THE publication of names and credentials of candidates for the presidential election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has re-awakened the issue of eligibility for the Office of the President that became a sore point in the build-up to the 2015 presidential elections.
Keeping with its schedule of activities and timetable for the 2019 elections, INEC on Friday, October 25, made public the names and details of candidates for the presidential and National Assembly elections, in fulfillment of its know-the-candidates mandate to the electorate.
The essence of releasing such details about the candidates is for the electorate to examine them and raise issues wherever they suspect or are sure there are discrepancies in the information provided by the candidates to the electoral umpire and what they know about them.
In the details provided by INEC on the 70 presidential candidates contesting in 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, again presented an affidavit he deposed to in 2014 in lieu of his senior school certificate which he re-affirmed was in the custody of the Military Board.
When, in the late December 2014, the Professor Attahiru Jega-led INEC carried out a similar exercise, tongues were set wagging and questioned asked about whether Buhari, then All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, submitted the original copies of the credentials to the Military Board.
As it was in 2015, so it is now in 2018 October, less than four months to the presidential election. Nigerians have set the social and conventional media space bubbling with questions about why Buhari should present a 2014 affidavit instead of copies of his academic credentials, especially after almost four years in office as president, a position that affords him opportunity to retrieve copies of the credentials from the military.
In a paragraph of the affidavit, Buhari had given two impressions: One, there was no time for him to retrieve copies from the military hence his recourse to an affidavit to meet the urgency of his nomination. Two, he could not find the original copies which the Military Board would strangely have asked for.
“I am the above-named person and deponent to this affidavit therein. All my academic qualification documents as filled in my presidential form, President APC/001/2015, are currently with the Secretary, Military Board as of the time of presenting this affidavit. This affidavit is made in good faith and for record purpose,” he had said in the affidavit.
The Army moved back and forth while reacting to Buhari’s statement that the Military Board was in possession of his academic credentials. While it initially said the documents were not in its custody, it made a volte face later and declared it had the documents.
Before the military spoke on the matter in 2015, Buhari’s supporters and the APC had trivialised the development, declaring that Nigerians would vote in Buhari as president even if he presented a NEPA bill as substitute for academic certificate. Riding on the tide of public opinion which was in favour of Candidate Buhari and the APC in 2015, all arguments on the constitutionality or otherwise presenting an affidavit where an academic certificate is required, were drowned in the ocean of Sai Baba sloganeering that rent the whole country.
An Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe, approached a Federal High Court in Abuja in 2015, querying the qualification of Buhari for the office of the president and dismissing the claim in the affidavit as false.
Buhari arrayed a 23-man legal team, 13 of whom were Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), to defend him. A preliminary objection filed by Buhari’s lawyers was dismissed by the court, though his team filed an appeal against the decision.
But just when the substantive matter was to be heard, the plaintiff, Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe, in 2016, almost a year after Buhari had been sworn in as president, withdrew the case and gave no reason for the action. The court, consequently, struck out the suit.
Buhari’s presentation in 2018 of the 2014 affidavit in lieu of academic certificates has thrown up critical issues on the criteria for eligibility into the office and the provisions of the constitution.
The constitutional provision on eligibility for election as president states in Section 130 sub Section (d) of the 1999 that a person shall be qualified for election into the office if he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
Those arguing in defence of Buhari contend that the 1999 Constitution does not state expressly that the seeker of presidential office must present evidence of having been educated up to senior school certificate level.
What those making this defence are yet to explain is how to evidentially verify that Buhari has been truly educated up to secondary school level as demanded by the constitution. An online dictionary defines certificate as “a document serving as evidence or as written testimony, as of status, qualifications, privileges, or the truth of something.”
Observers reason that, if not for anything other than relieving the moral burden on him as touching the whereabouts of his certificate, President Buhari needs to quickly present his credentials, even if it means getting photocopies from the Military Board. It may also cast a slur on the record keeping capacity of President Buhari.
While the same matter was being hotly debated in the build-up to the 2015 elections, the Principal of Government College, Katsina, formerly Provincial Secondary School, released what was claimed to be Buhari’s secondary school certificate examination results with five credits in English Language, Geography, Hausa Language, History, and Health Science.
The question asked by observers is: Why didn’t Buhari leverage on the results released by the school and present same to INEC as evidence that he meets the constitutional requirement to seek election as president instead of re-presenting a 2014 affidavit?
Although the validity of an affidavit as replacement for certificate in Buhari’s case has not been really tested in court, following the withdrawal of a case earlier instituted against him, the recurrence of the matter now that 2019 general election is looming large may open the floodgate of litigation to challenge the constitutionality of an affidavit in place of a school certificate.
The fact that Buhari does not appear to have done anything almost four years in the saddle as president to lay the issue of the whereabouts of his certificate to permanent rest may fuel suspicion even from among his hardcore loyalists.
The National Assembly, whenever it is ready to do real constitution amendment, should consider re-working the provision of Section 130 to clearly stipulate that candidates for elective office must present certificates or results of their academic qualifications. The National Assembly should raise the irreducible minimum for academic attainment from school certificate to a national diploma or a first degree.
Buhari needs to leave no stone unturned concerning the issue of his certificate, given the mantra of probity and openness on which he rode to power. At a news conference he held in 2015, he said he would not have responded to mere allegation of mischief makers raising issue over the matter, but for his supporters who wanted to know the truth.
If also to satisfy the curiosity of his supporters many of who now reason that after almost four years as president, he ought to have addressed the issue finally, Buhari, pundits say, needs to clear all doubt about his credentials.
A three-time governorship candidate in Ogun State on the platform of the National Conscience Party (NCP), Lanre Banjo, reflects on the issue:
“It reflects unseriousness, contempt and incompetence. President Buhari is supposed to be exemplary, a mirror for Nigerians and a specimen of integrity. As the head of the executive government saddled with the responsibilities to bring sanity to the governed and inculcate lost values in Nigerians, he is expected to have questioned himself about his morality to direct or to question the heads of the law enforcement officers for failure to investigate and indict a fellow citizen who flagrantly violate our laws.
“This was an issue when he contested in 2015. Three years later if the president is earnest with the parastatal under him, a phone call from the presidency would have produced the documents from the Secretary to the Military Board, if they exist. This brings his disdain for the laws of the land to the fore. His mindset and the mindsets of those who surround him is “Who in INEC dares question or disqualify him since he is the president.
“He is presently the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces which oversees the section of the military that keeps the records in question. If those credentials exist, all he needs to do is to order a copy of the certificate(s). His flagrant display of insufficient, experience or knowledge in the area of respecting the laws of the land makes him absolutely an incompetent ruler.
“His excuse is not tenable. It is incumbent upon him to produce his certificate to comply with the laws of the land. His failure to do so should be a ground to make his application to contest incomplete and regard him as unqualified.Furthermore, in 2015, the Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Olajide Laleye,said “while military records showed Buhari obtained the WASC in 1961, with credits in English Language, Geography, History, Health Science, and Hausa, there were neither the original copy nor certified true copy nor statement of result to confirm the grades.”
“The fact that General Olaleye was retired for telling the truth put a deep dent on Buhari’s fight for corruption and truthfulness.By punishing such a General for telling the truth, how does he encourage other Nigerians to be upright? INEC should now prove its independence,” he said.
Continuing, he said: “This is a challenge for the INEC to prove its independence to all and sundry that it is not an extension of PMB’s estate. Since the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, urged Nigerians who feel concerned about the President’s credentials to approach the court, he has proved to be a sycophant who is unwilling to do the right thing. The challenge should then be taken by our activists and Judiciary. Further, INEC’s position on this issue makes us doubt if the 2019 elections will be free and fair.
On the overall implication of the president’s action, Banjo explained that: “Since the president claimed all his credentials are with the Secretary to the Military Board and the Military has spoken since 2015 that it does not have it, he became the Commander in chief and he refused to order the release of those documents or even requested a copy for his records, then Nigerians who is the boss must send him packing.
“He cajoled all of us that he has integrity, his nepotism, lies about this certificate and others have refuted his integrity claim. Health care and quality of education are in a shambles, whereas he travels abroad for medical care and those of us who pay for his health care have nowhere to go. Nigerians are paying for electricity they do not have.
“Under this uneducated and unexposed General, security is still a challenge, my people are being killed in the North. His police are unwittingly proud to be providing security to foreigners under the guise that they are in Nigeria to provide employment and they don’t care if Nigerians are murdered in as much as those with light skins are protected.
“Buhari boasted that when he was a Military head of state, he believed in Nigerians being considered guilty until they proved their innocence. 33 years later, he demonstrates no respect for rule of law; Sambo Dasuki under lock and key because of defense funds some of which he allegedly received, and he wanted Dasuki tried secretly so those who stupidly believed in his charade uprightness would continue to be fooled,” he said.
For Ibuchukwu Ohabuenyi Ezike, Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Buhari has insulted Nigerians by asking them to look for his credentials from the military authorities.
“The response or reference of Nigerians by President Buhari to the Military to access his certificate is laughable and shows him as not a serious leader. What has one’s employer and the case a former employer got to do with one’s original certificates? I think the president is insulting the sensibilities of Nigerians.
“Who among us (employees) have our original certificates with our employers? I work with the CLO. My original degree certificate is not with the organisation but with me. I submitted my documents when I applied, with photocopies of my credentials.
“INEC should do the right thing by screening out or disqualify President Buhari if he can’t provide the originals of what he claims as the qualifications he has or the equivalents or evidences as recognised by the law. What I mean by evidences are the substitutes or replacement for originals in the event that the originals are not found or got lost which the law recognises.
“The implication is that the fight against graft and the claims of integrity by Buhari is misplaced and misleading and it is obviously worrisome. If INEC does not do the needful, it means that it is not credible, reliable and reputable public institution to discharge its duties to the people in line with the law that established it. It, therefore, means betrayal of trust or confidence reposed in it by Nigerians and the International Community.
INEC should disqualify Buhari —Ozekhome
INEC should properly disqualify Buhari. If he cannot still compel the military to produce his mere WASC certificate after contesting in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. There is reasonable presumption he does not possess any. It is the height of corruption for an applicant (Buhari) to tell his employers and would be employers (Nigerians voters) to go and search for his credentials. Such an applicant is automatically disqualified.