Of rodents, roaches and robbers – Part 2
Only recently, the chief driver to the President, Saidu Afaka, a Master Warrant Officer in the Nigerian Army, died in suspicious circumstances at the State House Clinic, Abuja. Afaka was said to have tricked his Principal to sign a document, which fetched him $30, 000 from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. Information reportedly got to the former aide-de-camp, ADC to the President, Col Mohammed Lawal Abubakar, who requested the Department of State Services, DSS, to investigate the matter. Afaka was allegedly tortured while in the custody of the DSS, which necessitated his transfer to the State House Clinic, where he died. Such is the diversity and multiplicity of happenings at the seat of power.
Early on Monday May 10, 2021, a news report made the rounds to the effect that the residence of the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, on the immediate precincts of the Presidential Villa, was breached by a stranger, earlier that day. Could this have happened in the self same Villa you know so well about? Garba Shehu, spokesman to the President, confirms there “was a foolish attempt” on the house of the COS at about 3: 00am that Monday morning. A few days earlier, on Thursday May 6, 2021, there was a similar attempt on the residence of Maikano Abdullahi, a retired Director of the Department of State Services, DSS, who resides on the same street with Gambari. While there was an effort to play down the incident, it emerged that the burglar(s), since two houses were involved in just a matter of days in between, made away with generous sums of money.
Attempts have been made to distinguish between private and official residences on the immediate outer perimeter of the State House, and the inner recesses of the complex where the President lives with his family and operates from. That outer periphery is home to a section of the Nigerian elite including serving and retired governors, ministers, senior bureaucrats and so on. Access to that outer ring is only granted after scrutiny and questioning, at the two public entrances to The Villa either from the direction of the Federal Secretariat or the one from high brow Asokoro District, abode of Nigeria’s nouveau riche. Both exits are manned by officers from the secret and uniformed police, and indeed the military to underscore the security outlay of the place.
Another exit, which should have been the tripod of accesses to the State House, the gate closest to the DSS headquarters, was sealed from public use at the height of nationwide bombings, which characterised the Jonathan years. Such is the security cordon around and about the Villa.
Indeed, not only are the accesses to the nation’s seat of power so vulnerable as per the recent trespass into the residences of senior presidential aides, the confidentiality and security of official correspondences and communication are suspect. Classified documents are available for free on the internet, while food vendors wrap their wares with them around town.
There is an effort to play down the twin invasion of the residences of two top shots in the administration of President Buhari. An impression is being created that both incidents don’t matter. The argument is that the space where the trespasses were committed, are not the immediate space of the President and his family. For the avoidance of doubt and without being immodest, I served as a presidential aide in this same Aso Villa between 1999 and 2007, in the official secretariat of the President, next door to his office, so I have a fair idea of the environment and it’s workings. This attempt to make light of this development is the crux of the matter.
The last few weeks have arguably been most traumatizing, most heart wrenching for Nigerians in a long while. Kidnappings in tertiary institutions; killings of innocent young people; abductions in communities and on the highways and attacks on innocent civilians and security forces across the country, have dominated the headlines. Security assets with particular reference to police stations and personnel, even a general disdain for uniformed officers across services, have become the order of the day. Murderous bandits and hoodlums are enjoying free reign across the land.
Days ago, the Niger State governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, formally notified Nigerians that Boko Haram insurgents were a whistling distance from Abuja, having encamped in communities just two hours away. The renowned economist and public scholar, Professor Pat Utomi indeed warned that Abuja could be hijacked by insurgents who might as well hoist their flag in Aso Rock if appropriate strategies are not deployed to root out the menace decisively. Whether it “was a foolish attempt” to burgle the home of the Chief of Staff or it was an armed robbery, the fact that it ever happened at all, is cause for genuine worry.
In June 2011, less than a month after the inauguration of Goodluck Jonathan as President, a suicide bomber rigged himself into the convoy of the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Hafiz Ringim. His intention was to kill the IGP and bring down the Louis Edet skyscraper, headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). Fortuitously, the IGP survived the attack. A policeman, was, however killed, while half a dozen others were injured. Thirty vehicles in the parking lot of the force headquarters were also incinerated.
When explosives went off in Ikeja Cantonment, in Lagos, way back in 2001, the earthquaking blasts and thunderous reverberations were so loud that Lagos residents across the intertwined communities, felt the impact. There were indeed fears for the safety and security of President Olusegun Obasanjo who was on a weekend on his farmhouse in Otta, Ogun State, far from vicinity of impact.
Aso Villa occupies a position of reverence in the public consciousness. It is the most fortified, most manned, most guarded, most secured space per square meter in Nigeria. The brigade of guards, which is specifically dedicated to the protection of the seat of power, is commanded by a senior officer not below the rank of Brigadier General. From the police are squadrons from the mobile command, the counterterrorism unit and the bomb disposal squad among others. The DSS has it’s operatives functioning as presidential bodyguards and involved in managing human traffic in the State House.
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, journalist, poet and scholar, is a former presidential aide. Intelligence agencies like the Defence Intelligence Agency, DIA and the National Intelligence Agency, (NIA), are on the security architecture of the State House. Apart from these agents of state, individual house owners in the private homes abutting the Villa, have their own security personnel and security surveillance equipment structures.
If freelance miscreants can as much as stray into the physical space of residences and offices in close proximity to Aso Villa, therefore, there is genuine cause for worry. With recent insinuations about the feasibility of a putsch which will be robustly resisted by the generality of Nigerians, with Boko Haram anarchists just an earshot away, this development cannot be dismissed with the wave of a hand. These non-essentials may be “testing the microphones” as a prelude to a much bigger plot.
Security around the nation’s security has never been so lax, so threatened. There is genuine public apprehension about the recent demystification of the seat of power and authority.
Government as a matter of utmost urgency, must review its security manual to engender public confidence in its ability to protect the people it swore to safeguard. It will be plain abominable to wake up one day to the news of the occupation of our very own Aso Villa, by vagrants and vagabonds. This is a wake up call.
Tunde Olusunle, PhD, journalist, poet and scholar, is a former presidential aide.
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