Displaced Renaissance Homeowners Demand N4bn from First Trust Mortgage Bank
By Modupe Gbadeyanka
Some displaced Renaissance homeowners in Rivers State are seeking about N4 billion as compensation from the management of First Trust Mortgage Bank over their eviction from the properties they acquired from the lender.
They accused the bank, formerly known as FBN Mortgage Bank, of not carrying due diligence before selling some portions of land to them in 2010, about seven years after a Supreme Court judgement held that the land belonged to the favour of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
The solicitors to property owners of Renaissance Homes Housing Scheme, Adeniji Kazeem & Co, in a letter to the Managing Director of First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc, said the alleged negligence of the company has put them under untold hardship.
“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,” a part of the letter from the displaced property owners at Plot 96 GRA Phase 3, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said.
They emphasised that if the mortgage bank had carried out “modest due diligence” to investigate “the title of Vestor Properties Limited,” the property owners would not have fallen victim to the problem.
“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,” the homeowners submitted.
However, First Trust Mortgage Bank has denied prior knowledge of the delivery and execution of the judgment, insisting it had no reason to doubt the credibility and validity of the title of its predecessor in-titles, over the land.
In a letter written to the affected homeowner, the bank’s lawyers, Onyeke, Ideho & Ighomuaye LP, disclosed that efforts are being made to resolve the issue.
The financial institution said it was working with Vestor Properties Limited “to engage Chief Olusola Adekanola, the purchaser of the land from the Nigeria Air Force, on an amicable resolution of the matter, towards a possible restoration of the possessory rights of the subscribers of the Renaissance Apartments.”
In the alternative, the company said it would “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.”
It was gathered that in June 2003, about five months after the apex court judgement, Vestor bought the land from ex-Squadron Leader Obiosa and then sold the property to First Trust Mortgage Bank in 2008.
In 2010, the evicted homeowners bought several units of 4 (four) bedroom flats through the Renaissance Homes Housing Scheme, an initiative of First Trust Mortgage Bank Plc. They remained on the property until they were chased away on March 1, 2022.
The property was said to have been a subject of litigation between the Nigerian Air Force 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.
One of the affected homeowners and Chairman of Renaissance Estate Homeowners’ Association, Mr Doyle Edeni, said, “Our members, the majority of whom are retirees, have been rendered homeless.”
“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,” he further said.