answered nor returned calls. This reporter further sent a text message but there was no response.
When The ICIR put a call to her second line, a lady identified as Tosin answered but terminated it when she heard the questions. This reporter later called back but she advised The ICIR to visit the office.
Tosin, who later introduced herself as a personal assistant to Nyong-Essien, was asked to book an appointment since her MD had gone incommunicado. She was briefed about the purpose of the meeting, including the allegation that the firm was fraudulent. But she has not responded to date.
Meanwhile, Aisha Ahmed, the account officer that earlier introduced Aishat Balogun to the Paradise Estate, simply attributed the situation to ‘force majeure.’
Force majeure in business is a situation where a force of nature or unforeseen circumstances prevent someone or a party from fulfilling his or her part of an agreement. It is usually a clause mostly embedded in contract agreements.
“Her house is ready,” Ahmed stated when asked when the property would be handed over.
“It is just for them to work on the infrastructure. In fact, an email has been sent to her and other affected persons.”
This reporter reminded her that despite repeated emails previously sent to the subscribers including Balogun, the company still reneged on its agreements.
She was also reminded of the need to provide a more specific date this time. But she placed the call on hold and never picked up until the reporter terminated it. Subsequent calls were ignored.
Email thread links N9.9m deal to Lekki Gardens
Aisosa S. Sunny-Ekos is the head of Legal Services Department in Lekki Gardens. His official email is firstname.lastname@example.org. He also spoke officially with respect to the controversial property meant to be delivered by the Paradise Estate, Abuja. He also faulted Ahmed’s earlier claim of force majeure when The ICIR spoke with him on a phone call on Wednesday, March 17.
“That is not true,” he said.
Meanwhile, earlier, on Thursday On March 11, 2021, the lawyer replied to the email trail reaffirming the organisation’s commitment to delivering the building through his official email email@example.com.
“Yes, I am in copy of the email trail and I believe that the commitment of our client’s service team shall be duly complied with,” he wrote in part.
“We appreciate your patience thus far in this transaction and yet appeal for some more patience to enable us to conclude on the pending infrastructure works.”
But more than a year after the response, the aggrieved couple was yet to get their building delivered.
The email trail links Paradise Estate to Lekki Gardens – much like it is being fully managed by Lekki Gardens company.
Aishat Balogun also confirmed to this newspaper about a meeting held with Nyong-Essien in October 2019.
“I met with Richard personally at Karimo Estate close to ours and, he assured me Blessing (Nyong-Essien) was capable,” she added.
On Wednesday, March 17, The ICIR sought to verify the property deal.
He confirmed the deal, describing it as a peculiar case. But, he would not provide further detailed information.
“I am conversant with her transaction. The letter from her lawyer is currently on my table. She subscribed for a three-bedroom,” he told this reporter, but he could not still establish exactly when the house would be delivered. This was after about one hour of back and forth conversation in an attempt to verify the claims and exact owners of the firm.
Finally, on Saturday, March 19, the complainant reached out to The ICIR to announce the estate had eventually agreed to refund the money (N9.9 million paid for the structure). But this time, the firm contacted the husband, Zakari.
The email, with the subject ’90 days paradise refund’ had an attachment of a refund application form.
The form’s content read with five conditions, among which was that the “refund repayment timeline is over a 90-day period.” Besides, it added, “interest is not payable on a refund.”
But the family kicked. “It’s so unfair collecting N9.9m after 40 months,” Balogun frowned.
“I want a property or the current value of the said property as of today. That is our position.”
UPDATE: The firm has agreed to refund the payment with interest. Read the report here