Few weeks after the defeat suffered by President Goodluck Jonathan and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), during the March 28 and April 11 elections, Aso Rock, the seat of power in Nigeria, has become a shadow of its boisterous self.
Most noticeable is the shrinking figure of influence peddlers who frolicked with the first family round the clock, including joining in the morning prayers at the Villa Chapel.
Most of the visitors who hitherto made the place a beehive of activities have deserted the place.
Investigations in the last four weeks revealed that while about 800 people daily visited the presidential villa before the election, fewer than 150 visited in the last couple of weeks.
Among the Villa absentees are top government officials, Christian leaders, lobbyists, politicians, principal aides to the president and business tycoons.
Prior to the elections, especially when special functions like retreats, seminars, dinners and other programmes were held at the banquet hall, Aso Rock also usually played host to thousands of guests, including gate crashers.
Our correspondent observed that between March 28 and last week, the number of persons visiting the president, Vice President Namadi Sambo, the First Lady and other presidential aides had dropped to just about 150 persons.
Before the presidential poll, there were governors and former governors who visited the president in his office on a regular basis, sometimes twice a week or more, but after the election some of them have stayed away.
Our correspondent also observed that many of those considered members of Jonathan’s kitchen cabinet have only visited once or twice since March 28. Some of them have been seen hobnobbing with members of the victorious opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
Before the election, Jonathan’s regular visitors included governors: Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom); Gabriel Suswam (Benue); Olusegun Mimmiko (Ondo); Isa Yuguda (Bauchi); Ibrahim Shema (Katsina) and Ayo Fayose (Ekiti) among others.
Governor Akpabio showed up only once in the villa, the week after the poll. Mimiko came only last Thursday. Suswam visited the place last Friday merely to attend the meeting of the board of Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) Ltd chaired by Vice President Namadi Sambo.
Jonathan’s associates in the business community, who had turned the villa to their second home before the election, have also deserted the place.
These include people like Femi Otedola, Arthur Eze, Jim Ovia, Jimoh Ibrahim and Emeka Offor among others.
Since Jonathan lost his re-election bid, the hordes of Nollywood actors and actresses, musicians and sports stars have not come visiting the villa, unlike in the past.
This development has left security personnel at the gates, who usually had very hectic days clearing people, with little work to do.
Upon entry to Aso Rock, visitors are required to present photo identification with information exactly matching the name previously submitted for clearance to the security personnel at the gates, and individuals whose identification do not exactly match the name or date cleared would be denied entry to the place.
The scanty turnout of visitors to the villa in the past few weeks became quite noticeable owing to the fact that during months and weeks that preceded the presidential polls, the place was hardly big enough to contain the hordes of people who came to show solidarity to President Jonathan’s re-election bid.
Last week, Aso Rock received its largest number of visitors since the presidential poll when ministers, security chiefs and a few governors came for routine meetings and some foreign diplomats came to present their letters of credence.
Some of the old faces at the villa were the former head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar; chairman of the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN), Ifeanyi Uba; former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff, and Senator Nenadi Usman among a few others.
Presidency officials who spoke to our correspondent on the development gave divergent views. While some said it was a demonstration of imminent change of baton in the country’s leadership, others said it simply showed that some the president’s friends and associates were unreliable.
“They are simply fair weather friends”, one source confided.
Another official who spoke on condition of anonymity asserted that politicians cannot be trusted.
“This will show you how hypocritical politicians could be. When it was obvious that the outgoing regime had what it takes to address their interest politically, even those who had no business coming here were constantly at war with security operatives, seeking to gain entrance to show their fake loyalty and solidarity.
“Now, they have all disappeared, and if you investigate properly, you would discover that some of them are now thronging the home of the president-elect, General Buhari, to start paying the same fake loyalty even when he has not assumed office.
“I am sure the president and his aides would have learnt their lessons by now, although late, that power is transient and political power is quite ephemeral,” he said.
But another official disclosed that it was normal that people were no more thronging the presidential villa as usual since the outgoing administration had nothing serious to do apart from preparations for the handover programme on May 28.
The official who preferred not to be named since he was not speaking for the presidency said, “First of all, you must be mindful of the fact that there is a correlation between activities in the villa and the number of people who come here. You don’t expect that people should crowd the place as usual when they have no business coming here.
“Aside preparation for the transition programme billed for May 29, which is in top gear, nothing else is happening in Aso Rock. It is only a few of the president’s aides, ministers and top government officials who have handover notes to reconcile that should be expected here. To make it look as if the president has been abandoned by his associates and friends just because he lost the election is mischievous,” he said.
Further enquiries on the reason for low human traffic since the election revealed that many of the friends and associates sabotaged the re-election efforts of the president by helping themselves with the campaign funds meant for logistics and mobilisation of the electorate in their various spheres of influence.
These officials who handled campaign funds are avoiding the president because he was said to have asked those who did not deliver on the mandate of the funds to refund monies not spent, or those not judiciously expended.
It was gathered that the president also set up a committee of five to get those with the funds to return them.
Some of those found complicit in fiddling with campaign funds included zonal coordinators, ministers, special advisers, close aides and friends, support groups and traditional rulers.
Most of them could not deliver their polling booths and local governments areas.
LEADERSHIP had exclusively reported on March 24 that the coordinators, rather than use the money for campaigns, had been scouring the Abuja property market with dollars, and acquiring choice property.
The campaigners, it was gathered, rather than use the money for the purpose it was meant, resorted to investing the money in property so that in the event that their candidate did not win, they would have something to fall back on.
Real estate agents privy to the development told LEADERSHIP that since the campaigns began, and particularly after the postponement of the elections, there had been an upswing in the number of persons looking to buy property, with most of them linked to the electioneering and offering to pay in dollars.