THE OWNERSHIP of a £1m house is being fought over by its longstanding tenants and a man who says he bought it from a dead Nigerian chief’s relative.

Abbey Folami, 46, says he is the rightful owner of 17 Warnborough Road in North Oxford, after he legally bought it for £108,000 plus some land in Nigeria, as he seeks to evict Philip Brown and Keiron Halstead.

Yet the pair — who have lived in the six-bedroom semi-detached property for a combined 41 years — say that was not true and any descendant of the original owner, Chief Obasola Atobatele, with a claim on the property is dead.

They are hoping the house, valued at £1m, will pass to them for free.

Oxford County Court Recorder Alastair Wilson has been told during eviction proceedings started by Mr Folami that Chief Atobatele, a trained barrister, bought the house from St John’s College in 1977 for £15,500 and that it had been let to dozens of students since then.

The house is split into rooms and Mr Brown, a hall assistant at St Antony’s College, moved in as a tenant in 1987. Mr Halstead followed in 1994 and the pair were paying rent to a letting agent.

Chief Atobatele died in June 1989. Seven years later they were contacted by his daughter’s solicitors asking who they had been paying their rent to. She has since died.

In 2007 they were contacted by Mr Folami’s solicitors, who produced a death certificate for a man called Obasola Atobatele giving a date of 1991, and claimed he was now the rightful owner.

They refused to pay him any rent and, after initially allowing him in to the property, they changed the locks.

Mr Folami has told Recorder Wilson this week that he bought the property from a relative of the Chief, Joshua Atobatele, in Nigeria for £108,000 plus land in the west African country worth about £350,000.

Previously he had told Mr Brown and Mr Halstead that Joshua was the Chief’s Obasola’s son.

Recently he has said, however, that the Chief sold the house in 1987 to a second man who was a relative with the same name. Joshua was the son of this man.

Mr Folami had applied for Joshua to give evidence on the sale to the hearing by video link from Nigera, but this was turned down. Mr Folami’s barrister Richard Devereux-Cooke said Joshua was now too ill to travel to England and could not get a visa.

Mr Brown and Mr Halstead’s barrister John Clargo countered that inconsistencies over the sale showed Mr Folami was not the rightful owner.

He said to Mr Folami yesterday: “It is only at the 11th hour that you acknowledge the difference of the two men by proffering the explanation that the Chief Atobatele sold it to Mr Atobatele in 1987.”

He asked why the original documents of the sale between the Chief and the other Obasola Atobatele had never been produced. Mr Folami replied that the sale was genuine.

Mr Clargo alleged there were others involved in a scheme to illegally gain ownership of the house, adding: “I’m suggesting you were just there as a front man.”

Mr Folami replied: “It’s not true, your honour.”

Mr Folami has said he wants to evict Mr Brown and Mr Halstead because they have not paid any rent, changed the lock and the house was “shambolic” inside.

Recorder Wilson has been told the tenants have their own case waiting in which they hope that the house will be given to them because they say there is no living owner of it.

The case continues.