All nations on earth have a designated dwelling place and official quarters for their Presidents. The United States of America has the White House, which functions as the President’s home and office; the United Kingdom has No. 10 Downing street, Westminster as the official residence and office of the UK Prime Minister; and other countries have their own respective suites or quarters for their leaders. In Nigeria, we have the Aso Rock Villa, which serves as the home and office of Nigeria’s President and Vice-president, during the period when they are in office.
Aso Rock Villa is located in the city of Abuja, in the Federal Capital Territory. It is also popularly referred to as ‘Aso Villa’, ‘Presidential Villa’, or simply ‘Aso Rock’. It is essentially a complex architectural masterpiece consisting of several buildings and monuments, all within touching distance of a large monumental monolith called Aso Rock. The Aso Rock itself is a mammoth 400-meter high mass of rock, lying harmlessly in the central business district of the federal capital territory.
Aso Rock lies at nearly a thousand meters above sea level, and is one of the most distinctive features of the Federal Capital Territory. It is not difficult to locate once one is in the city, and it is truly a wonder to behold.
HISTORY OF ASO ROCK
The name ‘Aso’ is peculiar to the people of the territory around the rock – the Gbagyi people. It means ‘victory’, in the Gbagyian native dialect, and their territory includes the area on which Aso Rock sits, as well as its immediate surroundings. The people of Gbagyi have been known to be very peaceful people with rich cultures and traditions. They regard the rock as one of the most important aspects of their culture. In fact, legend has it that they were among the first settlers in the land now called Abuja. Their particular tribe was very large at the time, and their size thus played a vital role in helping them inherit and possess a large mass of land, including that on which Aso Rock currently sits. Their tribe consists of many small groups, including some called the ‘Asokoros’, and other native Gbagyians.
Aso villa was erected within the space of two years, near the rock. The rock had been in existence on its own long before the nation’s capital was changed to Abuja, and, upon the construction of the Presidential villa, it was transformed from an ordinary, obscure monolith into a tourist attraction.
Aso Rock villa was built in the year 1989, and completed in the year 1991. After its opening in 1992, the first president to occupy it was former military head of state, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida. Other presidents that have occupied the Villa at different points in time include; President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Umaru Musa Y’ar adua, President Abdusalam Abubakar, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, and President Sani Abacha, alongside their respective vice-presidents, during their respective regimes. Currently, it is occupied by the incumbent president and vice president of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Many prominent individuals, leaders and religious icons have visited Aso Rock at some point in the country’s history. In 2006, during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the then first lady of the United States, Laura Bush, visited the Villa. Other African and European leaders have also paid visits to the Villa in recent times; and most recently, Pastor W.F. Kumuyi of Deeper Life Church, one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in Nigeria, visited President Buhari at Aso Rock.
FEATURES OF ASO ROCK
Aso Rock is one of the most distinctive features of the Federal Capital Territory. It is easily accessible from anywhere within the city of Abuja, and is a real wonder to behold. People come from far and wide to see the wondrous structure. However, not many people know what exactly lies inside the premises.
Even though not much detail is known about the core interior parts of the villa, this post shares substantial insight into the features of the Aso Villa. While the cost of constructing the premises is relatively unknown, we can emphatically state that it is worth several millions of dollars. The entire complex is constructed in ancient Neoclassical and Palladian architectural style, and the main presidential lodge itself is a real wonder to behold. Mammal-sized statues of lions are in the complex, and there are also other fine, expensive paintings within the buildings. The car park itself is so neat and spacious, and the entire complex speaks of splendor and affluence.
One striking fact about the interior of the buildings that make up the main complex is that they are spacious and exquisitely furnished. The main halls, lobbies and walkways are littered with expensive stones, artifices, furniture and finishing. The rugs in the lobby, the presidential office and the waiting room are 100% animal skin, and are customized with the Nigerian coat of arms; while the tables in the conference rooms are made of fine expensive wood and gold finishing. The large national emblems and coat of arms that lie on the wall above the presidential seat are said to be made of pure bronze, and the chandeliers on most of the rooms consist of such metals as gold and diamonds. The seats are made of pure fine leather, and the rooms are spacious and fully air-conditioned. Even the lavatories in the main complex are fully air-conditioned.
According to official reports, the Aso Rock Presidential Villa is the most secure and safeguarded official residence among all the presidential residences of all African heads of state. Well, typically, official residences of leaders are usually heavily protected and monitored, but the level of security and protection at the Aso Rock Villa is in a whole new dimension entirely. SSS, RRS, Nigerian Army, Nigerian Police, Nigerian Intelligence Agency (NIA), and a few other agencies, all collaborate to protect Aso Rock. Perhaps, only the White House may be said to be more protected and monitored than the Aso Rock Villa.
Aso Rock can be found at the popular ‘Three Arms Zone’, on Yakubu Gowon Crescent, in the city of Asokoro, Abuja, Nigeria. It is easily accessible from anywhere in Abuja, either by a personal vehicle or by public transportation. However, there are certain points where public transport vehicles are not permitted to venture into; thus, one would have to walk down or get a hired vehicle to continue the journey.
Buildings within: As earlier mentioned, there are several buildings and complexes within the Aso Rock presidential structure. There are several dozens of offices and residential suites, and there are also conference rooms and car parks, all technically within touching distance of the rock. The following buildings are within the Aso rock premises:
- The Nigerian Presidential Complex: This is the main building, which houses the official residence and offices of both the President and the Vice President, as well as conference and meeting rooms for receiving guests and delegates from other countries and locations.
- The National Assembly Complex: This is where the decisions that rule this nation are made and passed into law. Plenary sessions hold here regularly.
- The National Mosque: For Muslim worshippers that work or live in the Aso Villa
- The Nigerian Supreme Court: This is the highest court of law in the country. It has the most authority of all the courts in Nigeria. It is situated inside the premises of Aso Rock Villa.
- The National Chapel: For Christian worshippers that work or live in the Aso Villa
- A Hospital
- A Restaurant and a few other buildings.
Visitation/Tourism in Aso Rock Villa
As earlier mentioned, the popularity of Aso Rock increased exponentially when the federal government of Nigeria decided to move the country’s capital from Lagos state to Abuja. Now, everyone who visits Abuja will like to pay a visit to the rock, for sightseeing purposes. However, it is worthy to note that, asides being a tourist attraction, it is also the official residence and office of the country’s president; and as such, it is not possible to have full access to the place.
As a matter of fact, the increasing cases of terror attacks at specific locations within the federal capital territory have led to the addition of many restrictions within and around the presidential villa. In previous times, it is believed that people could go near certain sides of the rock to take pictures or even climb it, but all that is almost non-existent now, due to the security measures that were put in place to forestall terrorism.
*Need for Clearances
Aso Rock is heavily guarded. There are multiple police, army and SSS checkpoints throughout the complex; and if you will go in, you must have a special clearance to pass through each checkpoint. Such clearance can be in form of a letter of invitation from someone in the villa, which they will confirm at the check point; or it could be your identity card, if you are a staff off the villa. I was once opportune to visit the place, and even though I went with a known staff of the President’s office who even had his identifying documents and clearances, we were still subjected to intense scrutiny by the security officials.
Thus, under normal circumstances, tourism is not very possible at the Aso rock villa. However, there are exceptions for those who obtain the requisite clearances to pass through the checkpoints and explore. Pressmen are also exempted upon the confirmation of their identity and appointments at the villa.
So, much unlike in some developed countries where ordinary individuals can visit such official residences in their countries and even take pictures, it is quite a different ball game in Aso Rock.
However, the good news is that, people who wish to visit for tourism purposes can apply to obtain a clearance from relevant authorities. The procedure is very simple; all they need to do is visit the FCT Administration office at Capital Street, Off Obafemi Awolowo Street, Garki, Abuja to apply for a permit to visit and explore Aso Rock. Alternatively, they can place a call through to any of the following numbers to make enquiries concerning tourism at Aso Rock: 09-3148135, and 09-3141295.
Once clearance has been granted, the best time to visit and explore will be anytime between 8am and 5pm GMT on working days. Visitors can get to catch a rare glimpse of the president or vice-president taking a stroll in the premises, or being driven out in the official motorcade. They could also observe from afar, the plenary sessions holding at the National Assembly.
Another thing that one could do once cleared for visiting the Aso Rock is mountain-climbing. You could make use of a local guide to find your way up the Aso Rock itself. However, it is said that, because the people of Gbagyi regard the rock as sacred, they have priests appointed to stand at strategic parts of the mountain to uphold sanctity and prevent desecration. Thus, one may need to pass through the priests, obeying whatever instructions they give and fulfilling whatever requirements they insist on, before one can have full access to climb the rock.
Do not let the processes deter you; once you are granted access by these priests, you’re sure to have an experience of a lifetime. A breath-taking view of the entire city of Abuja awaits all who eventually make it to the summit of the 400-meter rock.
Right there in Aso Villa, you can also worship and practice your religious inclination, as there are beautiful facilities for it. Christians can worship in the chapel on the designated service days, while muslims can also do same. Most times, on Fridays, Muslims can be seen converging at the mosque for their prayers, while the Christians meet on Sundays.
*Wine and Dine
Food and drinks are also available at the Aso Rock Restaurant, though it reportedly has a limited menu.