NRZ seeks to evict pastor from Harare land after US$2m investment

Nixon Chibuzor Ohizu, a Nigerian-born preacher who is now a Zimbabwean citizen, leased the derelict piece of land on 14432 Seke Road on the outskirts of Harare’s central business district in 2003.

The National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) is locked in a legal battle with a Harare-based pastor after it tried to evict him from his church and business complex built on its land that was once deemed unusable.

Nixon Chibuzor Ohizu, a Nigerian-born preacher who is now a Zimbabwean citizen, leased the derelict piece of land on 14432 Seke Road on the outskirts of Harare’s central business district in 2003.

Ohizu said he ploughed US$2 million to build an auditorium for his Redeemed House of God church, a house, office blocks, warehouse and retail shops on the 6720 square metre piece of land.

 He said the NRZ started giving him problems in 2019 with constant questions on whether he had licences to operate the church, shops and the rest of his businesses.

Ohizu said the NRZ then started charging unrealistic rentals and manipulating figures so that he fell into arears and justify the non-renewal of lease agreements.

The NRZ was accused of deploying “thugs” to lock out the pastor from its premises and ordered his tenants to pay rentals directly to the parastatal.

It refused to remove the “thugs” even after High Court judge Justice Muchawa granted Ohizu a reprieve pending the determination of another case where he had applied for a spoilation order. 

In February this year, Ohizu filed another High Court application where he wanted the NRZ to be censured for contempt of court.

Ohizu, through his company Ojei Ventures and Redeemed House of God church, has since approached the Supreme Court to challenge a ruling by High Court judge Emmy Tsanga that rejected his appeal to stop the NRZ from pushing him out of the property.

The appeal is for a spoliation seeking relief for the entire stand 14432.

His lawyers Nyikadzino, Simango and Associates, Ohizu argued that the High Court erred in dismissing his application for a spoliation order in circumstances where he managed to establish the two essential requirements for the relief he was seeking.

He also argued that the court grossly misdirected itself in finding that he consented to his removal from the property contrary to the evidence he presented.

Justice Tsanga ruled that Ohizu did not provide adequate evidence to prove that he was not in peaceful possession of the property and that his dispossession was unlawful.  

The judgment came three months after Ohizu was granted temporary relief by the High Court in December 2023 to stay on the property until the determination of the case.

According to court papers, NRZ claimed that it did not renew Ohizu’s lease because he had rental arrears and that the parastatal now wanted to use the property.

NRZ also maintained  that Ohizu was never forcibly evicted.

Ohizu said a historical audit exercise proved he was not in arrears, according to a response to the lease cancellation dated October 18, 2023.

He said engagement with lawyers representing the NRZ during a pre-trail conference showed that the parastatal relied on an outdated lease agreement.

“In addition, attention was drawn that as far back as 20 December 2021 a letter authored by S Mubonani in his capacity as real estate assistant (eastern area) had unilaterally put together a rental review for an all-up amount of US$10 080.00 payable in RTGS at the interbank rate,” reads  a letter by Ohizu’s lawyers write to the NRZ acting real estate assistant, eastern area.

“Our client pointed out that the proposed rental increase of 500% could not be accepted given its manifest increase well beyond what was agreed in the first place.”

A letter written by Ojei Ventures rejecting the rental increase was never responded to by the NRZ.

“It was further mentioned that undoubtedly, no account had been taken of the improvements on the property that our client - with the knowledge and consent of NRZ - wholly funded and that NRZ would or ought to appreciate that this would ultimately accrue to the benefit of NRZ following the principle of accession governing property law and further subject to an offer of compensation for the improvements that it permitted to be established,” the letter read in part.

According to the letter, there were negotiations with the NRZ lawyers for a possible extension of the lease agreement, but on 23 September 23, the parastatal served Ojei and Redeemed Church of God with a notice of eviction.

The lawyers wondered how the NRZ would make use of the church building.

In her founding affidavit of the urgent chamber application for the spoliation order, Ojei Ventures managing director Eunicah Joan Ohizu, through her lawyer Briane Hwachi, said the buildings were constructed with the approval of the City of Harare in consultation with NRZ. 

She said she was surprised that the NRZ now says the buildings are illegal.

Ohizu said  the NRZ was refusing to compensate him for the developments on the land claiming “that my buildings were illegal, yet according to the lease, compensation on my lease was either they give him the option to remove his buildings, or he chooses to leave them to belong to NRZ.”

Ohizu detailed how he on several occasions tried to engage the NRZ executives to solve the matter amicably and he was ignored.

The NRZ is also locked in legal battles with another company, Goerge Excellence, which has been leasing 1000 square metres at the Yard Master Complex in Harare.

The company was operating a car rental business and used the land as parking space where it erected shades for parking and servicing of vehicles.  

The company agreed to release three of its offices to one Patel at the request of the Railways Estate before the NRZ started accusing the firm of making illegal electricity connections.

NRZ went to disconnect the company’s premises from the electricity grid and the matter ended in court.  However, the case was thrown after the NRZ failed to attend court proceedings. 

The parastatal has refused to reconnect the electricity for the past three years. Goerge Excellence eventually stopped paying rentals to force the NRZ to reconnect the electricity, but the parastatal initiated moves to evict the firm.

It went on to lock the gates and gave the company a US$6000 bill, which it moved to US$23 000 without an explanation within one month.

Goerge Excellence reported the matter to the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission, but the matter has not been solved. It says it has since lost a haulage truck, which it used to hire out for outdoor events.

The company claimed the NRZ is using dirty tricks to push it out so that it can rent out the land to someone else.

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