Aso Rock Villa: A fortress where death dwells?

THE PUNCH Newspaper- Chux Ohai

Aso Rock, another name for Nigeria’s Presidential Villa, is the official residence and office of the President of the Federal Republic.

Reportedly built by Julius Berger Plc, the villa is located inside the Three Arms zone, which comprises the Presidential Complex, the National Assembly, and the Supreme Court. Construction work on the complex officially kicked off in 1975, after the then military Head of State, General Murtala Muhammed inaugurated a law, which officially designated Abuja as the federal capital city.

Former military President, Gen. lbrahim Babangida (rtd), became the first Nigerian leader to move into the villa in December 1992, exactly one year after he had formally and permanently transferred the seat of government from Lagos to Abuja.

While previous Nigerian leaders before him had failed to hasten the construction of the villa, Babangida eventually completed it. Ironically, he lived in it for only one year. The events that succeeded the infamous annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election would force him to relinquish power and to vacate the villa unceremoniously on August 26, 1993. He was just one day short of rounding off an eight-year tenure in office.

Situated on Aso Drive in the Asokoro area of Abuja, the villa is a massive structure that possesses all the features of a modern complex fit only for royalty. Although the Babangida administration did not disclose the cost of building the complex to the nation, it was widely speculated that the builders had satisfied the former military president‘s desire for an impregnable fortress. Thus, with an intricate and fool-proof security system in place, it was said, any inordinately ambitious leader could aspire to live in the villa for the rest of his life.

Babangida‘s immediate successor and Head of the Interim National Government formed in the wake of his departure from the presidency, Chief Ernest Shonekan, enjoyed only a brief spell in the villa.

On November 23, 1993, the villa witnessed the arrival of a new military tenant in the person of General Sani Abacha, the unofficial number two man in the Ibrahim Babangida military administration.

Abacha did not live long enough to install himself permanently in the villa, as desired. He was succeeded by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd). But lacking any real ambition to stay on in power, General Abubakar ruled for less than one year before he handed over the keys of the villa to a duly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Twenty years earlier, Obasanjo had called the shots from the State House in Dodan Barracks. Interestingly for the second time, Providence had thrust the mantle of leadership on his shoulders.

Obasanjo‘s tenure in the villa turned out to be the longest ever. It had its dramatic and glamorous moments, too. Believed to have dreamed of staying on in power at one point, Obasanjo must have been quite enamoured on the sheer glory of the villa to flirt with the thought of a third term in office.

Eventually the Owu high chief had to bow to the wish of the people to vacate the Presidential Villa after spending eight years there.

The last occupant, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua arrived the Aso Rock Villa in 2007 and lived there until he passed on on Wednesday. Reportedly sick on arrival, Yar‘Adua‘s three-year spell as president was clearly a testimony of the sinister aura that is believed to have enwrapped the villa since its inauguration by the Ibrahim Babangida military administration.

Just as the events preceding Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua‘s exit had shown, underneath the glitter and glamour of the Presidential Villa lurked evil. As a matter of fact, nearly every first family that occupied the villa had been struck by one misfortune or another. Both Abubakar and Shonekan were lucky not to have lived in the villa long enough to be caught in the paths of such misfortunes.

Deaths in the villa

On Thursday, May 6, 2010, Nigerians mourned President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua who died after a protracted illness. Yar‘Adua reportedly died around 9 pm on Wednesday in the Presidential Villa in the presence of is wife, Turai. He was the fifth Nigerian leader to have died in office. The others were the late Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, who was killed during the January 15, 1966 aborted military coup led by Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu; Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi, Balewa‘s military successor, who was in turn killed at the outset of a counter-coup by army officers from the north; General Murtala Ramat Muhammed, also the victim of an aborted coup d‘etat by some officers from the Middle-Belt; and General Sani Abacha.

Gen Sani Abacha

Abacha was the first Nigerian leader to die in the Presidential Villa. Like Yar‘Adua, his demise was said to have been preceded by a spell of illness. While official reports claimed that Abacha died as a result of cardiac arrest, the rumour mill speculated that his death was caused by sexual misadventure. Yet the foreign media had reported that the military dictator was poisoned in the villa.

Few months before Abacha died, the nation had been informed that he was afflicted with a terminal illness. Nobody had known exactly what was wrong with him. The entire nation was left to guess. Abacha did not help matters himself by constantly keeping out of the reach of those who should be informed about the true state of his health. He remained incommunicado for a long while and in the process, fuelled the rumour that he had been ‘imprisoned‘ in the Presidential Villa.

Abacha‘s illness, initially described as liver cirhossis, was said to have compelled members of his family and his aides to solicit the services of spiritualists. According to the grapevine, which appeared to be quite boisterous during his tenancy in the Aso Rock Villa, these spiritualists frequently visited the villa and performed rituals that were aimed at preserving his life and sustaining him in office.

Also Nigerians were inundated with tales of Abacha‘s escapades, especially with prostitutes imported from Asia and other parts of the world. One such story, credited to a popular foreign news medium, had claimed that on the night of his death, he was privately entertaining two Indian prostitutes in the Presidential Guest House at the villa. Even it was rumoured that he died after eating a poisoned apple offered him by his guests.

Beneath these theories, those who were close to him believed that he was murdered. But how his presumed killers were able to penetrate the allegedly formidable security network at the villa remained a matter of individual conjecture.

However, Abacha‘s death eventually brought an end to a deepening political logjam that had threatened to tear the entire country apart.

Stella Obasanjo

On October 23, 2005, the nation woke up to the shocking news of the death of Mrs. Stella Obasanjo, wife of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. She reportedly died in Spain as a result of complications arising from cosmetic surgery.

Mrs. Obasanjo would have clocked 60 in November. To say the least, her death shook the entire country. The surgery was meant to reduce fat in her body. But things went awry after the operation.

Before her death, she had been a very visible First Lady and had kept a profile that quite complemented her husband‘s role as President. Without her charming presence, the Aso Rock Villa looked like a haunted place for a long while afterwards.

Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua

Until his death, President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua was the 13th person to rule Nigeria and the sixth Nigerian leader to occupy the Aso Rock Villa. He had shown from the outset of his administration that he was determined to move the nation forward. One of the first things he did was to publicly declare his assets.

Yar‘Adua‘s declaration of a seven-point agenda was proof that he was bent on wiping out Nigeria‘s infrastructural deficiencies. At the same time, he initiated moves that were aimed at bringing peace to the restive Niger Delta.

In addition, the reforms in the banking industry were an indication that his administration was committed to stabilising the financial sector of the Nigerian economy.

Unfortunately Yar‘Adua‘s failing health turned out to be a huge albatross to his administration. When in November, 2009, he was diagnosed with acute pericarditis, a condition of the heart, Nigerians never saw or heard from him again until his death on Wednesday.

Are occupants of Aso Rock jinxed? Only time will tell.


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