President Muhammadu Buhari in more glowing terms than he had used before, yesterday commended his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, who conceded defeat to him.He said that but for that singular act, the country would have been in turmoil.
The president who spoke at a press luncheon he hosted for State House Press Corps as part of the activities to commemorate this year’s Democracy Day at the Presidential Banquet Hall, Aso Rock, however, regretted while the former president displayed a high level of patriotism by conceding defeat, his ministers did not share such a disposition with him.
“Jonathan’s disposition on the phone that fateful evening when he personally called me to congratulate me on the election victory, even before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was done with the announcement of the results still baffles me,” he said.
Buhari said he was shocked because for someone who was a deputy governor, a governor, a vice president and a president for six years to concede that easily showed Jonathan’s “great sense of patriotism.”
He recalled that another former military Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, advised him to visit Jonathan for his “statesmanship and decision to save the Nigerian state.”
Buhari also said Jonathan belonged to a party that was at the helm of affairs for 16 years and for him to still go ahead and concede “was definitely not an easy decision.”
The President added that during the visit to thank Jonathan, Abubakar again advised that in order to smoothen the transition process, he, Buhari, should set up a committee to meet with the outgoing ministers of Jonathan to begin the process of handover at that level.
“Jonathan sincerely agreed to the suggestion and I got one of the best bureaucrats, in the person of Ahmed Joda, and told him to look round the country and come up with a team for the task.
“However, when Jonathan told his government this is what I have decided, they simply refused and said how can you hand over to Buhari when he has not been sworn in? That was the end of that good intention.
“So really, it was a nasty exper ience for us. It was also a nasty experience for some of the ministers who were never in government, for them to sit down day and night to work. I saw them, some of them literally lost weight because they were sleeping less and eating less, working on every kobo to be spent,” he said.
The president who admitted that the first year in his second coming as the leader of Nigeria has been tumultuous, owing to the years of damage done to the nation’s governance, however, lauded the media for keeping faith with his administration’s change agenda, even in the face of obvious challenges of economy, insecurity and unemployment facing the country.
“Because we became a mono-economy of oil-rich Nigeria, everybody relied on oil and forgot about solid minerals, agriculture, making and exploring things. We recently just found out that we are poor because we don’t have anything to fall back on. This is the condition we found ourselves and this change mantra had to go through hell up till yesterday.”
The president said when he assumed office he had to trim down the number of ministries from 42 to 24, while many permanent secretaries were also dropped for one reason or another.
He, however, said his government was still shocked when it realised that “those below were still living in the past” which, he said led to the infamous “budget padding.”
“The budget padding was our nasty experience, for me and many ministers who were not in government. We had to work day and night to correct the ills and I noticed that some of them were actually losing weight,” he said.
The president also spoke briefly about his inability to release the list of those who looted the nation’s treasury, adding: “We realised that we can’t talk too much or technicalities would come in and we may realise what we should have realised.”
Buhari advised the reporters covering the State House to always conduct research on those visiting him whenever they plan to ask them questions, “so that when next they come, they will do some research themselves.”
Earlier, the chairman of the press corps, Kehinde Amodu, said yesterday’s event was the first time that a serving president would host the corps to a lunch and thanked Buhari for the gesture.
Yesterday’s luncheon was the second time that Buhari would meet with reporters covering the seat of power in his one year in the Villa.
The first of such interaction was on Monday, June 22, 2015, a day after he moved into the Villa as the country’s fourth democratically elected president.