4 years after, victims of estate agent await justice

It was a well-celebrated case in 2009, when more than 330 prospective tenants, comprising civilians and security agents exchanged blows over flats rented to them by estate an agent.

 At the centre of the crisis was one Prince Bayo Lawal, the CEO of Prince Bayowale Investment Limited, whose office was located at Oshodi, Lagos. He was said to be the agent in charge of houses on 14, Orubiyi Street, Mafoluku, 15 Shokunbi Street, Olateju, Mushin, and 15 Olaiya Street, Mafoluku. While claiming ownership of the buildings, he allegedly collected money from not less than 330 persons.

 He was, however, arrested when victims of the house at 14 Orobiyi Street, in a petition to the Commissioner of Police in charge of Special Fraud Unit (SFU) Milverton, Ikoyi, alleged that the suspect, who paraded himself as estate developer, swindled over 116 persons. He was said to have commenced collection of rents for the building between 2007 and January 9, 2009. Having realized the consequences of his actions, he secretly invited some persons, mainly the security agents among his victims to pack into available space, in January 10 this year. After that, he quickly switched off his phone and disappeared into the thin air.

 The police later picked him up. Some weeks later, Bayo was charged to Tapa Magistrate court, where after series of adjournments, the Magistrate said the court lacked the jurisdiction to go ahead with the case.
 The matter was transferred to Igbosere Court and the Judge ordered the accused person to refund money paid by his victims with interest. But Lawal’s lawyers secured his freedom at the appellate court. He was, however, re-arrested by detectives of the EFCC. As the case drags into years, the victims who have sworn to fight on expressed fears that justice might elude them.

 The leader of the group, Uzor Asiegbu, lamented that despite that, the case has dragged on for more than two years. It appears that the accused person might not be brought to justice.
 He said: “It all started in January 25, 2009 and since then, we have passed through stages, starting from Tapa Magistrate court. The police charged him to a Magistrate Court when they knew full well that such case was meant for the High Court. We spent more than a year at that court, because the Magistrate said he was waiting for Director for Public Prosecution’s (DPP) advice as to whether the case would be transferred to a High Court or not. We went as far as the DPP office in Alausa, begging them to re-assign the case all to no avail. Rather, they were making some demands.

 When all efforts to convince the DPP to transfer the case to a High court failed, we finally took the case to High Court. Luckily, Justice Dada in charge of the case assured that there was going to be no delay and in December 29, 2009, she delivered her judgment, which compelled Bayo Lawal to pay back the money he collected from us, with interest. We were still waiting for execution of the judgment, when he appealed against the case and the judgment, which was in our favour. The judgment which was in our favour was upturned.”

 Some of the victims said they have lost hope in the Judiciary, as they decided to leave their fate in hands of God. “Most of us pulled out of the case, saying it was a waste of money and time because Bayo had people everywhere who ensure that he gets away with every crime. At that point, the few who were still interested, decided to invite the EFCC.

 When it was obvious that the police could not help us get justice, we pleaded with EFCC to resurrect the case. They picked him up and split the matter into three different parts. That is, his victims in 2007, 2008 and 2009. Two of the cases are before Justice Abiru of Ikeja High court and Justice Pedro at Tafawa Balewa Square.”
 These cases dragged on because, the Defence Council repeatedly refused to show up on hearing days and this led to several adjournments. The Judge warned them that, if they failed to appear in the next adjourned date, he would assign them a lawyer. We are told that he is still in detention, but if you see him, he looks healthier than some of us who are free.”
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