In his article in the Guardian newspapers of October 14, 2016, the former Special adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati painted a surreal picture of incredible things that go on beyond the glitz and glamour of the official residence and office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, popularly called the Aso Rock.
In that article titled ‘The Spiritual Side of Aso Rock’, Dr Abati who served as President Jonathan’s spokesman for four years recounted strange and some times, tragic occurrences that befell people who work or live in the precincts of the presidential Villa.
Recounting personal experiences and those that happened to colleagues while he served in the highest office in the land, Dr Abati gave a depressingly worrisome scenario of the higher spiritual powers that tended to influence or dictate the happenings in the Villa which by extension had dire consequences for the country.
He wrote in part: “I can confirm that every principal officer suffered one tragedy or the other; it was as if you needed to sacrifice something to remain on duty inside that environment.
From cancer to brain and prostrate surgery and whatever, the villa was a hospital full of agonising patients … “A colleague once told me that I was the most naïve person around the place.
I thought I was a bright, smart, professional doing my bit and enjoying the President’s confidence. I spelled it out.
But what I got in response was that I was coming to the villa using Lux soap, but that most people around the place always bathed in the morning with blood. Goat blood. Ram blood. Whatever animal blood.
I argued. “He said there were persons in the Villa walking upside down, head to the ground. I screamed.
Everybody looked normal to me. But I soon began to suspect that I was in a strange environment indeed.
Every position change was an opportunity for warfare. “By the same token, all those our colleagues who used to come to work to complain about a certain death beneath their waists and who relied on videos and other instruments to entertain wives (take it easy boys, I don’t mean any harm, I am writing!), have all experienced a re-awakening…
“When Presidents make mistakes, they are probably victims of a force higher than what we can imagine.
Every student of Aso Villa politics would readily admit that when people get in there, they actually become something else.
They act like they are under a spell. When you issue a well- crafted statement, the public accepts it wrongly.”
I have copiously quoted from Abati’s column that is now generating controversy. As a correspondent of the Vanguard newspaper who covered presidents Olusgeun Obasanjo , Umaru Yaradua and Goodluck Jonathan, I can relate well with some of the stranger than fiction scenario painted by Dr Abati.
But beyond the strange incidence, the foundation of the construction of the villa itself was laid in strange circumstances.
According to a staff of Julius Berger, the construction company that built the Villa, from the very day that the excavation for what is now known as the presidential Villa was made; it was mired in strange incidences.
The staff who has worked for the construction company for over thirty years and claimed he was there when the very first excavation began narrated the strange occurrences that marked the first few months.
“When we moved in here, it was as if we were in a war zone. There were multiple incidences of equipment failure, workers developing strange illnesses and in one particularly poignant case, a very senior officer of the company who was brought in from Germany to supervise the construction collapsed and died on site while supervising the uprooting of a particular tree that defied all attempts to remove.
Strangely, his death brought an end to the many equipment failures that we had witnessed over many weeks” he said.
Whether the strange incidences that have been noticed in the Villa are products of striking coincidences or handiwork of higher, inexplicable spiritual powers is hard to decipher.
But since President Ibrahim Babangida, the first occupant of the presidential Villa left office; subsequent occupants of the sprawling edifice have brought spirituality to bear on their stay in the edifice.
From General Sani Abacha to Abdulasalami Abubakar to Olusegun Obasanjo to Umaru Yaradua down to the present occupant, Muhammadu Buhari, these occupants have had to carry out spiritual cleansing of the place before moving in with their families and hordes of aides.
According to a security officer who served during President Obasanjo and Yaradua’s tenure at the Villa, the spiritual cleansing carried out by the presidents differ from one to the other, depending on the faith of the occupants. “When President Obasanjo came in, different men of God were brought in to pray and anoint every corner of the place before he moved in.
At least that was what we saw in the afternoon. What happened in the night I cannot tell but what I know is that, under Yaradua, different Mallams, some of them said to have been imported from Chad and Niger were brought in to cleanse the place before he moved in with his family too.
Three live cows and several rams were buried at strategic positions within the villa. These are fairly common practices that were repeated every now and then” he said. It is perhaps these contending spiritual constellations amongst people of various faiths that have given the Aso Rock the foreboding personae that it has assumed in the minds of some.
But it is not inexplicable only deaths and sicknesses that stand out in the Aso Rock. Strange things happen both at night and day that defy logical explanations.
For instance, during the Obasanjo regime, a huge python was found right inside the Council chambers of the Presidential Villa where the federal executive council meeting takes place.
Giving an insight into what happened, a staff of Julius Berger which is in charge of maintaining the Presidential Villa told Saturday Vanguard a cleaner found the python right under the table where the president seats to preside over the federal executive council meeting while cleaning the place on a Tuesday to prepare for the Wednesday meeting.
“The python was killed but the cleaner who found it died a few weeks after in mysterious circumstances” the staff explained.
Perhaps the greatest witnesses to the strange happenings at the presidential Villa are the security personnel who man every corner of the Aso Rock twenty four hours round the clock.
According to a former body guard to President Goodluck Jonathan, very many security men dread night duties because of the strange things that happen at night in the Villa. “Although we were all heavily armed and trained to wade off any kind of attack, our fear was more of the unknown forces that confront us daily.
Sometimes, you hear strange voices of people quarrelling in strange languages but you will never see the people.
Sometimes, we will wake up to see blood on the ground, at the fore court of the presidential Villa.
At other times, we hear the cry of babies throughout the night. “In one particularly poignant case, we heard banging of doors at the president’s office only to go and see that the president’s office remained securely locked.
In other circumstances, even after all the electrical gadgets and lights were turned off at the president’s waiting rooms, the televisions and the lights come on, on their own with the volume at its loudest.
Being on duty at night at the president’s office was the most dreaded beat among security personnel in the Villa” a body guard who worked at Aso Villa under President Jonathan said.
Even people who come to the villa to see the president or other officials do so with less than noble intentions.
According to a former staff of the Villa, “we see people with different amulets on their body when we notice suspicious behaviours.
And some of the people that such amulets are found on were either friends of the president of highly placed government officials.
In such delicate situation, we make formal reports to our superiors and allow them deal with it.
In few instances, such people are denied access to the villa”. It is not only strange things that go on in the villa.
Sometimes the president’s personal security is even threatened by those who are close to him.
According to one account, at the end of a particular function in the briefing room adjacent the council chambers, the president noticed an old friend was amongst the guests that visited and moved to shake his hand.
But rather than shake the president’s hand and allow him to move to the next guest, the visitor held unto the president’s hand and it took the intervention of body guards to wrest the president hand that was being held hostage.
“It was one of those anxious moments that no body guard wants to be caught in” a security detail who witnessed the incidence told Saturday Vanguard.
There is no doubt that some people believe that strange thing happen at the Aso Villa whether they are coincidences or not.
But those who don’t believe in superstition or reckon with principalities and powers would not attribute strange happenings to demons.
To them, they are mere coincidences. And not all staff of the Villa would readily confirm strange ailments especially the crash of libido.
However, as the seat of government, there are those who believe that there are powers and principalities that occupy high places in that sprawling edifice.
The interface between the known and the unknown is bound to have consequences on mere mortals.
How we are able to harvest the positive side of these contending powers will always depend on the occupants.
But for now, the occupants and workers of the seat of power who fear that demons are in the air must find a way of navigating this treacherous route without losing their minds, limbs or even soul.