Businessman and Lagos landlord, Daniel Okereke, tells EMMANUEL OJO how his house in the Maryland area of the state was flooded, resulting in loss of his properties
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Daniel Okereke. I was a banker and I resigned voluntarily from my job at some point to pursue other businesses in real estate. That’s what I do. The property that was alleged to have sunk is my personal property in Akinwunmi Street in Mende. I bought the land in 2007 and developed it in 2008. It’s actually the first house I ever built and it’s very personal and dear to me. It’s something I built at a time that I practically scratched it out and was hoping on God and finally, I was able to accomplish that. So, it’s different from having a ready-made fund somewhere that you use to build like I wish to subsequently. So, this is very personal to me because it was something I built in my 20s; that’s why it’s very personal to me. I know how I had to go through all kinds of legal channels to raise money and finally, God helped me to be able to achieve it.
What is the situation at the house that was said to have been sunk by flood?
There is actually no incident that is out of place. Where I live in Mende, Maryland, from time to time, when it rains very heavily, we have this surge because we have a canal of about 150 metres from my residence and other residencies around and so on. So, when it rains very heavily, if the government does not dredge the canal, water will start returning from the canal instead of flowing through, which devastates us. As I speak with you, I have lost at least five cars in this residence of mine but because it is my baby project, it’s very dear to me and more important than any other property I own or will ever own. I have been here since 2008 and whenever this surge comes, it flows from the canal and floods our homes and all that. It floods the streets and in some cases, the home.
How often does the flooding occur?
In my stay here since 2008, the surge that took place just few days ago is quite unusual. We have over 100 landlords in this estate and other landlords also confirmed that it is quite unusual. The chairman’s house was flooded, even up to places that it has never been before. So, we started enquiring and we realised that this particular surge was allegedly due to the ongoing construction work at the Opebi Link Bridge to Maryland by Julius Berger. It is ‘alleged’ because we have not arrived at a final point with our investigation. That was the reason for the unusual surge, according to our ongoing findings. The drain channel and canal at the Opebi Link Bridge were blocked so as to be able to continue with the project which is a very laudable one. It’s a landmark project of this administration, so, we appreciate that but at the same time, the government should help us liaise with Julius Berger and the authorities so that at the end of the day, as we enjoy the landmark projects going on by government, it won’t also sack us from our homes and put our lives and properties at risk.
What extent of damage was caused by the flood to your properties and to the building?
As I speak to you now, in order not to sound immodest, I have lost at least five cars and when I talk about cars here, I’m talking of cars like G-Wagon. I have lost a G-Wagon here, I have lost a Bentley here, I have lost a Chrysler, a Prado jeep, Range Rover Jeep, Escalade Truck and even an E-Class.
Was it with this incident or earlier ones that had taken place?
From the time it started when I moved in here. I moved from Ikeja GRA where all of these things don’t happen. I have never really experienced flooding or known anything about it. This took place in 2008, 2009. It was when I stayed in the property that I started seeing all of that and of course, it’s my life savings and I’m not going to run from the property because water receded from the canal, which is a natural occurrence, although, the government can help us dredge the place and make it easy for us to live. When I realised that the water was coming through my gate, I had to do an embankment there, so, over the years, I wasn’t experiencing water coming in through my gate again. It flows on the street and after a while, it goes off and life goes back to normal again. So, it’s been back and forth that way.
Can you describe the height the water got to in this latest incident?
My house is a storey-building. The water rose to about half of the height of the ground floor. It was above the knee, so it wasn’t something life-threatening.
Did you seek professional advice before acquiring the land?
When I bought the land, the seller sold it to me sold it during the dry season and then sold it at the normal price I will buy land in a dry place and told me that all I needed to do was just to dig the ground and start building like it is in any other regular dry place. I didn’t know I have a canal upfront there until one day, after moving in. I was in my house and rain fell and because I didn’t know the terrain, I was trapped, my cars were trapped and that was how I lost everything but you know in this clime, there is no one to go to for compensation as it is in other climes. I lost a lot, I sat down in this house and cried but there was nothing I could do. It was just as if all the fruit of my labour over the years was wiped in one day just like that.
What’s the size of your building there?
What I have here is a storey building. It’s four flats but because of the water that has been disturbing, I didn’t want to develop the down flats because I felt it’s unfair to rent the house to people that when it rains, the house will be flooded and all that. So, as a man who knows what it means to toil and make money, I decided that I won’t develop the ground floor. It was this last year I realised that I have been able to solve this problem of this water coming into the house that I decided to develop just one flat but with this incident that just happened now, I have that place flooded and everything I have in there worth millions of naira are gone again.
Can you estimate how much you have lost to this particular incident now?
To estimate what I have lost in this incident, apart from the previous ones that lost my cars, I will say about N8m. That’s for the furniture, the TVs, air conditioner and so on and documents. It’s just a very pathetic site to see but by God’s grace, the water has receded and I was able to use the pumping machine to pump it out. I have automated pumping machine that I usually use. The water even carried the one I was using away, I had to go and buy two new ones. Everywhere is dry now but we live in Lagos and flooding is a normal occurrence that we see in other climes like in Australia, New York and so on. So, it’s just a natural occurrence. The floods have made our properties not to have the kind of values they should have but if the government helps to dredge the canal and put an embankment there, we will be happy and the value for our property will appreciate. With this recurrent issue, it’s just one SUV I have, just in case of emergency.
How were you able to escape from the flooded building?
(Laughs) I didn’t just walk away; I walked away through the road where the water was. It’s water, it doesn’t kill. I just wore my normal safety boot because I had a doctor’s appointment, so, I had to go out at that particular time. I walked through but there is this tenant I later told who when I was leaving that was a bit uncomfortable to walk through the normal way because the water had increased, so, I called the estate security to bring a ladder and all that so that they could come out comfortably but because she is a new tenant, seeing that water was all over the whole place, maybe she panicked. Other tenants that had been there longer, who knows that in a few hours, it would be history, left for work but this particular one panicked. She apologised but I said there was no need for the apology. There is no big deal. If they are able to put a call across to the government that they should come and assist us and it’s your call that can make them come, then, it’s a blessing to us. There’s nothing to hide. I’m not the cause of the flood.
So, when NEMA came, they were already just by the ladder that I kept but trust Nigerian rescue agencies, they made a show of the whole thing, took pictures and all that, that the people were trapped, the building sank and so on and so forth. If you know and anybody who knows me or have visited my residence knows that anybody can be hosted here. I can’t be in a place that’s at risk. So, when they came and they saw that the building tilted a little, which was due to the partitioning being done based on the fact that it’s a swampy environment and they needed to do a machine piling and all that. My house is piled 20 feet into the ground. For just the foundation alone as at then, I spent about N20m.
And for your tenants, what has been their reaction with respect to their tenancy there?
As I speak, they are already sleeping in their various apartments. I charge the lowest rent in this whole environment. I have not increased rent in the last four years, even with COVID-19. As I speak to you, some tenants still owe me rent running into seven months and I have not driven them out of my house.
How many tenants do you have?
I have four tenants. I am a Christian but I don’t put that as a requirement to let out my apartment. As long as the person is responsible and has a job that can pay their rent. I have Christians and Muslim as my tenants. I also don’t play tribalism card. I take people for who they are. A good man is a good man but if I interview a potential tenant and discover that he is a Yahoo boy, I will even be the one to call police for the person.