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‘C.C. Onoh was an unusual landlord’

*As ex-Anambra gov is buried

By Tony Edike

THE demise of the former civilian governor of old Anambra State, Chief Christian Chukwuma Onoh, was, indeed, a great loss to many, but to his tenants who occupy his massive estates scattered across the country, his exit was more painful and it is feared that they may be deprived of several benefits they had enjoyed from the late elder statesman over the years.

It is in fact a consensus among his tenants who spoke with Sunday Vanguard in Enugu that Onoh was actually an exceptional landlord who was committed to the well-being of whoever he admitted into his property either for residential or business purposes.

Chief C.C Onoh
Chief C.C Onoh

Onoh breathed his last at his Ngwo country home in the night of Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at the age of 82, leaving behind for his children hundreds of houses and undeveloped plots of land in Enugu, Lagos and Abuja among other  cities in the country. A lawyer, the elder statesman utilized his legal background, intelligence and wealth to acquire landed properties in the early 60s when many people appeared to be oblivious of the wealth derivable from land.

He ventured into business early and became a contractor after attending the renowned College of Immaculate Conception (CIC), Enugu. As a young businessman, Onoh was contracted to build 10 houses for the Colonial Development Corporation’s Colliery Quarters at Udi Siding in Enugu as early as 1948.

As at that time, he had started acquiring landed properties particularly within the Coal camp, Awkunanaw and Government Reserved Areas of the Enugu capital city. One of his first storey buildings was erected at No. 7 Silver Smith Avenue, Coal Camp Enugu which he later converted to his personal office from where he coordinated his massively-acquired landed properties and political activities.

Onoh was so immersed  in property acquisition such  that anybody who was interested in buying property within Enugu metropolis must conduct serious search at the Ministry of Lands and Survey to ensure that such property did  not belong to the late Onoh and his family.

Sunday Vanguard learnt that property owners in Enugu and developers were wary of buying land within the metropolis at a time because of fears of trespassing on his property.  Some developers who braved it actually fought protracted legal battles with him to retain such property but in most cases Onoh emerged victorious.

To effectively manage his estates, Onoh established Rockonoh Property Company Limited and became the managing director in the early 70s. The company was said to have grown very fast in estate business acquiring landed properties in Lagos and Abuja. Rockonoh owns a large estate in the Federal Capital Territory , Abuja and Lagos .

He built the popular Onoh quarters in GRA Enugu with an extension at Awkunanaw in Enugu South Local Government Area.  Three of his properties were said to be  occupied by foreign embassies in Lagos.  At his Ngwo community, Onoh built the popular Hilltop Modotel, a hotel and tourist centre as well as several houses some of which he donated to his poor relations.

Onoh donated dozens of houses at his Awkunanaw Estate to his younger brother, Dr. Ozor Nicholas Onoh, many years ago and later transferred the entire assets of Rockonoh Property Company Limited to his first son, Gabriel Onoh, who was the chairman of Enugu Local Government Area and one time commissioner in the state. But during the period that he personally handled the tenancy of those properties, his tenants recalled that they had very good times living on his premises.  The relationship between him   and his tenants was very cordial and many were eager to secure accommodation in any of his estates.

Some of the tenants who spoke with Sunday Vanguard at Onoh Quarters in GRA Enugu poured encomiums on the late elder statesman, saying he was a landlord worthy of emulation by shylock property owners who make life difficult for tenants through arbitrary increase in rent and unnecessary pressures. Chief Okey Ibeh, who had been Onoh’s tenant at the quarters since 1980, said: “The death of Onoh was indeed painful to the tenants because he was an exceptional landlord. I don’t think there is any landlord that can be as kind as Oka-Ome.  I have lived in this house for about 29 years and I can tell you that I have never seen any tenant that spoke bad of our landlord.

“If you are lucky to get accommodation in any of his properties, then you are in for comfort. Can you imagine that even when you don’t have money to pay your rent at the end of the month, he will give you sometime until you are able to pay. He understood the plight of civil servants and was always ready to assist anyone in difficulty. Besides, he made the rent so cheap and affordable. Unlike some shylock landlords who increased their rent  every year, Onoh was not interested in arbitrary rent increase as he will tell you that God gave these houses to him by His special grace.”

Another tenant and friend of the late elder statesman,  Mr. Steve Okorie, a veteran journalist, who has lived in Onoh’s duplex for over 30 years, recounted that living in Onoh’s house is like one residing in his own property because of the maximum comfort and welfare packages the tenants enjoyed. “At the end of the year, every December, CC will not collect rent from any of his tenants as he would ask us to use the money for our Christmas. He did this for many years and the tenants were very grateful for his kind gestures. He visited many tenants whose wives put to bed and presented gifts.  It was indeed a rare privilege which no property owner anywhere can give to his tenants,” he said.

Okorie further said that unlike many property owners who are not interested in maintaining their houses after they had been built, Onoh, through his estate firm, ensured regular maintenance of the structures, adding that he (Onoh) never quarreled with any tenant as he was like a father to all his tenants. Onoh’s kindness towards his tenants and the less-privileged, as learnt by Sunday Vanguard, was informed by his humble background and the difficulties he faced in his life struggle. “He will always tell anyone around him that he suffered in life and as a self-made man he will not be harsh to his tenants.  He was a simple man and to him the essence of life is principally to affect the lives of those around him,” Okorie  said.

Injustice and deprivation

Throughout Onoh’s sojourn, he continued, there was no time he took any of his tenants to court to forcefully eject him or coerce him to pay his rent, but he was a  dogged fighter against injustice and deprivation. Apart from battling those who attempted to annex his property unlawfully, Onoh single-handedly battled some government officials  from the old Anambra State to the present Enugu State who allegedly cornered public properties for personal use.

For instance, during the military regime of Col. Robert Akonobi, Onoh fought tirelessly against some officials of that administration over land acquisition and went ahead to write books in which he listed some properties allegedly illegally acquired by the government officials and their relations.

He also did same during the immediate past regime of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani and wrote several petitions against government over land matters. However, with the demise of Onoh, it is not clear yet if the tenants will continue to enjoy the privileges he granted them but some of them expressed the hope that his successor, Gabriel, would emulate his father’s kind gestures and continue from where he stopped. Onoh’s body was laid to rest at his Ngwo country home on Friday.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.