Shocking Story of a 500-room House in Lagos Where Tenants Live as Prisoners


Covered in a stream of sweat as he made for the narrow entrance leading outside the block, Okoli Nwabueze (not real name), cursed and grumbled angrily. He was deep in slumber by the time the fan in his room stopped rolling that afternoon and so couldn’t make it out on time to enjoy cool, ‘precious’ breeze. Lacking proper ventilation, electricity supply was the only means to keep the temperature within the room normal.

Last year, when he paid N140, 000 as rent and related charges for 12 months to move into Agboye ‘Estate’, a gigantic structure with over 500 rooms stretching on about four plots of land on Oduntan Street, Ketu, Lagos, this was not what he expected. The situation leaves him deeply frustrated.

“The heat inside my room is crazy,” he said, nodding his head in complete dejection. “There is no ventilation and so whenever there’s power outage the place becomes very hot. This was not what I expected when I paid for the house last year. I never knew I was moving into a prison yard. I can’t use generator or other household appliances even after paying so much as rent. This is really crazy,” he fumed.

Lamentations all the way

Okoli is not the only one burning with rage in this vast and hugely populated building – the poor and extreme conditions of living is getting other tenants deeply concerned, too. Apart from paying N6, 000 as monthly charges for a single room – not more than twice the size of the space inside a commercial bus in Lagos – occupants who agreed to speak with PUNCH after they were assured their identities would be protected for fear of being victimised by the owner of the house, Onamo Agboye, said they are forbidden from using power generators, electric kettles, air conditioners or even host important social gatherings like naming ceremonies or birthdays within the facility.

They were assured of constant electricity supply when moving in but they soon found out that the big generator set stationed at a section of the compound is not meant to service their interest but the comfort of the landlord alone. To make matters worse, the only entrance leading in and out of the compound closes at 11:00pm daily. Once the clock ticks, nobody goes in or out anymore, they revealed. In case of an emergency, chaos is inevitable.

“There was this day I was coming from FESTAC and I encountered traffic around Maryland, I didn’t get to Ketu until about 11:30pm. The security men at the gate of the house did not allow me to go in. I explained to them that I was new and that I didn’t know about the time of the closure but they refused to listen to my plea. I slept inside the church opposite the house that day,” Lanre Adamolekun, another tenant told Saturday PUNCH.

The regimented nature of the building – like a Nazi facility – has left devastating consequences on some occasions. Injuries and heartbreaks have come in different forms. Anthony Onyekwere told PUNCH in a telephone conversation during the week:

“My wife almost died from pains after falling into labour around 2:30am. The security men did not open the gate for us until two hours later because they said their boss would be mad at them for opening the gate at such hour of the night. They saw her condition, that she was dying but they refused to consider her pains. By the time we got to the hospital, she had become too weak to push by herself. She had to give birth through a caesarean section . That was the moment I decided that the house was not a place to live,”

He has since relocated his family to the Agric area of Ikorodu, a fast rising town within the metropolis.

Chilling discoveries

From afar, the massive building looks like a ship sailing on the Atlantic with different national flags flying at the top with scores of bulbs arranged at strategic spots.

During a visit to the house during the week, PUNCH observed that the sanitary conditions were in poor state, while hygiene was also a big issue. In most of the blocks which are constructed only inches away from each other thus making free flow of air almost impossible, at least 12 rooms shared a single toilet and bathroom.

On the average, two persons occupy each room, bringing the number of users of a single toilet to 24. An official who works at the building confirmed to their correspondent who posed as a potential tenant that there were presently 370 tenants in the house. Meaning that on the average, there are 740 adults living in the compound. This is aside children and visitors who make frequent stopovers to their loved ones. Unhygienic as this sounds, it is a situation that has existed for a long time and shows no signs of improving soon.

Behind the compound is a vast swamp of stagnant sewage and dirt – the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and other deadly insects that combine to inflict maximum horror on the occupants. The section is also home to snakes, scorpions and other dangerous crawling animals. Together, they make life for many of Agboye’s low-income earning occupants hellish.

“We are slaves to malaria and typhoid in this place,” Yemisi Adebambo, said. “Ask people around especially parents with children and let them tell you how much they spend on malaria and typhoid in a month. The mosquitoes here are the deadliest I have seen in my life, no thanks to the swamp at the back of the building; that is their breeding home. Even if you have mosquito nets in your room, you must buy malaria medicine in a month, you can’t escape it. If you are not even careful, you will meet snake or scorpion inside your room. We have killed many of them in our block this year. Ask anybody, they will confirm what I am saying,” the young mother of four said.

A new notice pasted on strategic points within the facility which PUNCH correspondent stumbled upon, now also forbids tenants from accommodating a visitor of any kind beyond seven days without the approval of the landlord. According to the notice, such persons would be classified under the illegal tenant category of the management’s laws.

Others in this category include:

  • persons living in the room of a relation or friend who has travelled even if their rent was yet to expire;
  • those sharing a room without the approval of the landlord,
  •  and also persons squatting in a room with a sitting tenant. Those under this category who wish to escape the wrath of the management are urged to obtain a regularisation form at N5, 000 and return with four passport photographs to have their status changed. Defaulters, however, risk urgent ejection and other severe consequences, according to the strong-worded notice.

The landlord of the house, who described himself to Saturday PUNCH as a philanthropist, said he established the place to help the masses and that if Nigerians were like him, the country would have been a better place to live in.

“I am a philanthropist; I do this to help the people. If others were like me, Nigeria would have become a better place. I cannot say much for now but come back in two days’ time (Wednesday, November 12, 2014) when I will give you three hours to interview me. Your paper will sell so well,” he said.

But what the correspondent found at Agboye ‘estate’ is far from what you see in an environment established by a philanthropist.

  • Tenants are ejected without prior notice while monthly rent is increased at will without proper consultations with the occupants.
  • Tenants cook by the entrance of their rooms as there are no kitchens while the passageway in most of the eight blocks in the premises are enveloped in darkness day and night except of course if there is electricity supply to light up the bulbs. In the alternative, occupants light candles to illuminate the place.
  • The monthly rent for a single room in this highly populated building – N6, 000 – is one of the most expensive in mainland Lagos, higher than in places like Yaba, Palmgrove and even Ikeja, the state capital.
  • In addition to the high rent, tenants pay additional N2, 000 for electricity and other utility bills. New tenants who come on their own are made to pay a certain amount to a woman who acts as in-house agent. Without ‘settling’ her, your tenancy documents won’t be signed. But for those coming through an agent outside the place, they could pay as much as N140, 000 – about N34, 000 higher than the usual amount. In additional, a new tenant is made to perform a mandatory ritual – present a specified number of malt drinks and a bottle of wine to the management of the ‘estate.’

Disturbing as it sounds, the travails of many Agboye ‘estate’ residents, a school housing several professional institutes now converted to blocks of residential apartments, is only a fraction of the accommodation challenges many Lagos residents now face.

Confronted with outrageous rents and all sorts of living conditions by house owners, many of the city’s low-income earning families and individuals are forced to accept cheap alternatives that offer no succour in the real sense. Rather, their troubles have been compounded in many of these places, with their rights grossly abused by greedy house owners who ‘lord’ over their lives in every form.

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