As Nigerians and the international community continue to praise President Goodluck Jonathan for conceding defeat to his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, in the March 28 presidential election, PREMIUM TIMES has received exclusive details of how the president took the decision of making the historic concession telephone call to Mr. Buhari.
Reliable officials, knowledgeable about the drama that unfolded at the presidential villa that March 31, said Mr. Jonathan was pulled by two contending forces: loyalists who kept pressuring him to concede defeat and congratulate Mr. Buhari, and hawks who insisted he and his party should strongly challenge the APC candidate’s victory.
Our sources said even before collation began at the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission in Abuja, Mr. Jonathan had indicated he would accept whatever outcome once the election is considered free and fair.
But while the President was on the verge of keeping that promise, some “hawks” in the presidency and the party rushed to the first family’s official residence to warn him against any “hasty decision”.
“They were telling the president that a lot of options were still open, and that the game was not over,” one of our sources said. “They were doing all manners of analyses, and assuring the president that ultimately, he would triumph.”
“At a point the president became confused and it was clear the forces opposed to the president’s decision to concede victory was gaining control. As some of them were talking to the president in the villa, others who were far away were calling the President on telephone. The president was in a dilemma.”
Another presidential aide said while in that state of confusion, the President invited the Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, to ask his opinion.
Those who overheard the conversation between the two men said Mr. Chidoka begged the president to disregard any contrary counsel and quickly concede defeat.
“Mr. President, I can tell you that by congratulating Buhari, you would have done the unthinkable and history will surely be kind to you,” a presidential aide quoted the aviation minister as saying.
Our sources said as the President and Mr. Chidoka conversed, the Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, arrived.
“He quickly joined Osita (the aviation minister) in appealing to the President to ignore those advising him not to concede defeat,” a witness said. “In fact, I saw Adoke and Osita kneeling before the president in deference and begging him to take the right decision in the interest of the country.”
Our sources said at this point, Mr. Jonathan appeared convinced. But more calls came in from people believed to be opposed to any concession move, and the president became confused again.
At that point, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, arrived, and she quickly joined the party working to convince Mr. Jonathan to make the historic call.
While Mr. Adoke departed shortly after Mrs Okonjo-Iweala’s arrival, the finance minister and her aviation counterpart continued to appeal to the President to make the right decision.
At a point, the Special Assistant to the President on Domestic Matters, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, joined the party.
He reportedly knelt before the president, held his hand, and said, “You need to congratulate Buhari now sir. I think you should leave this place on May 29 holding your head high.”
Mr. Dudafa then offered to place a call to Mr. Buhari so the President could speak with him. Mr. Jonathan agreed.
So at about 5:15 p.m. that March 31, Mr. Jonathan spoke to Mr. Buhari, congratulating him for his victory in the presidential election.
At 5:27 p.m., Mr. Chidoka, while still at the presidential villa, tweeted, “President Jonathan congratulates Gen. Buhari in a phone call this evening.”
He further tweeted, “President Jonathan will address the nation after a meeting with PDP officials.
“President Jonathan is a democrat by instinct, he has expanded the civic space and entrenched genuine democracy. A great future awaits him as sets a continental example on the essence of democracy.
“President Jonathan, by refusing to be an African Big Man, has indeed become an African role model. Soon when emotions subside, the story of Pres. Jonathan’s stubborn commitment to democracy and peace will be told.”
When contacted Monday, Mr. Chidoka said he was not prepared to discuss what transpired at the president’s residence on the day of the historic concession call.
Mrs. Okonjo Iweala could not be reached for comments. Calls to her spokesperson, Paul Nwabuikwu, did not connect.
With presidential election results from all but one of Nigeria’s 36 states counted, and Mr. Buhari, clearly in unassailable lead, President Jonathan had telephoned the APC candidate to concede defeat.
At the time the call was made, INEC was yet to declare Mr. Buhari winner because it was still expecting results from Nigeria’s remote Borno State.
By the time the Borno vote was added to the tally, Mr. Buhari garnered 15,416,221 votes to Mr. Jonathan’s 12,853, 162 votes.
The historic concession telephone call defused tension across Nigeria and has thrown up Mr. Jonathan as a democracy hero.
That conversation is believed to have saved Nigeria from descending into violence in the aftermath of the election.
In a nationwide broadcast after INEC officially declared Mr. Buhari winner, President Jonathan told Nigerians he kept his pledge to deliver a credible election.