After the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to include his academic credentials in the list of documents submitted to Nigeria’s electoral umpire, (INEC) in October, the debates about the president’s certificates which started in 2015 re-emerged albeit with new twists.
Mr Buhari is contesting for a second term in office under the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC).
His inability to present in particular, his West African Secondary School Certificate left him open, like in 2015, to verbal attacks from opposition politicians who accused him of not possessing the certificate in the first place.
In a reaction to the the development largely described as a duplication of the pre-2015 election controversy, the West African Examination Council (WAEC) issued an “attestation certificate” to the president, to confirm that Mr Buhari indeed obtained a secondary school certificate from the examination body in 1961.
Mr Buhari, in defending himself from attacks, explained the impact of his WAEC result in his military and political career, after receiving the attestation in a well celebrated event.
Mr Buhari’s explanation strengthened the general perception that the latest development from the examination body is to prove to Nigerians that the president truly has a secondary school certificate as required by law, and this qualifies him to contest in the 2019 general elections.
In all of this, what does the law say?
According to section 131 of Nigeria’s constitution, Mr Buhari is expected, among other criteria to include a document indicating that he had obtained a minimum of a Senior Secondary School certificate to qualify to contest for election into the office of President.
The section contains the following:
“A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if -(a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; (b) he has attained the age of forty years; (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and (d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
Based on the above provision, Mr Buhari is expected by law to provide documents that prove his compliance with subsections (a) to (d) of the section 131, mentioned above to the Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria’s electoral body for the regulation of the said elections.
A Matter Of Integrity?
In a previous response to raging criticisms, especially by the former administration of the People’s Democratic Party in 2015, Mr Buhari, who ran for president in 2003, 2007 and 2011, repeatedly declared that copies of his academic records were with the military.
The former head of state also said original copies of his credentials were lost when his house was raided while he was in detention during the administration of Ibrahim Babangida, who toppled his regime.
Some lawyers however suggest that the matter was not purely legal, but more of integrity.
An Abuja-based lawyer, Folarin Aluko, said the law does not mandate the aspirant to compulsorily submit their results to INEC.
“From a legal point of view, the brouhaha surrounding the President’s certificate is a non sequitur. Section 131 (d) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that a candidate vying for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria must have “been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent. There are many ways this requirement can be established outside the production of a School Leaving Certificate.
“The issue of his level of education has been established by virtue of the courses he took during the course of his career in the military.
“Looking at ancillary legal issues that may arise, for example, we understand from the media that the president deposed to an affidavit to explain the whereabouts of the certificate. In these instances, proving that a person lied would require proof of his state of mind, which can be quite difficult.
“In my humble opinion, this certificate storm is more of an integrity issue for the president. I do not think it rises to the level of a legal issue,” Mr Aluko told PREMIUM TIMES.
In a similar opinion, another lawyer, Ejeh Monday, said the president had sufficient information in his educational qualifications to douse any iota of doubt that he may not have attained a secondary education.
“This matter for me, is no longer a live issue. President Muhammadu Buhari joined the Military and rose to the rank of a General before he retired. He also served in the following capacities: the military Governor of the North-eastern State: 1975-1976; Federal Commissioner (position now called Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources: 1976-1978; pioneer Chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation: 1977-1978; General Officer Commanding, in the Nigerian Army: 1981-1983; Military Head of State and Government of Nigeria: 1984-1985; democratically elected President, 2015 to date,” Mr Ejeh said.
The lawyer added that Mr Buhari had evidently taken part in a number of courses, while he served at the military “that should leave Nigerians satisfied about his educational qualifications”.
“I do not think our military system is so porous to allow an uneducated person into the system as an officer. Besides, the above qualifications are more than what Section 131 of the Constitution termed the equivalent of WASSCE,” Mr Ejeh said in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
In a similar opinion, another lawyer, Mojirayo Ogunlana-Nkanga, cited previous court judgement to prove that the matter was purely political, and not necessarily legal in nature.
“The prerogative is with the INEC to determine what qualification is satisfactory for the post of President and in so doing it must remain within the purview of the Constitution,” Mrs Ogunlana-Nkanga said.
“In any case, it is not a requirement of the Constitution for the candidate to necessarily present the certificate to qualify for election to the office of governor of a state.
“…Submission or presentation of certificate is not the requirement of S. 177(d) of the Constitution as regards the gubernatorial screening process. The process of screening which the appellant and the 4th respondent requires the candidate to fill in his qualification in the form and to swear to a verifying affidavit that the information contained in Form CF001 was true. This takes away the necessity of presentation of the actual certificate to the 1st and 2nd respondents.”
According to Mrs Ogunlana-Nkanga the above excerpt from a previous Supreme Court ruling implies that; “a candidate is mandated to swear to an affidavit stating he has complied with the constitutional requirements for election into office and also state his particulars within the affidavit. It is left for the candidate to attach documents to their affidavit as this is not mandatory.”
Mrs Ogunlana-Nkanga cited section 318 (1) of the Constitution to explain the meaning of “certificate level” required in section 131.
“According to the section, a certificate is defined as the following: (a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and- (1) service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years, and (11) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, and (111) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission; and (d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
“Both Sections 131(d) and 318 (1) must be read together as the latter section contains the interpretation of terms referred to in the former section. Hence, the provision of Section 131(d) should not be interpreted in isolation of the intention of the drafters of the Constitution who took the pain to interpret the meaning of school certificate in Section 318,” she added.
Dust Yet To Settle
Despite the temporary lull in the controversy, a Nigerian, Itsede Kingsley has filed a suit in court, challenging Mr Buhari’s repeated failure to submit the said certificate to INEC.
Mr Kingsley wants the court to declare that Mr Buhari’s failure to submit the certificate, in relation to section 131, of the constitution has rendered him ineligible to partake in the forthcoming general elections.
With the 2019 polls less than four months away, the president’s team has however continued to urge all those not satisfied to head to court like Mr Kingsley.
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