Aso Villa: A presidential ghost town

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Some people call it the Presidential Villa. Others refer to it as State House while to many more; it is Aso Rock or Aso Villa. Whichever name one decides on, it still refers to Nigeria’s seat of power.

The Aso Rock houses the President and the Vice President as well as their families and it occupies a large expanse of land in the Three Arms Zone in the Central Business District of Abuja, the nation’s capital. You can’t miss it.

From this well-fortified place, President Goodluck Jonathan has been calling the shots in the country for the past five years. In the process of administering the country, a lot of activities are held inside this seat of power.

Every day is a beehive of activities in the Villa. When the President is not meeting his ministers or aides, he will be granting audience to individuals and groups who have come to seek one favour or the other.

Indications that there is a large number of visitors inside the Villa always emerge immediately one enters the premises through any of the two major gates opened to the public.

There is an open field located not too far from the Fire Service Gate where backup vehicles in the convoys of Very Important Personalities are parked while they are inside with the President. Therefore, one can predict the huge number of dignitaries waiting to see the President inside his office, Banquet Hall or the Council Chamber by the number of convoy vehicles parked on the field.

When guests are members of groups, especially those based outside the Federal Capital Territory, the State House authorities dispatch buses to a designated point to convey them to the Villa. The buses also return them.

But that was then – before the March 28 presidential election was lost to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) of the All Progressives Congress.

Now, a sort of inactivity has descended on the seat of power. No longer were the rows upon rows of vehicles which brought dignitaries parked majestically on the lawn. The line of gaily dressed men and women who clustered the waiting rooms has also disappeared.

The President put it aptly on Sunday during a thanksgiving and farewell service organised in his honour at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Life Camp, Gwarinpa, when he said, “You should know that those close to you will even abandon you at some point. And I tell them that more of my so-called friends will disappear. When FW De Klerk took the decision to abolish minority rule in South Africa, even his wife divorced him. I hope my wife will not divorce me.”

Captains of industry, Nollywood stars and politicians who always besiege the Presidential Villa to meet with Jonathan or some of his designated aides are no longer visible. Now, there appears to be a lull in activities in the seat of power.

The offices of the Chief of Staff to the President and the State House Chief of Protocol are the ones saddled with the responsibility of planning the President’s programmes and itinerary. It is obvious that the schedule of the officials has become lighter. Since there are not too many events, even presidential aides take their time before resuming for work.

Even visiting Heads of State now only manage to check on Jonathan out of courtesy. Most of them come to the country for the sole purpose of visiting Buhari but they would register their presence in the Villa before proceeding to the Defence House, the official residence of the President-elect.

The only time the Presidential Villa comes alive now is when the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting comes up.

Apart from the FEC meeting held last week, life also returned to the premises, albeit for a few hours, when Jonathan presided over his last Council of State and Police Council meetings. The Council of State consists of the President (as the chairman), Vice President, all former Presidents or former Heads of State, all former Chief Justices of Nigeria, President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, all state governors and the Attorney-General of the Federation. These men came with their retinue of aides and convoys, therefore temporarily restoring life to the Villa.

The lull in activities is not restricted to the President’s side of the Villa. The Vice President’s office is also affected. Except for the occasional period that the transition committee that he heads meet with the committee set up by Buhari, Vice President Namadi Sambo is also less busy these days. Before now, if Sambo was not presiding over the National Economic Council (which consists of all state governors) meeting, he would be chairing other strategic meetings such as that of the Board of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company.

The Office of the First Lady is also not spared. It is located beside the President’s official residence. It was hitherto a beehive of activities. When the President’s wife was not meeting women groups from different parts of the country, she would be playing host to visiting First Ladies. Ahead of the elections, political and pressure groups besieged her office to pledge their loyalty.

Immediately after the result was released however, the office became deserted. Even Mrs. Jonathan stopped attending public events inside the Villa. She was absent at the Good Friday and Easter Sunday services held inside the Aso Villa Chapel.

Activities are said to have shifted to the side of the incoming President who is busy receiving visitors and holding political meetings daily.

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