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Published On: Wed, Jul 29th, 2015

Government should diversify into real estate — Ezeaputa

Barr Ike Ezeaputa is a legal practitioner and property consultant with over two decades experience. In this interview with CHINWE AGBEZE, he says there’s no better option for Nigeria now than to diversify into real estate than now, adding that overdependence in oil has done the country much damage. Excerpts: 
What is your typical day like as a property consultant?
When I’m not in court which is usually once in a week, I’m either trying to sell or purchase properties for my clients. I also assist them in the documentation of their properties. Most of the time, I spend my day doing what we call ‘searching’ for my clients.
What does the searching process entail and what will you say are the perils of buying a property without doing a search?
Searching has to do with investigation into the property. Principal members of the family are consulted if it’s a family property to avoid a situation whereby some members of the family without the consent of the head of the family print their own family receipt and out of ignorance some people buy from them.
If a lawyer was in the picture, he will make inquires and find out the authenticity of the receipt. If the search is satisfactory, clients can proceed to make payment.
A landlord to a property rented by my client met a brick wall while trying to sell the property for N80m because the buyers engaged the services of lawyers who found out that the landlord used the property as collateral and nobody wants to buy what lawyers call lawsuit.
I have handled cases in which one property was sold to five different individuals. A proper search helps to avoid these pitfalls.
House rent in Lagos is getting higher by the day to the extent   that most families can hardly afford a decent apartment. What do you think is responsible and is there nothing the government can do to salvage the situation?
Increase in rent is as a result of increase in demand. People troupe into Lagos on a daily basis so this is expected. Those who cannot afford to live within the Lagos metropolis should learn from these Pentecostal churches that have moved several kilometers away and leave areas that are congested. Berger, Otta, Ibafo, Mowe, Badagry, Isheri Osun and Ibeju Lekki are places to go looking and houses in these places are affordable.
What’s your thought on the effectiveness of the state’s tenancy law?
The Lagos tenancy law can never be effective. The why is simple, we are not running a socialist government and as such the government has no right to determine market forces. United States is running without Washington D.C and most Americans don’t know where Washington D.C is. What concerns Alausa with Real Estate investors?
 If someone builds an estate and decides not to rent it, how is that the business of the government? Government should build estates and rent it out the way they like rather than expecting someone who has spent over half a million on foundation level alone to rent it the way the government dictates because this will never happen. Some of these houses are built from bank loans and the bank needs their money.
Can you let us in one some of the cases you’ve handled?
I handled a case with the late Gani Fawehinmi. My client who was based in US got a five years lease from the owner of Oliver Garden hotel and it was remaining 3months for the lease to expire. He wanted to renew the lease because there was a renewal clause in the lease agreement but the owner gave the property to the owner of Ibis Royal Hotel and so we went to court.
The owner of the property used thugs to chase everyone away from the hotel around 6am. The drama which saw Indians, Asians and Nigerians running out of the hotel early in the morning with their bags and luggage was a big one. We did not see the need to continue the court case because the case was still for mention.
Another case involved a man who stayed in London for too long and on getting back, his relatives and principal members have sold almost half of their estate without his consent. My client did involve the services of a lawyer when purchasing those properties. So, the man dragged my client to court but we ended up settling out of court.
Which will you say is the most challenging case you have handled so far in your 25 years of practice?
It was a land case I dealt with the Late Rotimi Williams. I discovered that his influence among the judges was so enormous that to challenge him was a very big problem. Everyone including the Supreme Court judges called him ‘Daddy’ and he was the only person allowed to address the court sitting down, everyone else had to stand up. To be fair to him, he was a gentleman even though the court judges had this attitude of assisting him.
As I was making my submissions, the lawyers and judges spoke to me as if I was wrong to be challenging an elderly person. Although I was allowed to present my case, I was made to look like a baby lawyer because the judges were behaving like his servants. It was challenging because of the caliber of person I was dealing with. At the end of the day we settled out of court.
What are the hurdles associated with your job?
One of the greatest problems is from charlatans in the property business who lack good secondary school qualification. They place signboards in so many places calling themselves property agents. And to my shock a lot of people who are supposed to be well-educated patronize them and they run into trouble.
Global economic tsunami is another because my clients coming from different parts of the country to buy properties have reduced. Even my clients here are not finding it easy to purchase properties as before.
You specialized in property, why the interest in property law?
Naturally I feel uncomfortable anytime I see a Black Maria van.  Because of this phobia, I knew criminal law was a no go area for me. So I found myself handling election petition cases, chieftaincy crisis matters, airline cases, recovery of possession cases and Landlord-tenant matters to eject a bad tenant in Onitsha.
I relocated to Lagos from Onitsha several years ago to manage Late Chief Victor Okafor’s (a.k.a Ezeego) estates. From managing his estate, I got interested in property law unfortunately he died within 2years after in an auto-crash but the interest has grown by then so I continued as a property consultant.
Any regret so far for the choice you made?
The only regret I have is that I failed to follow the law profession with passion. I dabbled into politics with the thinking that some decent people can be in Nigerian politics but I was wrong. If I did not deviate, I would have been a senior advocate of Nigeria by now.
In your words, what will you say is a major problem in the industry?
Power is a huge problem but it appears this power problem is not going away anytime soon. Global climate change is another serious threat to Real Estate. Many coastal areas are now affected by flood and real estate developers are not finding it easy. Areas like Ibeji Lekki are rejected by buyers because according to them, the climate issue may come up and the building will be submerged by the sea. Many people who want to develop Real Estate coastal areas are cautious of doing so. The infrastructure necessary for the industry to thrive is another issue as well.
Where do you place Real Estate Industry in Nigeria?
The industry has improved compared to several years back. Many people are now taking interest in Real Estate which is a good thing and a lot of people who have foresight are fast devouring this industry.
This is the time for government loosen its tight grip on oil which is overdue for diversification and consider diversifying to other areas like the Real Estate sector to generate more revenue for the country. Overdependence in Oil has done us more harm than good.

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