Let me begin with two clarifications. Aso Villa is not my home, I am just passing through. Even this world is nobody’s home, we are just birds of passage. So, let nobody turn up his nose in derision, and say; “he’s writing like the landlord of Aso Villa, defending a place where’s he’s just a tenant.” Yes, nobody is landlord in the Villa, not even rational presidents. They can only live there for maximum of eight years, if Nigerians so decide. And for me, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels only need to beckon me from Heaven’s open door, and I wouldn’t feel at home in this world anymore.
The second clarification. Let nobody, particularly on social media, begin to insinuate that Femi Adesina is at war with Reuben Abati, his immediate predecessor as presidential spokesman. This piece you are beginning to read is not about Abati as a person, it is about his spiritual ideas and convictions, which I think need some appraisal, as they are rather unspiritual. Abati and myself have been professional colleagues for almost 30 years, we have a lot of mutual friends, and know how to reach each other when necessary. So, this is not a case of Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman being at war with Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman. What for?
In his piece in The Guardian of October 14, 2016, Abati wrote under the headline, ‘The spiritual side of Aso Villa.’ What were his conclusions? For the benefit of those who did not read the highly entertaining piece (in fact, there were moments I had my two legs in the air, laughing, as I read), let me do a brief summary. Call it ‘gospel’ according to Abati, and you would be right: There is some form of witchcraft, which causes occupants of Aso Villa to take weird decisions. Working in the Villa makes you susceptible to some sort of evil influences, because there is something supernatural about power and closeness to it. Some of those who lived or worked in the Villa had something dying under their waists (for the men), while some of the women became merchants of dildo, because they had suffered a special kind of deaths in their homes. “The ones who did not have such misfortune had one ailment or the other that they had to nurse. From cancer to brain and prostate surgery and whatever, the Villa was a hospital full of agonizing patients,” Abati posited.
Reading the piece through, you would think Aso Villa was nothing but what Godfrey Chaucer called “a thoroughfare of woes.” In fact, Abati submitted that the Villa “should be converted into a spiritual museum,and abandoned.” Holy Moses! Jumping Jehoshaphat!
If Aso Villa was such a haunted house, why then do most occupants like to stay put, right from the first tenant, Ibrahim Babangida, who was virtually forced to step aside in August 1993? And why did Goodluck Jonathan, Abati’s principal, spend money in trillions (in different currencies of the world), just to perpetuate himself in a house that consumes its occupants? Being a literary scholar, Abati would remember the doctor in Macbeth, that work of William Shakespeare, who was detailed to cure Lady Macbeth of the neurosis that afflicted her, after she had been party to the deaths of King Duncan and Banquo, so that her husband would be the king of Scotland. A spiritually troubled Lady Macbeth sleepwalked every night, trying to wash her hands of the innocent blood that had been shed. The doctor was so fed up with the terrifying atmosphere, that he said to himself:”Were I from Dunsinane away and clear, profit should hardly again draw me here.” Did Abati ever say the same of the Villa, a place where men became women “after something died below their waists?” We do not have it on record that Abati showed a clean pair of heels, or that he would not have stayed if Dr Jonathan had won reelection, and had asked him to continue in his position as adviser on media. Or was it the case of eternal fascination for the thing that repelled and terrified you? Mysterium tremendum et fascinas, as it is called in Latin.
For me, what Abati did in the October 14 piece was simply a glorification and deification of superstition, something that attempted to elevate works of darkness above the powers of God. The writer merely fed the cravings and propensity of people for the supernatural, in a way that stoked and kindled the kiln of fear, rather than that of faith.
Let’s take the issues one after the other, and look at them against true spiritual principles. Christianity is the one I am most familiar with, and that would be my benchmark.
In Aso Villa, houses were haunted, people were oppressed into taking curious decisions, they fell ill, died, or suffered the losses of loved ones, so Abati claimed. Are such peculiar only to the presidential villa? Should all those who live or work there automatically enjoy immunity from the vicissitudes of life, simply because they walked the corridors of power? Wasn’t President Umaru Yar’Adua right inside the presidential villa, when he told us on national television: “I am a human being. I can fall sick. I can recover. And I can die.” That was a practical man for you. Abati unwittingly wants his readers to believe that once you operated in or around Aso Villa, you became a superman. No. You are as mortal as can be. The Holy Bible does not even give us such leeway. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…”(1 Cor 10:13). There are certain things common to man, and they can happen to you wherever you are. At the White House. At 10, Downing Street. Buckingham Palace, Aso Villa. Wherever. “But such as is common to man…” Let no man feed us with the bogey that such things happen because of where you live or operate from. There are some things that are just common to man, and which may happen to you as long as you are on this side of eternity.
I lost my sister in a road crash last year. She was a professor of Dramatic Arts at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife. Abati knew her well, as they both did post-graduate studies at University of Ibadan in the 1980s. Abati was among those who called to condole with me. My sister never visited the Villa in her lifetime. Even if she did, that could never have had anything to do with her death on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. To believe and teach otherwise is to carry superstition to ridiculous level, and venerate the Devil, granting him omnipotence, an attribute that belongs to God only. For the Devil, doing evil is full-time business, and whether you had anything to do with Aso Villa or not, he continued with his pernicious acts. Does that then suggest that mankind is helpless before evil? No. God still has ultimate powers. He can spare you “as a father spares the son that serves him.” (Malachi 3:17). If you are under the pavilion of God, sleep, wake and operate daily in Aso Villa, you are covered, no matter the evil that lurks around, if any. There is a better covenant established on greater promises, and that is the canopy under which you should function. God can spare you from all evils, and if He permits any other thing, it is “such as is common to man,” and not because of Aso Villa.
If houses catch fire in the Villa, how many conflagrations occur in other parts of the city? If some men in the Villa suffered erectile dysfunction in Abati’s time, doesn’t the Journal of Sexual Medicine tell us that about 20 million American men have something that has died under their waists? It is one thing that became prevalent in the last two to three decades, due to modern lifestyle. Causes range from age, to stress, depression, anxiety, alcohol, medication, and several others. Even, a study showed that watching too much television kills something under the waist. So why does Abati make it seem as if it is a copyright of Aso Villa?
Now, another clarification. Don’t I believe in demonic infestation and manifestation? I sure do. I wouldn’t be a student of the Holy Bible if I don’t. Jesus talked of the man who got delivered from demonic possession, and because that man did not yield himself to a better influence, the evil spirit that inhabited him came back with seven more powerful spirits, and the end of the man was worse than his beginning. Abati wrote of persons in the Villa, “walking upside down, head to the ground.” Let me share this story I heard over 20 years ago. There was this young Christian who gave scant regards to demons and what they could do. In fact, he almost didn’t believe demons existed. One day, as he walked along the ever busy Broad Street in Lagos, God opened his spiritual eyes. Some people were walking on their heads! And not only that, as they passed by other people, they slapped them with the soles of their feet. If you got so slapped, you developed an affliction, which you would nurse for the rest of your life. Yet, you never knew where it came from.
As the young man saw that vision and got its spiritual explanation, he began to s-c-r-e-a-m. Was that in Aso Villa? “Such as is common to man…” Evil exists everywhere. Trying to source and locate it in Aso Villa is disingenuous. You need God everywhere. In Europe, Asia, America, Oceania, Aso Villa. There is evil everywhere, and we need not make fetish of any place as being more evil infested than other places. Since Satan got thrown out of Heaven due to his inordinate ambition, evil had resided in the world. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” (Isaiah 14:12). The Devil lives in the world, but God is never helpless before evil. He will never be. Let the Devil commit suicide if he is not happy about that fact. God rules!
If every principal officer including the President and his wife suffered series of tragedies as Abati claimed, and he himself had breathing problems, and walked with the aid of crutches for months, it was ” such as is common to man” and not necessarily because they were in Aso Villa. But of course, if such people put their hands in evil, possibly to gain some things in power or perpetuate themselves beyond the time heaven granted, then “he who rolls a stone, a stone shall be rolled back to him. He that digs a pit, shall fall into it.” That is what the Good Book says. You can then hardly blame Aso Villa for such payback time, can you?
To avoid getting sucked into what Abati calls “the cloud of evil” that hangs around power, what to do is to hold ephemeral things loosely. Know that they are temporal, and will truly end. Power is one of such things. Will anybody be a permanent landlord at Aso Villa? It would be foolhardy to have such mindset. A couple of times I’d had some private discussions with President Buhari, and he had lamented the state of the nation, he invariably ended with the statement, “while we are here, we will do our best.” It shows a man who knows that he’s not a permanent landlord at Aso Villa, and can never be. He would use the opportunity he has to do his best for Nigeria, and then move on. That is a good mindset, and a safety valve from getting sucked into “the cloud of evil.” Daily, I tell myself that I am just passing through Aso Villa. And while there, just like my principal, I will do my best. It could be long, it could be short, depending on God and the man who appointed me, but one day, it would be over, and some other people would come in to do their bit. It is inexorable. The real treasures are laid somewhere beyond the blue.
Abati says we should pray before people pack their things into Aso Villa. I say not just Aso Villa, but everywhere. Pray before you pack into any place, because there are some things “such as is common to man.” It is only God that keeps from such. And He is sovereign in terms of what He prevents, and in what He allows. Ours is to pray, and believe. Prayer works.
“Aso Villa is in urgent need of redemption. I never slept in the apartment they gave me in that Villa for an hour,” wrote Abati. Well, different strokes for different folks. Hear what the Good Book says: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows; for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” Here am I. For over one year, I have lived in the house allocated to me at the Villa. I sleep so soundly, I even snore. In fact, I snore so loud that at times, I wake myself up with the sound.
****Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari