Richard Nyong, the embattled chief executive officer of Lekki Gardens Estate Limited, is in the news again for the wrong reason.
This much we gathered as leading commercial lawyer and chairperson of Osborne Foreshore Residents Association (OSFRA), Lagos, Mrs. Chinwe Ezenwa-Mbah has accused Nyong and his company, Lekki Gardens, a property company in Lagos, of negligence following the death of a worker at its construction site within the estate, saying it was not the first time such a tragedy would be occurring in their buildings.
According to The Punch, a construction worker, Steven Magilo, reportedly died after falling off the eighth floor of a building under construction owned by Lekki Gardens.
It was learnt that the incident happened recently at the Royal Palm Drive, Osborne Foreshore Estate Phase 2, Ikoyi, Lagos State. The 30-year-old was confirmed dead in a hospital in the community, as the matter was reported at the Dolphin Police Station.
Said Ezenwa-Mbah: “Lekki Gardens is the owner of the property from which the young man fell and died. This is the third time in a space of months that workers would be falling off their buildings and plunging to their death. They have no regards for human lives.
“Reports to relevant authorities concerning their atrocities fall on deaf ears; immediately you mention Lekki Gardens, it’s like a no-go area to the authorities of Lagos State.”
The senior lawyer said the Lagos State Safety Commission initially sealed off the building after the estate reported Magilo’s death, adding that in less than a week, it was reopened.
The estate manager, Olushola Odukoya, faulted the decision of the state safety commission to reopen the building. He said: “The company’s safety officers told me that the victim was doing overload by trying to get things from a crane when he fell off and died. But to us in the estate, we know that enough safety measures were not taken.
“In the last seven months, this is the third occurrence, which they acknowledged and wrote to us. But this last death, they didn’t want us to know, so they quickly removed the body because they knew we would not take it lightly with them.
“We always try to monitor their constructions to see that they are in accordance with the approval they got and the safety measures the estate wants in place. However, because of the peculiarity of Lekki Gardens, they feel they own the state and try to fence us off and do whatever they like, and that’s why we call on the authorities to come in and do the needful.”
A spokesman for Lekki Gardens, Emmanuel Essien, however denied the allegations against the firm. He noted that the deceased was not a member of staff of the company but was engaged by one of its contractors.
Nyong and his company are not new to controversies.
Recall, THE WITNESS, reported that a six-storey building on Kushenla Road in the Ikate Elegushi area of Lekki, Lagos, belonging to the developer had collapsed on March 10, 2016 during construction, killing over 30 people and injuring many others.
The company and its promoters, including Nyong, are currently facing criminal charges in a Lagos State high court for the incident.
Other defendants are Lekki Gardens’ executive director, Sola Olumofe; the firm’s contractor, Odofin Taiwo; Omolabake Mortune; Omotilewa Joseph; Get Too Rich Investment Limited; and HC Insight Solution Limited. They were arraigned on a six-count charge bordering on failure to obtain building approval for the collapsed building and involuntary manslaughter, where they pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.
After the building collapsed on March 8, 2016, Lekki Gardens Estate reported that five people died in the incident as against the official figure of 34 casualties.
The state government had also argued that the collapsed building had been sealed by the Lagos State Building Control Agency and served contravention notice for exceeding the approved floors, but Messrs Lekki Worldwide Estate, the promoters of Lekki Gardens, continued construction.
“In a brazen act of defiance and impunity, the owners of the building, Messrs Lekki Worldwide Estate Limited, the promoters of Lekki Gardens, criminally unsealed the property and continued building beyond the approved floors until the unfortunate incident which has led to loss of lives,” it said.
The prosecutor who is the attorney-general of Lagos State, had told the court that the defendants committed the offences between August 2014 and March 8, 2016 at House H15, Horizon 1, Extension, Ikate in Elegushi, Lekki.
The prosecutor said that the defendants commenced and finished building a six-storey complex without building permits and other building approvals.
“The defendants constructed the building with gross negligence and disregard to human life which led to the death of five people.
Maruis Agwu, prosecution witness, an architect, while testifying before Justice Sybil Nwaka of the Ikeja Division of the Lagos State High Court, said that the initial plan of the building was for a three-storey building, but that Nyong later told him of his intention to increase the building to five floors because of the high demand of subscribers.
According to Agwu, when he discovered the defect on the collapsed building which was brought to their notice by one Madam Omolabake Mortunde, he drew the Lekki Gardens managing director’s attention to it and he said he was going to do something about it but he never did.
However, while being cross-examined by the counsel to the first, sixth and seventh defendants Wole Olanipekun SAN, the witness (Agwu) admitted that he was not a registered architect, he also said that he did not sign or seal the design of the collapsed building, but that the company did not direct him to sign nor seal the design.
RICHARD NYONG’S LEKKI GARDENS NOW OPERATE UNDER NEW COMPANIES
To avoid the stigma the incident brought to the Lekki Gardens brand and to shield the company from liabilities over several litigations, smart Nyong immediately set up new property development companies namely Meridian Park Estate Limited, Horizon Estate Limited, and Foreshore Waters Limited, to advance his business dealings.
When many thought his travails were over, 20 unit owners in the Horizon Premier-1 Estate in Lekki, Lagos dragged the Akwa-Ibom State-born businessman before a Lagos high court over alleged distortion of the estate layout to build shops in the space originally meant for children playground, green area and recreation facilities. The claimants demanded an immediate reversion to the original layout in the 33-unit estate, while some subscribers also demanded compensation.
A senior member of the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), who pleaded anonymity, lamented the impunity with which Lekki Gardens and Nyong had continued to carry out its business with total disregard for regulations and without securing approvals before commencing construction.
“Many of his developments in Lekki still lack approvals and he believes he is above the law. I am therefore not surprised that he is converting children’s playground to shops since this is what he has also done in some of his estates and we are in constant battle with him,” the source said.
He noted that earlier in the year, the agents of LASBCA had sealed off the Horizon Premier-1 Estate for building plan contravention, after which the company broke the seal and resumed work without the agency’s permission.
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