Amid calls from some quarters for the prosecution of his predecessor in office over linkages to some corruption cases in the courts, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said he still had tremendous respect for former President Goodluck Jonathan on account of his quick acceptance of defeat in the 2015 presidential election. Buhari who spoke at a Presidential Lunch for State House correspondents at the New Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, as part of activities marking the 17th anniversary of democracy in Nigeria and his one year in office, said he was taken aback that a man who had been in government at different levels for 16 consecutive years could so easily surrender.
He said he was humbled by the phone call to him by the former President congratulating him even when collation of votes was still in progress. The President also hinted on the resolve of his administration to talk less on corruption in the country so as not to hamper the recovery of the stolen funds. Recounting his experience as the helmsman at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Buhari said: “it was a tumultuous year for everyone in the villa. I will talk about my experience here in Aso Villa. “I underrated the influence of the PDP for 16 years watching from outside at four consecutive governments. “The experience of the staff, their commitment and zeal is different from what it is now. 16 years of development in the life of a developing nation is a long time.
“This is where I pay my respect to former President Goodluck Jonathan. This is actually a privileged information for you. “He 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 that I have conceded deceit. 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, 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 a great generosity, a great patriotism.
“Abdulsalam Abubakar recognized the generosity of Jonathan to concede defeat and said we should go and thank him immediately and that was the first time I came here.” The President also explained why he had to cut down the size of ministries from 42 to 24, even as he lamented the initial noncooperation of civil servants in the new way government wanted to conduct its business. According to him, the Permanent Secretaries were so used to their old way of doing things to the extent that they regarded the campaign promises of the All Progressives Party (APC) as “rubbish.”
He said: “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. The permanent secretaries that were there for the past five to seven years the only thing that they know is how things were done in the previous years. “Whatever we did in the campaign, in fact, were saying rubbish and that made it very difficult for us. “Things were even more difficult during the budget which you all know about. For somebody like me, for the first time I heard what is called padding.
“I think we will recover by the fourth quarter of the year. What padding means especially for ministers who had to implement what padding contains. There were very serious developments which I never knew about. “So 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 them, some of them literarily lost weight because they were sleeping less and eating less. Working on every kobo to be spent.”
He said that because Nigeria became a mono-economy based on oil, the past governments relied on oil and forgot about solid minerals, agriculture, and other resources. The President added: “We recently just found out that we are poor because we don’t have anything to fall back to. This is the condition we found ourselves and this change mantra had to go through hell up till yesterday. “And for you to talk to whoever came to visit us throughout that year I wonder how each of your diaries would be, because people were expecting this change mantra in their own way.
“How do you define change? Luckily our party identified three major items, security, economy and corruption. “One of the men I pity is Lai Mohammed. Everyday he is on TV explaining our performance or lack of it.” On the ongoing anticorruption fight, President Buhari lamented why a group of people would just sit down and share over two billion dollars meant for the purchase of military hardware to fight insurgency in the country.
He stated, however, that the Federal Government would henceforth make less noise on the anti-corruption fight in order not to jeopardise the recovery of looted funds stashed abroad. “People were trusted and the most recent one which we haven’t recovered from is the $2.1billion dollars, was given by the government then, to the military to buy hardware to fight the insurgency which had taken over part of the country and they just sat where you are sitting now and shared the money into their own account.
“They didn’t even bother. So we are still trying to get the cooperation of the international community and so on and we have to do it with a lot of respect to the judiciary. We can’t go out and talk too much we have to allow the judiciary to do their work. We give them the facts, the name, country, bank account. If you talk too much, technicalities will come in, then we will realize less than what we want to realize,” he said.