Accommodation problem is bad in Abuja that fraudsters who pose as estate agents are cashing in on it to smile to the banks by defrauding victims of their hard-earned money which they paid for phony apartments offered to them by the agents
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Feb. 17, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
WHEN Victor Oliwe, a National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, member in Abuja, deposited N150, 000 into the account of Audu, an estate agent who was introduced to him by a fellow corps member, he has no reason to be suspicious. He had previously inspected the self-contained apartment he was paying for in Nyanya, an outskirt of Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, and even paid a deposit of N2,000 which Audu said was the processing fee to show him the location of the accommodation.
Two weeks after making the payment, Oliwe could not move into the apartment because Audu did not remit the money he paid to the owner of the house. Almost six months after, Oliwe is yet to get a refund of his money from Audu who is now at large. “I trusted the guy so much. I had no cause to doubt him because he had helped some of my friends secure accommodation in Abuja. I have been looking for him ever since so that I can at least get a refund,” he said.
Oliwe’s experience with Audu is similar to that of Ngozi Eze, A 43-year-old widow, who was allegedly defrauded by Taibat Aruna, a 34-year-old estate agent who is now standing trial at an Abuja Magistrate Court. Aruna allegedly obtained N14 million from 109 accommodation seekers, including Eze under the pretext of letting out a two-bedroom apartment in Lugbe, Abuja, to them.
On the day Aruna was arraigned in court, Eze wept uncontrollably. She said: “I suffered and worked very hard to gather the N220,000 that I paid him for the apartment. I have been homeless since my husband died about five years ago.”
Just like Eze and Oliwe, many accommodation seekers in Abuja have lost huge amounts of money to dubious estate agents. In what has now become a fulltime profession, these agents play on the desperations of unsuspecting members of the public to have a roof over their heads and end up fleecing them of their resources.
In recent times, cases of accommodation seekers losing their money to estate agents have become commonplace in Abuja. About three weeks ago, an Abuja-based newspaper reported that Michael Olabameji, an estate agent, who was arrested and arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for defrauding about 20 accommodation seekers of N9.8 million. Adeniyi Onigbanjo, a high court judge, who sentenced the 42-year old Olabameji, noted that he inflicted untold hardship on his victims and deprived them of their hard-earned money with a false promise.
Cases of estate agents swindling accommodation seekers in Abuja have become rampant because of the city’s ever increasing population. In 2012, Abuja was estimated to have an urban population of 2,245,000, making it the fourth largest urban area in Nigeria and only surpassed by Lagos, Kano and Ibadan. It appears that the more people troop into the city, the more accommodation becomes a challenge in the city. The challenge is so much that a large percentage of workers in Abuja live in suburbs and satellite towns such as Lugbe, Nyanya, Kubwa, and Mararaba.
Deji Ariyo, a lawyer, said people capitalised on the housing deficit in Abuja to embrace fraudulent practices. “A lot of people have compromised moral standards and embraced fraudulent practices all in the bid to make quick money. They capitalise on the unemployment rate in the country, the housing need of the citizens and the economic challenge to perpetuate their nefarious acts,’’ Ariyo said. He said that the judiciary, being the last hope of the common man, should punish accommodation fraudsters adequately. “The judiciary should ensure that the rights of citizens are adequately accommodated, and judgments handed down without fear or favour, but in accordance with the law,” he said.
Samuel Ayotunde, a cleric attributed the problem to lack of the fear of God on the part of the estate agents. “More people are becoming self-centred, greedy and insensitive to the plights of others. They betray public trust by inflicting undue hardship on unsuspecting members of the public. The way out of all these vices is to be upright, have a conscience and embrace the fear of God in our relationship with one another.” Ayotunde said.
Babajide Adams, an estate agent, stressed the need for people to engage the services of professionals to assist them in their search for accommodation. “Those saddled with the responsibility of managing the industry must practice it with the highest standard of professional ethics. The citizens must have a great level of confidence in those that are offering them service in the real estate sector,” Adams said. He also recommended that the strategy employed by the Lagos state government in checking the activities of corrupt estate agents in the city should be adopted in Abuja.
In order to check the activities of accommodation fraudsters in Lagos, the state government in 2012 set up the Lagos State Real Estate Transaction Department, LASRETRAD, to regulate the activities of estate agents. When the body was inaugurated, Jimoh Ajao, special adviser to Lagos State Governor on housing, advised residents to contact the department, under the ministry of housing to ascertain the authenticity of estate agents they patronise to avoid falling into wrong hands. According to him, the department is mandated to monitor and regulate estate agency practice, issue licences to professionals and prosecute agents suspected to have violated the law.
“The government will not fold its arms and allow such unscrupulous agents to bastardise a noble profession; hence, there is the need to sanitise this sector of the economy to bring back the confidence of the people to the profession. It is a source of concern that estate agency practice seems to be open to everyone, and dubious persons are taking advantage of this to fleece innocent members of the public. Activities of the fraudsters are so alarming that even the properties of the Lagos State Government are being marketed,” Ajao said.
This strategy appears to have started to yield dividend. Recently, some agents were arrested for trying to defraud a man of about N2 million. Other than adopting a similar strategy, some residents would want the Abuja authorities to make low cost housing estates available. They opine that if houses are available for everyone, no one will fall victim to dubious estate agents. Josephine Ella, a civil servant, captioned the views of others when she said: “If the government can provide mortgage for citizens as it is done in other countries, no one will be talking about paying any agent to look for a house. Everyone will live comfortably in their own home.”