May 27, 2023

ASO ROCK: What Tinubu will encounter in the so ‘clean’ and so ‘dirty’ Presidential Villa



By Luminous Jannamike, Abuja

As Nigeria transitions from one presidency to another, all eyes are on the Aso Rock Presidential Villa – the seat of power and the center of Nigeria’s political gravity.

The State House was commissioned in the 1980s by President Ibrahim Babangida, who sought to create grand residences and offices for the nation’s leader, his deputy as well as numerous other top level government officials and their numerous aides. The villa was, however, completed in 1991, and since then, it has been home to every Nigerian president.

But the Aso Villa State House is more than just a residence. It is the nerve center of Nigerian politics, the place where decisions are made that affect the lives of millions. And as Saturday Vanguard discovered, it is also a place of great drama and controversies that are as fascinating and dramatic as any you’ll find in the movies.

For decades, the Villa has been the playground of Nigeria’s rich and powerful, a place where politicians and the high and mighty gather to plot and scheme and once in a blue moon clash.

One former insider, who asked to remain anonymous, told Saturday Vanguard about the time a president’s wife had a heated argument with a senior advisor in one of the living rooms in the Villa.

“It was like something out of a movie. She was shouting, he was shouting, and everyone else in the room was just trying to keep their heads down and pretend they weren’t there,” he said.

But the drama doesn’t just happen behind closed doors. In 2017, a group of protesters gathered outside the villa to demand the return of President Muhammadu Buhari, who was on a medical leave in London.

The protesters were eventually dispersed by security forces, but the incident highlighted the intense public scrutiny that the first family, the entire villa and its residents are under.

Of course, not all the stories emanating from the Villa are negative. Insiders have also spoken of the sense of camaraderie and pride that come with working in such an important place.

“It’s a privilege to be part something that so important to the country. No matter what your role is, you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself,” the former staffer told Saturday Vanguard.

While the villa is a dream abode for many Nigerians because of its grandeur, it is not immune to the challenges facing country as a whole. There are the cases of power outages and water shortages that affect some of the residents, and the constant battle to keep the sprawling complex running smoothly and securely.

In the same breath, not everyone who has either lived or worked in the Aso Villa, has fond memories of the place. Recall that in 2015, former presidential spokesman Reuben Abati wrote a scathing article in which he claimed that almost every resident or worker in the villa encounters one form of misfortune or the other.

Abati cited examples of staff members who had fallen ill or died suddenly, and he painted a picture of a place that was rife with superstition and dark secrets. Of course, not everyone agrees with Abati’s assessment because for all its challenges, the Aso Rock Presidential Villa remains a symbol of Nigerian power and ambition, a coveted prize for Nigeria’s political elite, and a place where power, influence, and wealth are all within reach – for those who are willing to take some risk.

Therefore, as the occupancy of the State House transitions from outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari to his successor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, what should the incoming first family expect? What goes on behind the closed doors of Aso Rock Presidential Villa?

The State House is expected to continue being a turf where power play, politics, and intrigues collide. It is sure to remain a place where deals are made and broken, where the real power lies, and a place of intense political intrigue who politicians visit to jostle for position and influence while trying to gain the upper hand and outmaneuver their rivals.

“Everything happens in Aso Rock. If you want to get something done, you have to go there,” says a former government official who worked in the State House for several years.

Deji Adeyanju, a political analyst who has studied the Nigerian political scene for years, says in a chat with Saturday Vanguard, “Politics is a dirty game, and Aso Rock is where the dirtiest deals are made. It’s a place where you have to be very careful who you trust.”

Meanwhile, one of the most important buildings within the Villa complex is the Glass House, a small building where the outgoing president stays during the transition period, to make way for the incoming president and his family to move into the State House.

Moving into the Glass House during the transition period is a tradition that has been followed for decades, and one that Aisha Buhari recently called for to be continued.

“I have taken the incoming First Lady, Senator Remi Tinubu, around. She has seen the main house; we are now at the popular glass house. Glass house is a transitional home for the outgoing president.

“I’m advising that the Glass House should maintain its tradition of being a transition for the outgoing president.

“As I am talking to you now, I am residing here with my husband. Only two of us here, I think it should remain so as a norm of the institution and of the house,” she said during a recent tour of the villa with Tinubu’s wife.

As Tinubu and his family settle into their new home come May 29, 2023, it is clear that the Aso Villa will continue to be at the center of Nigerian politics and culture for many years ahead.