President Muhammadu Buhari has said he was shocked when former president Goodluck Jonathan called him to concede defeat while votes were still being counted during the 2015 election.
Mr. Buhari made the disclosure on Monday at the Presidential Banquet Hall, Aso Villa, Abuja, when he hosted the State House Press Corps to a lunch as part of activities marking this year’s democracy day.
“When he made that famous call at 4:45 pm and said ‘Good evening Mr. President, I have called to congratulate you and I concede defeat’, I was silent for quite a while because I was surprised and he said ‘did you hear me?’,” the president said.
Mr. 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 Mr. Jonathan’s “great sense of patriotism”.
President Buhari said another former military head of state, Abdulsalami Abubakar, advised him to visit Mr. Jonathan for his “statesmanship and decision to save the Nigerian state”.
Mr. Buhari also said Mr. Jonathan belonged to a party that was at the helms 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 Mr. Jonathan, General Abdulsalami again advised that in order to smoothen the transition process, he (Buhari) should set up a committee to meet with the outgoing ministers of Mr. Jonathan to begin the process of handing over 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,” Mr. Buhari said.
The president said when he assumed office he trimmed down the number of ministries from 42 to 24, while many permanent secretaries were also dropped for one reason or the other.
He however said, his government was still shocked when it realized 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 nations treasury.
“We realized that we can’t talk too much or technicalities would come in and we may realize what we should have realized,” he said.
Mr. 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”.
Speaking earlier, the chairman of the press corps, Kehinde Ahmadu, said Monday’s event was the first time that a serving president would host the corps to a lunch and thanked the president for the gesture.
Mr. Kehinde also said the reporters covering the president were willing to contribute their quota in his change agenda.
He also said the reporters would not ask for incentives from the president so that it would not be misconstrued as asking for gratification.
He however called for ” improved working conditions” for reporters covering the State House.
The oldest journalist covering the Villa, 80-year old Ladan Abubakar was specially recognized at the event.
Also recognised was the Director of Information at the State House, Justin Abuah for “his diligence and dedication to duties”.
Those who attended the lunch include the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed; the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; and the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.