I still hold Jonathan in high esteem – Buhari

Anyone whose wish is to see President Muhammadu Buhari kick former President Goodluck Jonathan around on the streets in the wave of ongoing corruption trials involving persons who served with him while in government and political allies probably needs to be on a long wait.

Rather, President Buhari has come out to say he personally holds the former president in high esteem, ruling out any expectation of subjecting his predecessor to any form of official pressure to probe into his activities and expose him to humiliation.

A lot of Nigerians including clerics and civil society groups have called for the arrest and trial of Jonathan in relation to huge theft of public funds under his administration.

Several people including Jonathan’s former ministers, relations and top members of his party, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have been under probe, and some others currently facing court trials by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), having been linked to the $2.1 billion arms funds allegedly diverted by the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and hundreds of millions of dollars more traced to fraudulent transactions in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.

But doing a reminiscence of his ascension to power, President Buhari on Monday spoke highly of Jonathan, saying that his singular act of conceding victory to him in the 2015 presidential election and putting a call through to congratulate him even before the final collation of the results remains to him a pleasant surprise.

“This is why I pay respect to former President Goodluck Jonathan”, the president said.

President Buhari, who hosted State House correspondents to a luncheon at the Villa, as part of activities commemorating the 2016 Democracy Day and one year anniversary of his government, said Jonathan’s mien on the phone that historic evening, when he personally called to congratulate him (Buhari) on the election victory, even before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could conclude the announcement of results still baffles him till date.

“This is actually privileged information for you. When Jonathan called me at a quarter past five in the evening, he said, ‘Good evening Your Excellency Sir’, and I said, ‘good evening’.

“He said, ‘I have called to congratulate you and to say that I have conceded defeat. Of course there was dead silence on my end, because I did not expect it.

“I was shocked. I did not expect it, because after 16 years, considering that the man was a Deputy Governor, Governor, Vice President and was President for six years, for him to have conceded defeat even before the result was announced by INEC, I think it was quite generous and gracious of him”.

He said Jonathan’s action to concede defeat was also obvious to former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, who in turn spurred him to go and thank Jonathan for his generosity.

“Abdulsalami recognised the generosity of Jonathan to concede defeat and said we should go and thank him, immediately and that was the first time I came to the Presidential Villa. This is why I pay respect to former President Goodluck Jonathan,” Buhari said.

He said the party platform on which he rode to the presidency, the All Progressives Congress (APC), was even aloof about contemporary governance issues, part of which played out during the 2016 budget preparations.

According to him, the past one year he has served as president under a democratic system has been quite revealing, especially the dynamics of governance.

“Whatever we did in the campaign, in fact, we were saying rubbish and that made it very difficult for us.

“Things were even more difficult during the budget preparations which you all know about. For somebody like me, that was for the first time I heard the word called padding.

“I think we will recover by the fourth quarter of the year, we found it a bit difficult to comprehend what padding meant, especially for ministers who had to implement what padding contains.

“There were very serious developments which I never knew about. Really it was a nasty experience 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 some of them literally lost weight because they were sleeping less and eating less.

“They were working on every kobo to be spent, because we had become a mono-economy of oil rich Nigeria, everybody relied on oil and forgot about solid minerals, agriculture even to make or explore new things was totally forgotten.

“We recently found out that we were poor because we do not 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 (May 29).

“I underrated the influence of the Peoples Democratic Party for 16 years, watching from outside at eight consecutive governments.

“The experience of the staff, their commitment and zeal was different from what it is now. 16 years of development in the life of a developing nation is a long time.”

He said he could not comprehend how Jonathan could manage over 40 ministries, especially footing their monthly wage bills, including the retinue of permanent secretaries and ministers.

He noted that part of why the federal ministries were pruned down from 42 to 24 and subsequent decision to lay off some permanent secretaries was to engender a new thinking in the civil service that has become characterised by the old ways of doing things.

“When we came on board, there were 42 ministries; we had to cut it to 24.

“We had to do it on our own, when we found out that government could not continue with 42 ministers and the paraphernalia of office, so we cut it down to 24.

“We had to cut down half the number of permanent secretaries and then do some cross postings. Especially those permanent secretaries that have been there for the past five to seven years, the only thing that they know is how things were done in the previous years,” the president stated.

President 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 President Buhari for the gesture.

Kehinde also assured the president that the reporters covering the State House were willing to contribute their quota to the government’s change agenda.

Those who attended the lunch included 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.