For Mrs Tessy Okpala, the sad event of March 6, 2020, will remain indelible in her life, and that of members of her family. On that fateful day, she was thrown out of a house she acquired through a mortgage from Enugu Estate Developer, His Excellency Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (HELIU) Residency, a subsidiary of FIT Consult Ltd.
The case of Mrs. Okpala, a staff member of the Enugu state government, is peculiar. She had been married for about 10 years without a child, and at the time she was almost due to have a child, she was thrown out of a house in which she had invested all the family’s fortune – neither allowed to remove pin nor baby clothes bought in anticipation of the delivery of her twin babies.
Mrs. Okpala, who later delivered twin babies in a hotel, narrated her ordeal to SaharaReporters.
She said: “On March 16, 2021, I left my home to the office by 8 am only for me to start receiving calls by 9:30 am from people that officials of HELIU Residency were vandalising my home and bringing out things from my room.
“I came back before 10 am to find out what was going on. Everything I had – my foodstuffs, down to my undies, you can imagine, were either destroyed or thrown out of the house. I mean, everything: my wedding pictures, my food, my clothes, everything.
“There was nothing we could do other than to go to a hotel. I was eight months pregnant then, and I thank God that this issue did not harm my babies. After 10 years of marriage and no issue; and now when God remembered me, I was rendered homeless. However, I thank God because I delivered twin baby boys safely. Since then, I have been outside with the kids,” she lamented.
IMG 20220630 WA0029 2 | How Enugu Shylock Estate Developer, With Links To Governor Ugwuanyi, Vandalised Property, Threw 8 Months’ Pregnant Women, Other Civil Servants Out Of Houses Acquired Through Mortgage | The Paradise News
She explained that her trouble started when the company, in 2017, advertised that a mortgage was available in their 3-bedroom bungalows at HELIU Residences, New Independence Layout, Enugu.
“We all applied and paid a N10,000 non-refundable fee for the application form. After that, the company took all of us to a mortgage bank called Imperial Homes to process our mortgages. The mortgage company (Imperial Homes) collected a total sum of N130,000 from each applicant as a processing fee while we all paid 20% each to FIT Consult, the parent body of HELIU Residences as equity contribution in 2017.
“Our loan was approved by the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN) in 2019 as all applicants met all criteria required to access mortgage by civil servants in Nigeria.
“Unfortunately, the Imperial Mortgage Bank that processed and got the approved loan was delisted from carrying out any transaction on a mortgage by FMBN.
“FIT Consult Ltd in their own wisdom negotiated and transferred all their Mortgage Applicants to AG Mortgage Bank to inherit the transaction. This happened in 2019.
“AG Mortgage Bank accepted and demanded that we should all pay another processing fee again. We contested and eventually agreed to pay N87,000 to AG Mortgage Bank.”
She explained that the bungalows sold to her had not been completed, adding that “at a stakeholders meeting held at their office in 2020, all the applicants were mandated to pay 10% of the individual loan amount within one week as perfection fee to enable them to get all the necessary documents (C of O) for our properties and we were immediately advised by Mr. Chukwuneke Echesi, Director of Sales, FIT Consult Ltd, to go ahead and complete those houses which were sold to us as ‘carcass’ (uncompleted structures) and also move in as we had met all requirements in owning our houses via a mortgage.
“The problem started when the primary Mortgage Bank (AG Mortgage Bank) went to the Ministry of Lands to perfect the documents for these houses and saw that what the company (FIT Consult) had on the ground is not what is reflected on the master plan of the estate.
“FIT Consult (HELIU Residences), now had altered the original plan of the estate. Instead of having one bungalow in each plot of land, the company altered and built twin bungalows on each plot and allocated them to different applicants. The Ministry of Lands asked them to come for variation since the master plan had been altered to enable the mortgage applicants to have titles for their properties.”
She added: “The C of O (Certificate of Occupancy) is very important to us because it serves as collateral to our Mortgage. FIT Consult refused to come for variation as requested by the Ministry of Lands but instead chose to threaten, intimidate and harass us and actually succeeded in cowering most of us into accepting very impossible conditions in order to save our investment. Some of us who dared to challenge the illegality were not spared.
“It was this perceived effrontery of some of us that snowballed into the company using thugs to break down the gates and doors of our houses, brutalise, damage and throw away our belongings. In my case, I had gone to work and before I came back, they had vandalised the house and padlocked it, to date.”
Another subscriber to the controversial housing estate in Enugu known as His Excellency Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (HELIU) Residency, Mrs Grace Obi, who was eight months pregnant with four children at the time, was also violently thrown out of her three-bedroom apartment, valued at N13.2 million.
According to her, she and her husband acquired the property through mortgage finance and had already paid about N4.5 million in equity contribution, leaving a balance of N8.1 million.
It was learnt that the Federal Mortgage bank had approved since 2019, for the owners of the estate, but could not transfer the payment because they had no valid title to the property which the bank wanted as collateral.
Mrs. Obi, a civil servant like many other mortgage subscribers to the HELIU Residency, lamented that even if she borrowed money to rent another house, she would have nothing to put in the house, explaining that everything she had with her husband, Mr. Stephen Obi, who is also a civil servant, but working outside Enugu, was seized by the HELIU Residency officials.
On what led to the situation, she explained that “my husband and I bought a house from HELIU Residency through a mortgage in September 2019. We paid the equity of 20% which was 2.8 million”.
She continued, “When we paid for the equity, the house was a carcass. In 2020 I went to their office and told them that we want to move in before the end of 2020; can we go ahead and fix the house so that we will move in before our rent expires where we were living? They told us to start putting the house in order for habitation.
“Meanwhile, they had issued us an offer letter and allocation paper for the house through our mortgage bank, AG Home.
“So, we fixed the place and moved in in January 2021. Surprisingly, on February 28, I was in my office and I got a mail from their office. They told me that actually there was a WhatsApp group chat for residents of HELIU mortgage subscribers that I should join. In that mail, they told us to pay up for the house, that they were no longer interested in the mortgage; that we should tell them how we were going to pay.
“We told them since we had invested so much in fixing the place, they should give us five years to pay up. On March 1, 2021, they replied to our mail, declining our position. Instead, they gave us their own condition. They gave us three conditions; one that we were going to pay the outstanding balance of N8.1 million that the Mortgage bank was supposed to pay in one year; that is between March and January 2022. Secondly, we were to pay 1% interest every month, that is 12% annual of N8.1 million.
“We didn’t accept their conditions 1 and 2, paying up within one year and paying with an interest of 12%. They now replied that the house would be revoked if we didn’t comply with their conditions and that the house would be revoked on the 16th of March 2021.
“So, all the mortgage subscribers hired a lawyer, who advised us to write to them, and he later went to court and the court said they should be put on notice. On the 11th of March, they were served notice and surprisingly on March 16, when we had left for work, they broke into our houses and locked up everywhere.”
Another subscriber, Uchenna Okoh, confirmed Mrs Obi’s account. He described those responsible for ejecting them from the houses as heartless, adding that they “forgot that all powers belong to God.”
Okoh said though he hadn’t moved in because his house was yet to be completed, their appeals to the Managing Partner of FIT Consult, Lauretta Aniagolu, before the forceful ejection proved abortive.
Obi said that instead of FIT Consult paying for variation at the Ministry of Lands to enable their mortgage bank to complete the perfection of the property, it ordered the mortgage applicants to pay outright as it was not ready to spend money on variation.
The applicants protested, saying that the original contract was for them to pay through mortgage and that had been approved already, but for no fault of theirs, the developer refused to access it because of non-payment of variation of the original plan of the estate.
According to her, mortgages are approved for contributors to the National Housing Fund only once in a lifetime. And since theirs had been approved, it’s the responsibility of FIT Consult to provide the C of O of the land so that the approved mortgage would drop into its account, and failure to do so should not be blamed on the applicants.
She disclosed that some of them had already spent more than N5 million each to complete the building before moving in. This is aside from the N130,000 processing fee paid to Imperial Mortgage (delisted), another N87,000 processing fee paid to AG Homes, N1,790,000 equity payment (20% of the cost of building) to FIT Consult, and payment of 10 percent perfection fee amounting to N716, 000 (processing of title documents) to AG Homes.
Meanwhile, in a ‘Save our Soul’ (S.o.S) to the Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the affected victims of the forceful ejection lamented the loss of their household property, personal documents and the misery they and their families have been subjected to since March 16, 2021.
However, it was gathered that the governor who is believed to own the estate – using the company as proxy – didn’t consider their appeal.
The Managing Partner of FIT Consult, Lauretta Aniagolu, could not be reached on phone for comments and clarification but she had justified the action during an interview.
She had said: “The normal process of owning property is that you pay for the property. When you have fully paid, you move into the property, you don’t wish. If you see this building and you like it and you come and meet the marketing people and drop N500,000, then you take your luggage and move into the property.
“That is not how it is done. If the property’s price is N10 million when it is completed, we give you a paper that authorises you to move in. So, the people you are talking about were people who illegally moved in without making payments for properties. This is not a wish. We worked very hard to raise these funds and stake our properties; our personal assets, company’s assets to be able to raise the fund, so if somebody wants to buy property, the person has to pay for the property.”
Regarding the point made by the subscribers that they were buying through a mortgage, she said, “Did they pay for the property and they were ejected or they didn’t pay? They didn’t pay any percentage. First of all, to get an allocation for a property, you have to pay 25 percent.
“If you look at our flyers it is clear, a 25 percent deposit then you are given time to pay for the balance. So, if you are reporting a case of somebody who has paid money and paid in full, and wasn’t giving the property, then we can answer it.”
On whether she agreed with them that they should pay through a mortgage, she said “whether we agree or not if your mortgage bank is going to pay for a property, they pay for the property. If your mortgage bank has not paid for the property, you don’t go and take possession or else you are committing illegality.