Sad Life Of the The Chief President’s Steward: A Pauper in Aso Rock.
Many would like to think that having a job in the Presidential Villa would be the opportunity to avail oneself of his/her share of the national cake. That, however, is not the case with the presidential steward, Mr. Micheal Onuh, who lives in a rented apartment on the outskirts of Nasarawa State and survives on two hours sleep daily.
He has served different heads of state and presidents for 30 years as a steward. He started his work with Shehu Shagari, witnessed the coup d’tat of Major- General Muhammadu Buhari and General Ibrahim Babangida. He prepared the table of the interim government of Ernest Shonekan and witnessed the brutality reign of General Sani Abacha. He was also at the Villa when General Abdulsalami Abubakar handed over power to the Civilian reign of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999.
The intrigues and drama of the Umaru Musa Yar Adua’s administration did not deter him from doing his work.
At present, he is the head of presidential stewards at Aso Villa. One would expect someone who is very close to power to have some of its trappings, but the 59-year-old lives in a rented apartment at Karu, Nasarawa State.
In spite of his rare dedication to duty, the father of four children admits that he faces a challenge in his job, and also has regret. “The regret I have is that for someone that has been working for his country for over 30 years, it is not good that I don’t have my own accommodation. I live at the outskirts of the city (in Karu, Nasarawa State) in a rented house,” he confessed.
“My greatest challenge is coming all the way to work from a very far distance every day. Waking up by 3am to be at work and closing in the early hours of the morning only to be back again very early to work is a big challenge for me.”
The Cable, quoting Villascope, an in-house magazine of the State House, said the native of Kogi State maintains a strict code of not asking for favours because it is against the ethics of his job.
“I cannot approach anybody for anything. We are trained not to beg anybody for anything. Do your job and leave everything to God,” he said.
Describing Onuh, Villascope wrote: “Quiet but unassuming, Micheal Onuh has seen it all. From the first executive president of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari to Dr Goodluck Jonathan, he has been in the inner recesses of power attending to the domestic needs of the first family of the most populous and powerful black nation in the world.”
Meanwhile, in the 2014 budget, the Presidency had allocations of about N108.2 billion ($650 million). About N200 million was allocated for the provision of foodstuffs/catering supplies while it plans to expend another N162,556,500 on meals and refreshments for the year.
For honorarium and sitting allowances, the Presidency allocated N320 million with the sum of N33.8 million set aside for the office of the Vice-President to take care of his foodstuff and catering supplies as well as meals and refreshments in the year.
Recall that N34.5m was budgeted for two animals for the Villa Zoo.
Onuh loves his job, which, he says, has given him much exposure. He has visited the United States, Libya, Venuzuela and Jerusalem, to name just a few. “I have always derived pleasure in serving others. It also brings one close to the people that matter,” he said.
“I am happy to take care of the people that serve the nation. It means a lot to me. I believe it is my contribution to my fatherland to be in charge of taking care of the little stuff of the presidents.” Onuh, the longest-serving staff member at the Presidential Villa, will be bestowed with the honour of Member of the Order of the Niger.
Onuh will join 306 other Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to be conferred with National Honours Award on Monday, September 29, 2014, at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
The man who many call the pauper in the villa will stand on the same podium with the Chief of Staff, service chiefs, the acting Inspector-General of Police, eight governors, nine ministers, captains of industry, politicians and traditional rulers.