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Muhammadu Buhari

SHOLA BENSON

  • Kunu, zobo replace champagne
  • Cash crunch hits workers
  • Villa mosque, church lose crowd

Things are no longer at ease within Aso Rock Villa, the sprawling complex that houses the nation’s president, vice president, their staff and families, an investigation by The Point can authoritatively reveal.

Impeccable sources within the Villa told this newspaper that President Muhammadu Buhari had brought his famous spartan lifestyle to bear on all activities in the seat of power. The sources added that some of the Presidency staff, who were used to the freewheeling days of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, were not happy about the President’s austerity measures.

Many Villa staff, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, contrasted the styles of the two presidents and shared insights into the current situation at the Villa.

“President Buhari’s Spartan lifestyle has affected everything here and it is the reason that human traffic has reduced heavily in the Villa,” a source said.

Our correspondent reliably gathered that Buhari’s anti-corruption stance and austerity measures were responsible for the reduction in the number of jobbers coming to the villa.

Although President Buhari has changed the usual practice of a Muslim President observing the Friday Jumat prayer at the National Mosque located in the heart of Abuja, preferring instead to worship at the Aso Rock Mosque, attendance at the Villa Mosque has reduced considerably.

The Villa Chapel, where Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo worships, has also seen a sharp reduction in the number of worshippers every Sunday. Previously, politicians, contractors and job seekers attended the Chapel in droves to catch the attention of former Christian Presidents.

NEW LIFE

Staff at the villa told The Point that the first signal they had that things would not be the same was when the wives of the president and vice president arrived the villa and did not try to take control of critical units.

According to them, the former First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, administered the Villa’s upkeep allowance, insisting that she must determine what to buy for her husband. However, her successor, Aisha Buhari, has not shown any interest in how the kitchen is run.

Yahaya, who works in one of the guest houses, said they were surprised when the wife of the Vice-President visited their Guest House. “Mrs. Osinbajo wore a simple Ankara dress and was free with everybody. I think she had warned her protocol and security staff not to intimidate anybody. We didn’t even know when she entered the house,” he said.

NO MORE CASH BONANZA

Although Villa staff are now operating in a more friendly work environment, they are facing hard times, owing to the austerity measures of the new occupiers of the Villa.

Sources told The Point that, in the last administration, staff of the Presidency regularly got gifts, in cash and in kind, from government officials. But Buhari’s body language put an end to the bonanza after he had moved into the villa.

“Unlike before, there are no more free funds,” a source said, adding that “Villa workers now depend solely on their salaries, with tips from Villa visitors drying up fast.

In the past, particularly during the tenure of President Jonathan, some political appointees and favoured Villa staff lived above their means because of the free flow of cash from important visitors.”

Our correspondent was told of a housekeeper that reportedly bought houses in choice areas in Abuja “like toys”. “In fact, one of the Assistant Housekeepers bought a 2014 Rover car,” one of the Villa workers confided in our correspondent.

A few days to the exit of the last administration, Mrs. Jonathan reportedly gave generous gifts in cash, to the special housekeeper to share among the staff. It was gathered that even though the housekeeper was accused of pocketing half of the money, each of the workers still went home with more than their yearly salaries.

“You may not believe it; the housekeeper travelled three times to London to shop for the kitchen utensils and other household equipment for the house he bought in the Maitama area of Abuja,” one of the workers, who complained bitterly about what he called ‘hard times’, said.

Ex-President Jonathan
Ex-President Jonathan

KUNU NOT CHAMPAGNE

The Point’s findings showed that, unlike in the past when cocktails and other parties were held regularly at the Villa, social events were no longer commonplace. The source said House 7, one of the buildings in the complex, was notorious for night parties and other social events. However, the building is now deserted.

“Champagne, one of the symbols of Aso Rock political glamour, has also disappeared. It used to be everywhere. The current official drinks in the Villa are kunu and zobo,” the source said.

According to the source, a former First Lady reportedly went round the Guest Houses to retrieve all the choice wines and champagne prior to her departure. The Buhari team, he added, met almost empty wine cellars and had done little to replenish the stock since then.

BUHARI NOT FOR NEW CARS

President Buhari’s decision to break away from the tradition of changing official cars of Aso Rock occupants has also affected the automobile business, not only in Abuja but elsewhere.

Ordinarily, the official cars of the first two citizens are customised. They are directly sourced from the manufacturers by one of the construction giants. The other cars in the convoy of both the President and Vice-President are normally supplied by contractors, who are friends of the government. This is no longer the case, as Buhari has told senior civil servants that he is comfortable with the cars used by his predecessor.

KOLANUTS AND CANDIES

While others are licking their wounds, suppliers of kolanuts and candies are smiling to their banks because the demand for these items has suddenly increased sharply.

Our correspondent gathered that, due to the several meetings being held daily at the Presidential Villa and the need to keep participants awake throughout such events, there has been an increase in the demand for kolanuts and caffeinated candies. These Villa essential commodities are served in small saucers and placed in front of each participant. Each saucer usually contains an average of three big kolanuts and about eight candies. The street value of a kolanut in Abuja is N100.

Not too long ago, members of the National Youth Service Corps in the Daura Local Government area of Katsina State had a taste of President Muhammadu Buhari’s shrewdness when they paid the President a Sallah visit in his modest home in Daura.

The visitors, who had expected bumper financial and other harvests, were shocked when they were offered presidential gifts of 10 rams and N250,000 cash. According to an Aso Rock source, the presidential gift was almost insignificant, compared to what people got during the era of Buhari’s immediate predecessor.

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