A Harare pastor has approached the Supreme Court seeking to challenge his eviction by the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ)  from a Harare complex where he says he invested US$2 million to build a church, house and a business complex.

Nixon Chibuzor Ohizu, a Nigerian-born preacher who is now a Zimbabwean citizen based in Harare, 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.

On Friday the church leader applied for condonation for late payment of security costs to the Supreme Court through his company Ojey Ventures and the Redeemed House of God church in a bid to resurrect the case.

Ohizu is challenging High Court judge Justice Emmy Tsanga’s February 2 ruling that paved for his eviction from the church and business complex that he built from the piece of land measuring 6720 square metres.

The parastatal claims that it legally evicted Ohizu because he had accumulated rental arrears of US$ 200 000, but the pastor says he does not owe the parastatal any money.

According to the court papers, Ohizu said the US$200 000 rental arrests emanated from a rental agreement proposal by the NRZ, which did not culminate into an agreement.

In June 2020, NRZ sent auditors to audit Ohizu, an exercise which concluded that the cleric owed the railway company US$ 12,195.

Harare pastor Ohizu paid the money but a month later, NRZ wrote a letter to him threatening to cancel his lease, claiming he owed $173 000.

He said he was advised by his lawyer to pay the amount without prejudice,  but he was  arrested when he went to settle the alleged arrears on allegations that he was trying to bribe the NRZ. He was eventually acquitted by the Harare magistrate court.

At the time, NRZ instructed the pastor’s tenants to pay rentals directly to it and he sued the parastatal at the High Court, which was ordered to follow due process.

In November 2020, NRZ sent Ohizu another letter claiming that he owed the parastatal.

On December 20, 2021, the NRZ wrote another letter notifying him that it had increased rentals from $26 000 to US$10 000 and ordered him to respond by January 2022. The new rentals were effective February 1, 2022.

The letter, written without prejudice, was only delivered to Ohizu’s lawyers on February 1, 2022, a week after the date he was supposed to accept or reject the rental increment had already passed.

Ohizu’s lawyers wrote to NRZ rejecting the “unrealistic rental” increment and the railway company proposed a round table meeting to discuss the issue, but its officials did not turn up.

In an affidavit that accompanied the new Supreme Court application his wife Eunicah, who is who is the Ajei Ventures managing director, said they did not owe the NRZ any money.

“I submit that I have been religiously paying rent and electricity bills. For ease of reference, I attach hereto a copy of the receipts for 2023 marked as Annexure “D” series. I submit that I do not owe the Respondent any cent,” she wrote.

“In addition, I submit that the dispute of arrear rentals started sometime around February 2022 when my former legal practitioners, Honey and Blackenburg received a notice of rental review from respondent’s then legal practitioners Mangwana and Associates.

“The rental review letter dated 20th December 2021 indicated that the respondent was proposing a rental increment from ZWL 26 000 to USD10 080 effective 1 February 2022.

“The letter indicated that Applicants had until 25th January 2022 to confirm our acceptance of the offer.

“The letter was served on us in February 2022. For easy reference see attached letter marked Annexure “E”.

“My lawyer responded to the letter notifying them that the date had already passed and requested a meeting to further clarify the matters of the proposed rental increment. I attach hereto our response marked as Annexure “F”.

“The respondent’s lawyers set two dates for the meeting and on those two occasions they never showed up for the meeting.”

Eunicah said senior NRZ officials started enquiring whether they had licenses to operate the church, shops, and the rest of the business after they failed to lawfully evict them.

“During the course of all this, I reminded the respondent that when it leased the land in question it was a dump and swamp with very deep holes with no prospects of reasonable use,” she said.

“Now that the property is developed and beautiful, business running successfully and worth a lot of money the respondent now wants to find faults and eject me unlawfully in a bid to take over the premises.”

On September 23 last year NRZ served Ohizu with a notice of eviction and on December 6, without a court order, NRZ stormed the premises and violently chased everyone away, including the pastor and his family before locking the gates.

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