As she moved her frail limbs towards one of the seats in the church auditorium, with an equally weak voice, she greeted and finally settled in the plastic chair where she fought back tears that would have streamed down her face. She cleared her throat in readiness to recount a tale of despair that could make a whole book. 85-year-old widow, Eno Carol-Effiong, had lost her house to the unlikeliest person in the world, her own daughter, Felicia.
And for over two decades she has been homeless, moving from church to church to take refuge with the help of good Samaritans. But a ray of hope beamed her way recently as the appeal court judgment swung in her favour and a 90-day ultimatum was given her rival to hand the property over to her after 20 years of living traumatised.
Her travail began the day she was rudely woken up about 6am sometime in December, 1996 by some gun-wielding policemen and a bailiff from the court.
“They said I had to quit the house immediately and they threw my things out”, she recalled. In just a matter of minutes, she watched her life crumble right before her eyes, her savings vanished and she became an erstwhile landlord. Meanwhile, shortly before the incident, her daughter had gone on holidays to their hometown in Akwa Ibom and she was alone because she’d lost her husband in the ‘70s. Carol-Effiong was living happily with her only child, Felicia, whom she described as “a good girl. We went to church together, discussed together and had evening prayers together.”
She said everything changed when she started keeping strange friends who are fraudsters. She met them when she left the family church, Assemblies of God in FESTAC to start fellowshipping at Christ Pentecostal Mission in FESTAC.
One day, while Carol-Effiong was checking the house, she realised that the original documents of her house was missing. “I quickly reported to the Federal Housing Authority and also made an announcement in Vanguard newspaper.
I didn’t know that my only daughter had taken it away and sold it through a forged power of attorney,” she recounted. She was allocated the fivebedroom apartment located at 21 Road, 2nd Avenue, E Close, House 22, Festac Town, Lagos, by the Federal Housing Authority after the FESTAC ’77 housing lottery.
“I retired as a matron at the Ministry of Health and Lagos State Health Management Board but the vast amount of money I made in my productive years was what I used to participate in that housing scheme. I lost all my life savings in the process of pursuing justice before a good Samaritan later introduced me to Chief Gani Fawehinmi,” she said.
Carol-Effiong filed a case at the Lagos State High Court through Gani Fawehinmi Chambers in 1997 and Ebun- Olu Adegboruwa prosecuted the case in the High Court after which a judgment was delivered in 2009 by Hon Justice Candide Johnson wherein the defendant was ordered to vacate the house for Carol Effiong. The defendant appealed against the judgment to the Court of Appeal in March, 2009.
“The legal tussle began in 1997 at the Apapa Magistrate’s Court. Late Gani Fawehinmi assigned the case to Barr. Ebun Adegoruwa. Adegoruwa helped me because of my age- there were many times I gave him money just to cushion the cost of transportation but he always declined the gesture. It was him God used to obtain the judgment. The judgment was delivered in 2009 by Hon. Justice Candide Johnson in my favour.
I was asked to be restored back into the property but the buyer filed another appeal against the judgment. He remained in the property and the case lingered till 2017,” she continued. On May 3, when the landmark judgment was delivered dismissing the appeal as totally lacking merit, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the trial court.
The lead judgment of the court of appeal was delivered by Hon Justice Yargata Byenchit Nimpar, to which Hon Justice Mohammed Lawal Garba and Jamilu Yammama Tukur concurred. In the said case, Nimpar upheld that, “There is nothing in this appeal that can ensure any benefit to the appellant.
It is surprising that inspite of the record of proceedings and the judgment of the court below, the appellant still pushed on with the appeal. Where a case is bad, it is the duty of counsel to advice his client and thus save the time of the court. The appeal fails and it is dismissed.” The same judgment was seconded by Garba who said, “In fact, from the record of appeal, one cannot avoid having the impression that the appeal was brought mainly to enable and allow the appellant who was forcefully and wrongly put into possession of the house of the respondent, to remain in the house for as long as possible, with the sole aim frustrating the respondent’s efforts of recovering her deserved possession and ownership.
This appeal was brought eight (8) years ago, on the 16th March, 2009 and the respondent has been kept out possession of her house for that period …” Sadly, while the case lingered, Felicia, who might have been abandoned by those who bought the house from her, sent emissaries to her mother, pleading for forgiveness but too terrified to appear in the open. “She sent people to beg me for forgiveness and I’d forgiven her because I want to make heaven. If I don’t forgive her, how will I get God’s forgiveness? But she’s afraid that she might be arrested or killed by those who know what she did to me, if she shows up,” she mumbled those words apparently holding back tears of joy.
She acknowledged missing her daughter and her grandson, Jide, more. She said the boy should be above teenage now and that they were fond of each other. Jide is the biological fruit of an illicit affair her daughter had with a Yoruba young man who eventually married another lady. “I’ve not seen my daughter in many years. I cannot even remember the last time we saw each other. If somebody can bring her to me and she’s sober, to err is man and to forgive is divine. I want my daughter to make heaven. She’s filled with too much fear because the people on the other side are advising her wrongly. I remember she disappeared with Jide, a child she had with her Yoruba boyfriend.
I didn’t even bond with the young man but I know that another lady packed into his house with him,” she recalled. Now that the storm is over, Carol- Effiong, who has been taking refuge in Assemblies of God Church, Marine Road, Apapa-Lagos, counts down to the 90-day ultimatum to finally repossess her property, but her joy is dampened by age.
What life is left for an 85-year-old retiree and widow to enjoy even in a house made of gold? When asked what she hoped to do with the apartment when she finally reclaims it. Her response reads, “I’m due to return home but this case and the pension I get are the reasons I stayed back. I get N11,000 from the Federal Ministry of Health and N20,000 from the Lagos State Health Management Board and that’s what I use to buy drugs to take care of myself. The Assemblies of God church helps me a lot with shelter and food.
I have relations at home, yes, I still have cousins. I lost my parents when I was just a child, so I didn’t grow up to recognise them. But I intend to sell the house and finally relocate to my village in Akwa Ibom State.” And when prodded to comment on what she’d do with the money after selling the property, she simply declined comments.
By Lanre Odukoya