Defence House: Nigeria’s secret presidential house

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The official residence of the President-elect, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd), commonly known as the Defence House, is one of several safe houses built by the General Ibrahim Babangida military junta, in the 1990s.

Situated on a small hill within the highbrow Maitama District, the building is about 10 minutes’ drive from the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.

Tucked away from the glare of the public, the house is located in a serene environment far removed from prying eyes.

It was originally built to provide a secure get away for the ever security conscious, self-styled military president.

Its surrounding cluster of chalets was designed to provide temporary shelter for trusted security personnel (responsible for his protection), close associates and a handful of guests.

The main building has a waiting room which can be converted into a mini conference hall at a very short notice.

It is said to have hosted several sensitive security meetings presided over Babangida was then the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

[/media-credit] Guests’ vehicles parked outside the Defence House

The late General Sani Abacha, who succeeded Chief Earnest Shonekan, also used the building to attend to his official and personal needs during his tenure.

Before now, the only thing that perhaps, gave away the building as a security outpost was that movement in and out of the complex was highly restricted.

In the early days, high ranking military officers paid nocturnal visits for private audience with the president.

Night time was the preferred visiting time largely due to security consciousness and the fact that it is the period when human and vehicular traffic is at its barest minimum.

Heavily armed military personnel, some in uniform and many more in mufti, provide round-the-clock security.

Its functions did not change substantially with the return of democracy in 1999.

As required by tradition, the in-coming President is provided with a temporary accommodation to enable him settle down and prepare to take over power.

After the March 28 Presidential Election, which Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd) won, it became the responsibility of the Federal Government, to provide him with a suitable accommodation.

The outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration renovated and handed over the structures to the President-elect, for his private and official engagements.

Before this time, Buhari received his guests in his rented private residence located at Aso Drive, Asokoro, Abuja.

He had spent an extra one week in his hometown, Daura,Katsina State, receiving both local and foreign guests.

He then left Daura for his Kaduna residence, where he received another set of guests including former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Buhari took possession of Defence House, upon return from Daura, after taking part in the April 11 governorship and State Houses of Assembly Elections.

Since then, the once secretive presidential hideaway has become a Mecca for visiting delegations of local and foreign businessmen, diplomats and Heads of States and governments.

Guests’ vehicles parked outside the Defence House

Most engage on the trip to identify with the in-coming administration.

Since Buhari became the official occupant of the property, it has become a daily routine for delegations who must have secured appointments to visit.

From all indications, the President-elect only uses the building to receive guests. He is usually chauffeur-driven into the complex 15 or 30 minutes before 2:00pm daily.

At exactly 2:00pm, convoys of black Sport Utility Vehicles conveying dignitaries drive up the hill to the main building where they are received by protocol officers who in turn, usher them in to meet with the President elect.

After such meetings, depending on the calibre of the guests, the President-elect steps out into the waiting arms of journalists armed with television cameras, voice recorders, pens and note books.

If the guest is a business man or diplomat, he or she most often than not, speaks to the media about the visit as well as answer questions relating to it. Such guests usually do so alone or along with members of their delegations.

On the other hand, if the guest is a visiting former or serving leader of any country, the President-elect often steps out and stands with the individual to listen to the media briefing and take some questions, if he is disposed to doing so.

One of the first foreign guests received by the President-elect at the Defence House was the Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States and President of Ghana, John Mahama.

There have been several other foreign dignitaries who have so far been received. Some of them include: the Presidents of Chad, Benin Republic, Niger, and former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

He has also received ambassadors from Morocco, Israel, China and Equatorial Guinea, Cuba, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland, Kuwait, Iran and the Saharawi Republic among others.

Among callers are several Nigerian businessmen, a good number of who are generally regarded as President Jonathan’s close associates.

Chief Arthur Eze, a businessman with vast interests in the oil and gas sector, according to political watchers, can easily be counted among this privileged class of Nigerians. He is perhaps, one of the most visible associates of outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan, from the South-East who has visited Buhari.

He made the headlines, when he donated N1.8 billion for the construction of a church building and a youth centre in Otuoke, President Jonathan’s hometown, in Bayelsa State.

Although businessmen such as Aliko Dangote and Michael Otedola were among the first to identify with Buhari, their visit to him soon after his election victory, was at his Aso Drive residence.

The businessman was part of a delegation of top executives from Total Exploration and Production, led by Elizabeth Proust, who visited Buhari on April 27.

Leaders of political parties which hitherto identified with the Peoples Democratic Party and the Jonathan administration in the run up to the 2015 presidential election have joined the visitors’ list.

National Chairman and presidential candidate of the United Peoples Party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, led a delegation of the party’s leaders to felicitate and identify with Buhari.

This is apart from many delegations from several states of the federation.

The decision by Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba SAN to lead a non-partisan delegation of leaders of thought, from his native Cross Rivers State, drew the ire of a group of supporters of the All Progressives Congress.

The APC supporters read political meanings into the visit and sort to raise a storm out of it.

Ndoma-Egba, on his part, saw nothing wrong with his action. He urged those who felt strongly about it, to lead their own delegations because, he has a constitutionally guaranteed right to associate with whomsoever he chooses to.

Beyond the political colouration given to some of the visits, it is safe to say until May 29 when Buhari relocates to the Aso Villa, Defence House remains the place to visit for those seeking the attention of Nigeria’s incoming President.

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