I was in my living room with some ministers, aides and friends. Among them were the Coordinating Minister for the Economy/ Honourable Minster of Finance, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala; Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN); the Honourable Minister of Aviation, Mr. Osita Chidoka; and Waripamower Dudafa, my Senior Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs. They were recommending sundry alternatives, but I was quiet in the midst of their discussion. I hugged my thoughts, figuring out how to do that which was best for the country. My personal interest was receding rapidly and the interest of Nigeria looming large. I excused myself and left the sitting room. I walked into my study…”
ormer President Goodluck Jonathan has given his own personal account of the circumstances around his concession of the 2015 presidential election to Muhammadu Buhari, the then candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
There are conflicting accounts of the final moments before that momentous phone call, with many believing that the former President had bowed to pressure from some of the nation’s former leaders to make the phone call.
However, writing in ‘My Transition Hours’, a book he launched in Abuja on Tuesday, Jonathan said it was his own personal decision even though many of his supporters across the nation would have liked for him to act otherwise.
“I knew what was coming the day before I called General Muhammadu Buhari. I had reports on the polls around the country. It was clear the results were not going to favour me. Apparently, there were many instances of irregularities. There were series of problems with card readers, resulting from widespread technical hitches leading to the non-uniform application throughout the country,” he said.
“For some inexplicable reason, the INEC had been able to achieve near 100% distribution of Permanent Voters Cards in the North, including the North East, which was under siege with the Boko Haram insurgency but failed to record a similar level of distribution in the South which was relatively more peaceful.
“Social media was filled with all manner of stories, pictures and videos. I was settled in my mind that I was not going to be the sitting President pointing out these infractions and accusing the opposition and the very INEC I helped to strengthen.
“The world saw my ordeal at the polling unit in my community in Bayelsa State, where the card reader refused my PVC even after we tried repeatedly during accreditation, and it was the same with my wife and my mother. It was a moment that exposed the shortcomings of INEC. However, I was heading towards peace. Stopping the election on voting day would have been like detonating an atomic bomb. After we managed to vote upon filling the incident forms, I left Bayelsa for Abuja to monitor the elections and collation of results all over the country from the 29th to 31st of March, 2015.
“The country was tense. I had to do something; I could no longer wait for the collation of the final results. The pressure on the country was palpable. In Lagos, people were ready to burst loose on the streets and in the North, the stage was set for envisaged violence. One of my party’s agents at the INEC National Collation Centre in Abuja, Elder Godsday Orubebe, eventually got into a heated argument with the INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega. That further raised the tension in the country. Everyone was expecting the worst; I knew it was time to douse the tension.”
Jonathan added that he knew the consequences of hanging on to power would include bloodshed for the country, so the phone call was an easy decision to reach.
“As I said earlier, I was fully informed about the manipulation, intrigues, intimidations and betrayals. The consequences of the not conceding were only better imagined. My natural instinct for peace automatically surfaced. I was going to make a decision which reflected my commitment to that ideal. This is the foundation of my essence. In my periodic projection into the future, I did not see how I would be presiding over any kind of chaos. I was prepared to promote the peace unity and progress of Nigeria,” he wrote in the book.
“This is a huge sacrifice, but I hope my readers believe me when I say it turned out to be one of the easiest decisions I ever took while in office. With my mind made up, I knew it was time for me to inject peace into the tense polity, especially before INEC completed collation.
“I was in my living room with some ministers, aides and friends. Among them were the Coordinating Minister for the Economy/ Honourable Minster of Finance, Dr. Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala; Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN); the Honourable Minister of Aviation, Mr. Osita Chidoka; and Waripamower Dudafa, my Senior Special Assistant on Domestic Affairs.
“They were recommending sundry alternatives, but I was quiet in the midst of their discussion. I hugged my thoughts, figuring out how to do that which was best for the country. My personal interest was receding rapidly and the interest of Nigeria looming large. I excused myself and left the sitting room. I walked into my study. Even here, my mantra was a strong circle around me, supporting and comforting me. Let the country survive. Let democracy survive. My political ambition is not worth people being ‘soaked in blood’.
“More reports flowed in and I could not wait anymore, the announcement of the final result could take issues out of all our hands. It was time for me to take action and bring peace to the nation. I felt it was destined by God at that point in time to inject the peace serum and douse the palpable tension in the country.
“I reached for my telephone and placed a call through the State House operators at about 4:45 pm. A peace I had never felt since my political sojourn descended on me. It showed me where I had been in the past 16 years and where I was then. I smiled at the thought of what I was about to do. I waited calmly for the person at the other end of my call to answer.”
The ensuing conversation went thus:
Buhari: “Hello Your Excellency”
Me: “Your Excellency how are you?”
Buhari: “I am alright Your Excellency”
Buhari: “Thank you very much your Excellency…”
“For several seconds the line was seized by the loudest silence I have ever known. Then we had a brief discussion. I could sense his relief too. He knew what could have been. Here is a man who had contested three times and lost. Maybe my gesture humbled him against his expectations because he thanked me and we talked about the handover processes,” Jonathan continued.
“Everywhere all over Africa, Asia and other parts of the world, countless deaths have been recorded on the scores of elections and power disputes. I mentioned Cote d’Ivoire earlier, where people died in their thousands during post-election violence. A similar scenario had unfolded in Kenya. African nations are more prone to post-election violence than other parts of the world. Only very few African nations have not experienced post-election violence on a very grand scale or some bitter power tussle fed by tribal or ethnic sentiments.
“I hung up the phone, confident that my decision was right for Nigeria and would probably have a great impact on Africa. This may well be the beginning of a new perspective which places national interest above personal preference. It should not always be about winning.”
Jonathan revealed that after his conversation with Buhari, which lifted his spirits greatly, he felt better and lighter.
“It was time to break the news to my ministers and aides. I wandered back into the living room. These are people I came to know over a period of time. I anticipated what their response will be.
“In my newfound calm, I stood before them and told them what I had just done. The elections were over. I had called and congratulated Muhammadu Buhari on his victory. It was time for all of us to move on. Stunned silence greeted the room for some time and after they overcame their shock, they all congratulated me.
“My Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, sought my permission to tweet my phone conversation with Muhammadu Buhari. I obliged and he did. The country was no longer waiting for the declaration of the election results. The nationwide tension automatically dissipated as though a red hot piece of iron had been dipped in a bowl of water. Thereafter I addressed the nation.”
Jonathan formally handed over power to Buhari on May 29, 2015. He has sent the bulk of his time since then observing elections across the continent and helping other African countries strengthen their democracies.