It is a pure understatement to say that Nigeria's 2015 election is going to be a defining one. Whatever the outcome is, in more ways than one, it will define what becomes of Nigeria tomorrow. The stakes, as they say, have never been higher.
These same statements must have been made about past elections in Nigeria. But anyone with an eagle's eye will tell you that it has never been as true as it is this time around.
We have transitioned from a military rule to a civilian rule. We have also transitioned from one civilian rule to another civilian rule. What we have never done is to transition from one civilian political party rule to another. In fact, Nigeria has technically been under the rule of one party since independence – the center right party that has been called different names under different Republics, NPC, NPN, NRC and PDP. No opposition party has ever wrestled power from this mammoth. By all indications, this is the closest that the opposition has come to accomplishing that. Some may even say that the opposition is at the verge of dethroning the ruling party.
Which is why it is disheartening that less than 40 days to the 2015 presidential election, the presidential candidates are not yet involved in vigorous debates on very serious issues facing Nigeria. Most troubling is that Nigerians whose future will be in the hands of the eventual winner are not relentlessly demanding that these candidates appear before them and answer questions about their plans for the country and practical ways they hope to accomplish their goals.
The danger in this oversight is that the nation risks electing or re - electing a president based on promises and projections that have no basis in reality. Doing so will put Nigerians in a position where four years from now, they will regret not doing more to scrutinize these candidates before handing over the future of 170 million people to either of them.
The urgency of this is so glaring and it is demoralizing to note that the only debate going on seems to be about the academic qualification of the candidate of the opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.
In the past, issues of this nature have been handled with some degree of unseriousness. Two instances that quickly come to mind were the Bola Tinubu certificate scandal and the James Ibori phantom criminal records both in Nigeria and in Britain. They both came back to bite us in many ways.
Part of the credibility gap the opposition party faces in Nigeria today stems from unfinished businesses surrounding Bola Tinubu’s ascension to power, academic certificates and wealth accumulation while in power. In the case of James Ibori, Nigeria’s unwillingness to get to the bottom of his criminal records before he assumed office ended up biting Nigeria in the butt.
The excitement over Buhari’s academic certificate is understandable. It is important. It is especially important for a candidate advocating change.
Therefore, it is imperative that Buhari not only finds his certificates or their equivalents, but also presents them for the people to see. That’s all that Buhari needs to do to extinguish this distraction.
Here is what the constitution says: To run for president, a candidate must have a school leaving certificate or its equivalent.
Buhari should not have any difficulty finding an equivalent of a school certificate. And he should find it.
Some Nigerians born after the Civil War do not know that there was a time when there was no West African Examination Council (WAEC). Buhari, born in 1942 and joined the army in 1962, probably had none of those traditional certificates that we hold today. He should come out and state his path clearly. Did he finish primary school? Did he finish secondary school? What primary school? What secondary school? Even if he didn't, whatever certificates he received in military training should fulfill the minimum requirement.
What is not acceptable is to let this linger. With less than 40 days to an election, the distraction is damaging to the candidacy of Buhari. More importantly, if he becomes the eventual winner, it will be damaging to the legitimacy of his presidency. And Nigeria, as delicate as it is now, should be spared such dilemma, especially when it can be done easily.
Perhaps, Nigeria’s political landscape needs its own glasnost and perestroika. It needs openness and restructuring. In this age of connectivity, when people in remote parts of Africa are aware of standards in other parts of the world, the people’s expectations are increasing. The politicians need to be aware of that and rise to the occasion. Those who seize the opportunity will rise to the top while those who wallow in the old and discredited models will ultimately be discarded in that dreaded dustbin of history.
Following due process is one virtue that has been undermined by Nigeria’s elite. But it is one that when followed protects the society. If this election does not accomplish anything else, let it nudge Nigeria towards best practices.
In other parts of the world, a man like Buhari, or even Bola Tinubu, who have been in public life for years would have their story well known by the people. In fact, people like them would have written their memoirs and autobiographies that there would not be doubts at this point about who they are, where they come from, what school they attended and what they did while in office. These may be petty matters in the scale of things but, if we don’t get the little things right, we cannot get the big ones right.
Buhari’s certificate saga is beginning to look more like Obama’s birth certificate saga. In Obama’s case it was steeped in a conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. The ultimate goal was to delegitimize the Obama’s presidency. Obama allowed the so-called birth certificate scandal to linger because he had the time before his re-election campaign. Buhari has no such time. And as a candidate pushing for change, he needs to epitomize that change in every sphere.
Buhari should end the certificate scandal the same way Obama ended his birth certificate matter.
And for the rest of us, we need to move on to the real debate about the real issues facing the nation and that should be the candidates’ goals- especially Buhari.