Daniel Okereke, a landlord and businessman from Lagos, tells EMMANUEL OJO how his home in the city’s Maryland neighborhood was flooded, causing property loss
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Daniel Okereke. I was a banker and at one point voluntarily resigned to pursue other real estate business. That’s what I do. The property that is said to have sunk is my personal property on Akinwunmi Street in Mende. I bought the land in 2007 and developed it in 2008. It’s actually the first house I’ve ever built and it’s very personal and dear to me. It’s something I built at a time when I was practically scratching it out and hoping in God and eventually I was able to accomplish that. So it’s different from having a ready-made fund somewhere that you use to build later like I want. So this is very personal to me because it was something I built in my twenties; therefore it is very personal to me. I know how I had to go through all kinds of legal channels to raise money and in the end God helped me to achieve this.
What is the situation at the house that was reportedly sunk by a flood?
There is actually no incident that is out of place. Where I live in Mende, Maryland, from time to time, when it rains really hard, we have this wave action because we have a canal about 500 feet from my home and other homes nearby, and so forth. So if it rains really hard and the government doesn’t dredge the canal, the water will flow back out of the canal instead of flowing through, devastating us. As I speak with you, I have lost at least five cars in this property of mine, but because it is my baby project, it is very dear to my heart and more important than any other property I own or ever will own. I’ve been here since 2008 and when this wave comes it pours out of the canal and floods our homes and everything. It floods the streets and in some cases the house.
How often does the flood occur?
During my stay here since 2008, the wave that happened just a few days ago is quite unusual. We have over 100 hosts in this estate and other hosts have also confirmed that it is quite unusual. The chairman’s house was flooded, even to places it had never been before. So we started making inquiries and we realized that this particular wave was allegedly due to the ongoing construction work on the Opebi Link Bridge to Maryland by Julius Berger. It’s ‘alleged’ because we haven’t reached a definitive point with our investigation. That was the reason for the unusual increase, according to our ongoing findings. The spillway and channel at the Opebi Link bridge were blocked in order to proceed with the project, which is highly commendable. It is a pioneering project of this government so we appreciate that but at the same time the government should help us to maintain contact with Julius Berger and the authorities so that at the end of the day we can enjoy the pioneering projects that the government, nor will it fire us from our homes and endanger our lives and property.
How much damage did the flood cause to your property and the building?
Right now, not to sound indecent, I’ve lost at least five cars, and when I talk about cars here, I’m talking about cars like the G-Wagon. I lost a G-Wagon here, I lost a Bentley here, I lost a Chrysler, a Prado jeep, a Range Rover jeep, an Escalade Truck and even an E-Class.
Was it in this incident or previous incidents?
From the moment it started when I came to live here. I moved from Ikeja GRA where all these things don’t happen. I’ve never really experienced flooding or known anything about it. This took place in 2008, 2009 it was when I stayed at the property that I started to see all that and of course it’s my savings and I’m not going to run away from the property because the water receded from the canal which is a natural event, though the government can help us dredge up the place and make life easy for us. When I realized that the water was coming through my gate, I had to make a dike there, so over the years I have not experienced water coming in through my gate. It pours into the street and after a while it goes out and life returns to normal. So it’s been back and forth like that.
Can you describe how high the water rose in this last incident?
My house is a multi-storey building. The water rose to about half the height of the ground floor. It was above the knee, so it wasn’t anything life threatening.
Did you get professional advice before buying the land?
When I bought the land, the seller sold it to me, sold it during the dry season, and then sold it for the normal price. I will buy land in a dry place and told me I just need to dig the ground and start building as it is in any other ordinary dry place. I didn’t know I had a channel there until one day after I moved in. I was in my house and the rain was falling and because I didn’t know the terrain I was stuck my cars got stuck and so lost everything but you know in this climate there’s no one to turn to for compensation like in other climates. I lost a lot, I sat in this house and cried, but I couldn’t do anything. It was as if all the fruits of my labor over the years had just vanished in one day.
How big is your building there?
What I have here is a multi-storey building. It’s four flats but due to the water which has been disruptive I didn’t want to develop the downstairs flats as I felt it was unfair to rent the house to people that if it rains the house will be flooded and stuff . So, as a man who knows what it means to toil and make money, I’ve decided that I’m not going to develop the ground floor. It was this last year that I realized that I managed to solve this problem of this water entering the house that I decided to build only one flat but with this incident that just happened now I flooded that place and everything what i have in there is again millions of nairas gone.
Can you estimate how much you have now lost to this particular incident?
To estimate what I lost in this incident, except the previous ones my cars lost, I will say about N8m. That’s for the furniture, TVs, air conditioning, etc. and documents. It’s just a pathetic place to see, but by God’s grace the water receded and I was able to use the pumping machine to pump it out. I have an automated pumping machine that I use most of the time. The water even wore away the one I used, I had to go and buy two new ones. It is dry everywhere now, but we live in Lagos and flooding is a common occurrence that we see in other climates, such as Australia, New York and so on. So it’s just a natural phenomenon. The floods have prevented our properties from having the value they should have, but if the government helps to dredge the canal and build a dike there, we will be happy and the value of our property will increase. With this recurring problem, it’s only one SUV I have, for emergencies.
How did you 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 was just wearing my normal safety boot because I had a doctor’s appointment so I had to get out at that point. I walked on but there is a tenant who I told later who when I left was a bit uncomfortable walking on in the normal way because the water had risen so I called estate security to get a bring ladder and stuff so she could get out comfortably, but since she’s a new tenant and saw there was water everywhere, she might have panicked. Other tenants who had been there longer, who knows it would be a thing of the past in a few hours, left for work, but this one panicked. She apologized, but I said that apology was not necessary. There is no problem. If they can make a call to the government to come and help us and it’s your call that can make them come, that’s a blessing to us. There’s nothing to hide. I am not the cause of the flood.
So when NEMA came, they just got to the ladder that I held, but I trusted the Nigerian rescue services, they made a show of it, took pictures and so on, people were trapped, the building sank and so on and so forth. If you know and anyone who knows me or has visited my residency know anyone can be hosted here. I can’t be in a place that’s in danger. So when they came and they saw that the building was a little skewed, which was due to the separation that was done based on it being a swampy area and they had to do mechanical pile driving and everything. My house is stacked 20 feet into the ground. For just the foundation alone as then, I spent about N20m.
And for your tenants, what was their reaction regarding their rent there?
As I speak, they are already sleeping in their various apartments. I charge the lowest rent in this entire area. I have not increased the rent in the past four years, not even with COVID-19. As I talk to you, some tenants still owe me rent up to seven months and I haven’t evicted them from my house.
How many tenants do you have?
I have four tenants. I am a Christian, but I do not require that as a requirement to rent out my apartment. As long as the person is responsible and has a job that can pay their rent. I have Christians and Muslims as my tenants. I also don’t play a tribalism card. I take people for who they are. A good man is a good man, but if I interview a potential renter and find out he’s a Yahoo boy, I’ll even be the one to call the cops on the person.