Nigerians, amongst other things, are demanding to know who the mystery landlord is, especially as former Head of State and the first occupant of Aso Rock, Ibrahim Babangida, criticised the government’s rent payment claims, asking Nigerian government to explain who exactly are the landlords.
The 2021 State House budget, as in previous years, has earmarked N66.6 million as payment for ‘residential rent’, a provision that many Nigerians have described as ‘suspicious’ with questions on if, indeed, Aso Rock is on rent.
“I built Aso Rock and I wonder who the current Landlord is. I read a certain N22M for the payment of Aso Rock rent. Rent to who, Me or GEJ?,” Babangida had asked.
Aso Rock Presidential Villa was constructed in October 13, 1989 by Ibrahim Babaginda, following a 1976 proclamation by the Military Government of Murtala Mohammed for a more central state capital.
On November 1, 1991, the Aso Rock Presidential Villa was completed and President Babangida became the first Head of State to occupy it, moving in on December 12, 1991.
Although the controversy precedes President Muhammadu Buhari administration, the item has over the years continued to not only be a permanent feature of state house budget but has increased in the last five years.
In 2015, N22.4 million was budgeted as rent payment for state house, by 2016, it increased to N27.73m.
Despite the outcry that trailed the previous year and economic uncertainty, 2017 provision saw a massive increase by over 123% to N77.54m.
2018, 2019 and 2020 budgets also provided 66.6 million as rent for payment
Structures in the State House, also called the Villa, include Office and Residence of the President, Offices of the Vice President and Wife of the President, the State House Conference Center, State House Annexe and the Akinola Aguda House.
President Buhari, when assuming office in 2015, had promised Nigerians he would cut waste from government spending while its funds would be directed to public good.
“The residential payment could be for those working in the state house, living around the villa,” Atiku Samuel a Research Lead at BudgIT explained when asked on the provision.
In 2016, BudgIT described the provision as a suspicious item, asking the Federal government to explain why the state house budget should have a residential rent provision.
“Why is Aso Rock on rent? Who are we renting the residential quarters in Aso Rock from? Who is the real landlord of Aso Rock?” BudgIT had asked.
What remains unclear is who is/are the landlord(s) collecting rent or to what purpose the yearly provision is for.