Despite all pretensions to the contrary, it’s squeaky bum time for the Teflon General and his many supporters. Two weeks into the campaign, the talking point is not the highly-promoted idea of a clueless President Goodluck Jonathan or his supposed lack of achievements (which the APC had hoped to make the issue in the campaign), but the controversy surrounding General Muhammadu Buhari’s supposed lack of academic certificates to constitutionally and lawfully qualify him to contest for the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Of course, politics is no respecter of reputations (real or forged), but each time you hear Muhammadu Buhari talk or respond to legitimate queries by Nigerians and the press on the issue of his certificates, you can’t help but think he’s shell-shocked by the fact that people continue to raise questions and make legitimate inferences from this about his character, qualifications and the quality of change he proposes. Almost always responding irritably to all questions in relation to the matter, he constantly veers off to accuse the PDP of desperation on one hand, while pleading desperately that we move on to discuss insecurity and corruption (his favourite subjects at his hypocritical best) on the other. Yet, what all that tells us is the state of play. The general’s ass is on fire and all is not well in his paradise! But, the PDP leaders themselves have not been the originators of his troubles. Ordinary Nigerians are the ones asking the questions and the PDP folks have merely joined the bandwagon and sometimes played cheerleaders for these questioning citizens, obviously because of the potential political benefit to them. After all, no one should be looking a gift horse in the mouth.
To get an idea of what Buhari has lost from all this, let’s rewind to two weeks ago when the campaigns started in earnest. Buhari was walking on water and what was supposed to be a popular wave of disenchantment with President Goodluck Jonathan. Not that there was any particular reason for this except that Buhari’s American and other foreign spin-doctors have created a seemingly new being whose mere existence was getting young people in a frenzy of hero-worship. Suddenly, everyone was touching his new suits, hankies, babanriga, agbada, efe Ishiagu and abeti-aja to get healed of this supposed national curse that is Goodluck Jonathan. His social network warriors adorned their Sunday best, picked their cymbals and drums and strummed their acoustic guitars to high heavens in precipitate celebration! The din was overwhelming.
Affidavit. Haha! Affidavit! Now, it is not the fact that there is an affidavit that is the issue, but the claims made in it by Buhari. Under oath, he claimed that all his certificates are with the Secretary to the Military Board. This man has been contesting the presidency for 12 years now and has in the course of that been filling INEC forms, but a little change in the requirements for this year requires he shows evidence of qualification for the first time, which is why he had to swear the affidavit. It’s noteworthy that of all the presidential aspirants from all the parties contesting the election, only Buhari has no certificate to show as required. Only Buhari had cause to swear an affidavit.
It would not have been a problem if not for the claims made in the affidavit. Clear-eyed Nigerians noted that no one leaves the original and photocopies of their certificates with their original employers. And even in the very, very unlikely scenario that this is the case, you don’t go swear an affidavit to state clearly that you know where they are when nothing stops you, especially as a former head of state, from getting them from the said Secretary to the Military Board for the purposes of meeting the legal requirements to contest for the presidency of the nation. The army no longer employs you, so why not just write the Secretary of the Military Board in whose custody or care you claim the certificates are and request they send them to you or to INEC? In the absence of this and in the face of the claim in the affidavit, Nigerians who are your prospective new employers have a right to demand that you explain what is going on.
But while Nigerians have this right, Buhari’s approach to answering the questions and discharging the duty of explanation left much to be desired. First, we had the claim by the APC party leadership that his certificates were destroyed or vandalized by his military colleagues who overthrew him in August 1985 when they raided his home. This immediately points to the possibility of perjury against Buhari for his earlier claims in the affidavit. If there was any doubt about this, Buhari himself inadvertently confirmed this when he addressed the press in Kano on the morning of Wednesday, 21 January 2015 with the aim of drawing a line on the controversy. Hear him:
“Good Morning, Gentlemen of the Press. I only consented to address you this morning because of the genuine concern expressed by many supporters and other well-meaning Nigerians that the issue be addressed. Otherwise, I would have dismissed it for what it is - sheer mischief and would not have considered it an issue worth the Nation's while. I had assumed all along that all my records were in the custody of the Military Secretary of the Nigerian Army. Much to my surprise, we are now told that although a record of the result is available, there are no copies of the certificates in my personal file….”
Let’s ignore the arrogant, petulant, condescending and insulting preface, but rather focus on his claim that he had assumed all along that all his records were in the custody of the Military Secretary of the Nigerian Army. The point is we are talking specifics and he is talking general; we are talking of his certificates, he is talking records. Of course, his records are with the army and they have addressed the nation clearly on this, showing what they have by way of records and these do not include certificates. They said Buhari joined the army, not on the strength of any presented certificate, but on the strength of an undated letter from his secondary school principal recommending him and guaranteeing that he would pass and present a certificate later. But, in any event, there was no time such a certificate was presented, rather what the army said was that an entry was later made in his file to the effect that he had passed certain subjects in the West African School Certificate (WASC) examination in 1961. Who made the entry, when and in what circumstances, we were not told. Buhari himself has not claimed he took the certificate to the army after he obtained it or that he sent it to them through anyone else, so why he would assume it is in the custody of the Secretary to the Military Board is a mystery.
Of course, we’ve heard Buhari and the APC attempt to drag the army into their politics of deceit by claiming the army was being partisan by offering its own side of the story, but we are proud that the Nigerian Army did not fall for this. General Ibrahim Babangida himself is reported to have jumped on the bandwagon of support for Buhari, warning that the military should not be politicized over this certificate issue when in fact, it is Buhari himself who lied about his certificates being with the army. What do people expect the army to do when Buhari told lies against them? It’s a source of pride to Nigerians and Nigeria that all the officers who spoke on the army’s behalf on the matter spoke truthfully, clearly and professionally. They presented the facts as they are and Buhari was forced to eat humble pie by claiming it was all an assumption after all. The simple truth is he lied under oath and it’s not the army’s fault that he did.
And that is the only problem here. Okay, I know that several people are having a field day playing forensic experts, turning the published ‘Statement of Result’ up and down, side to side and reaching uncharitable conclusions, but it’s par the course. If you use a spoon to scoop sugar from outside into your home, do make arrangements to welcome the ants at your doorstep. There are so, so many discrepancies in the form and substance of the released result that it’s virtually impossible to defend Buhari and his advisers. I mean, what was the point of the so-called ‘Statement of Result’ from the Katsina State Ministry of Education with the superimposed current picture of Buhari and the tortuous dating? Quite apart from the fact that they do not have the authority to release the result of an examination, because they are not the examining body, a Statement of Result by its very nature is a temporary document that expires at most after five years of issue to be replaced thereafter by a certificate. If they were releasing the original Statement of Result by way of evidence of certificate later obtained, that would be understandable; but to be issuing a “Statement of Result” today for a 1961 examination via the office of the current principal of the successor school is as messy as they come. Worse still, this was totally unnecessary
Now, the reason I’m saying it was totally unnecessary is because the issue was and still is not whether Buhari has a West African School Certificate (WASC) or when he sat to obtain it. If we follow the provisions of the Constitution and the law as it is, Buhari qualifies by virtue of merely having a secondary school education, even where and if he did not earn a certificate in the end. There is enough evidence that he attended secondary school.
I am quite aware that my view above is not shared by a lot of people, including legal luminaries. For instance, Mike Ozekhome (SAN) had stated that Buhari is not qualified to contest the February 14 presidential election, because he did not comply with the provisions of the electoral law in filling the nomination form submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). While I agree that Buhari referring INEC to the Secretary of the Military Board is akin to an applicant for a job referring his interviewers to the last place he/she worked, that still does not indicate a lack of qualification. The core of Ozekhome’s case is that unlike in previous years, INEC’s Form CF001 now requires that candidates not only just fill their qualifications, but that they must attach photocopies to the form as well. For not attaching the qualifications as at the time stipulated, Ozekhome believes Buhari did not meet the minimum requirements, especially as it should be reasonably expected that before he submitted the photocopies of these documents to the Military Board as he claimed, Buhari would have been expected to have the originals with him. If he does not have the qualifications to tender, maybe because they are lost, burnt or stolen, all he needed to do was apply to WAEC to be issued a letter certifying that he has the qualification.
While the argument is sound and reasonable, it’s still not exactly the law. For me, his is a form versus substance argument and in the case of an important election like this I would expect that a public policy argument in support of Buhari would win the day, considering the actual wordings and requirements of the Constitution. But in arguing this point, I must quickly admit that Buhari’s actions have sometimes removed the grounds upon which he should ordinarily have relied on. For instance, Section 31 (2)-(5) of the Electoral Act (as amended) does provide room for the tendering of an affidavit in lieu of the certificates he couldn’t produce, but it states in Section 31(5) as follows: “Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false may file a suit at the Federal High Court, High Court of a State or FCT against such person seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false”. Then Section 31(6) states: “If the Court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false, the Court shall issue an order disqualifying the candidate from contesting the election”.
From our earlier analysis, it is obvious that Buhari’s claim in the affidavit is false and he is at the mercy of any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that the information he gave in the affidavit is false. So, whatever benefit he would have hoped to gain by making the affidavit is vitiated by the fact that the claim he made therein about all his academic qualifications being with the Secretary of the Military Board is patently false. Basically he has lied under oath and that’s easy to prove, because he himself had later come out to say publicly at a press conference that it was an assumption. You don’t make assumptions under oath.
Otherwise, the law is straightforward. Of course, Femi Fani-Kayode, the Director of Media and Publicity for the President Goodluck Jonathan Campaign Organization was right when he said academic qualification is constitutionally a threshold issue “that cannot be waived for any citizen, no matter how highly placed and irrespective of whichever region such individual comes from except as provided by the Constitution”. But it all comes down to how you choose to interpret the relevant constitutional provisions. With all due respect, I see the provisions differently. In terms of qualifications needed to contest the presidency, Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states: “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”.
Section 318(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) interprets "School Certificate or its equivalent" in subsection (d) above to mean:
(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 -
(i) 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
(ii) 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
(iii) 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.
So, if Buhari had tendered his Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or his First School Leaving Certificate and considering that he meets the requirement of Section 318 (1)(c)(i) through his military service at the highest level, this would have sufficed. Also, by virtue of the qualifications he got from military training, he would have also qualified under Section 318(1)(d). In fact, he would have likely qualified under Section 318(1)(c)(iii) and more relatedly, under Section 318 (1)(b), even if he did not ultimately get a certificate as there is evidence that he attained education up to Secondary School Certificate level. Even if he had sat the WASC and failed, he still would have qualified. Indeed, there is already judicial authority for this interpretation in the Court of Appeal case of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) vs. Jimoh Afiz Adelowo, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) LPELR-19718 (CA). This was a case decided by the Ibadan Judicial Division of the Court on the 12th of October 2012. The Presiding Justices were Monica B. Bongban (JCA), Joseph Shagbaor Ikyegh (JCA) and Chidi Nwaoma Uwa (JCA). The latter delivered the Leading Judgment.
The facts of the case are that it was an appeal from the Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Ibadan wherein the petitioner (ACN), the Appellant in this case, challenged the return of the 1st Respondent (Jimoh Afiz Adelowo) as the winner of the election for the Federal House of Representatives seat of Irepo/Oorelope/Olorunsogo Federal Constituency. The petition at the Election Tribunal, which had as one of its grounds non-qualification of the 1st Respondent to contest the election, was dismissed. The Notice of Appeal contained 16 grounds of Appeal from which five issues were formulated for determination by the court. One of those issues was framed thus: “Whether in view of the state of the pleadings, the 1st Respondent has a duty to proof (sic) his possession of minimum educational qualification as to warrant his qualification for election into the National Assembly and whether he is qualified to contest the election into Irepo/Oorelope/Olorunsogo Federal Constituency.”
On that very matter of constitutional qualification, the Court ruled: "From the clear words of the constitutional provision, it did not require or state that an aspirant or candidate… must pass or possess a certificate. The most important thing is to have been educated up to secondary school level or the equivalent, passing the senior secondary school certificate examination and obtaining a certificate cannot be read into…the 1999 constitution as amended. What is required under the law is that there must be evidence that a candidate is educated up to the required level and not that he must or should produce a certificate to prove the level of education attained…."
Buhari had enough evidence to show that he was educated up to the required level without having to swear an affidavit or procure the poor principal of Government College, Katsina to “forge” a “Statement of Result” on the letterhead of the Katsina State Ministry of Education. It would have been sufficient for him to swear an affidavit to the effect that he has lost his own original copy of his West African School Certificate and then attach a photocopy of the University of Cambridge West African School Certificate made from the copy available at the school or simply apply to the West African Examination Council (WAEC) for a letter certifying that he has obtained the certificate, which would have served the same purpose. In fact, any of his certificates from courses he attended as an officer of the Nigerian Army would have also sufficed.
But now, he has unnecessarily put himself in a pickle over perjury and has left himself open to be challenged by any citizen who feels like doing so, with a high chance of being disqualified by the courts in line with Section 31(6) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). The fact that he even chose to go ahead with all this after INEC had published his name as contestant within 7 days as required and after Professor Attahiru Jega himself has stated firmly that INEC had no power to disqualify him calls to question his judgment. I mean, if the PDP feels INEC has erred in law by publishing his name, this should have been left for the PDP to sort out with INEC in court, rather than put himself in this mess in a supposed attempt to clarify things.
So, no matter what Nigerians are saying about the qualifications of General Buhari, the issue for us is not and should not be whether or not he is qualified, because he is qualified by the wordings of the Constitution and the law as stated in the books and by judicial authority. Instead, the issues here are Buhari’s decision-making capabilities, the quality of advice he gets from those around him, his touted integrity and the implication of all this for his chances in the forthcoming election.
On the matter of his decision-making capabilities, it is scandalous that a man of his age, supposed education and experience cannot understand the basic requirements of qualification and the simple things he needed to do to meet the constitutional threshold. Why make such a hash of such a simple decision? Is this the type of man we need to run our nation’s affair? I mean, some of us have had a good laugh when we saw his filled INEC form and noted that he could not fill certain parts of the “PART B” requesting for simple information about his surname and other names. We guffawed when in place of surname, he filled in his surname and first name and in place of other names he put “N/A”. But that is mild compared to what he’s done over this certificate issue. Can we afford to entrust our nation’s future to a man who cannot fill a simple INEC form and who would put himself through a grinder needlessly, because he simply did not understand basic English? Are we prepared to hand over Nigeria to Calamity Buhari?
On the issue of the type of advice he has, that again is a scandal. From his own comments at the Kano press conference, it’s obvious he did all this on the basis of advice from his supporters. His running mate is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and they’ve hired the best of the best from abroad and at home to advise and manage him. But all we’ve seen is only a change of wardrobe as he goes about in chameleonic mode. It seems their money cannot get them a good brain makeover as Buhari is still his stuttering and tottering self and from the evidence of this certificate saga, he’s now His Bumbling Highness. I mean, who hires such inept lieutenants and advisers but a poor, poor leader or a leader not in charge of his own campaign? Is this what we wish on Nigeria?
Of course, by lying under oath, he has shot his integrity to smithereens in the eyes of decent voters. Even a man that commands such blind loyalty from otherwise informed people will have a lot of them now scratching their spinning heads. Already there are rumblings within the APC in the North and in the South about the viability of a stuttering and shuffling 72-year old candidate flying their flag. Not a few are quietly expressing buyers’ remorse at the moment, because with him going to the United States soon and returning to get on with the grueling campaign, three weeks is looking a long, long time for the man. Let’s not sugarcoat it - from here on, it can only get worse.
But the worst outcome for Buhari in all this is something gratuitously tragic. Here is a man deified everywhere as the symbol of change fast turning an effigy of the failed past before the very eyes of his acolytes. Okay, admittedly this her-worshipping is by people who in rage against President Jonathan wouldn’t even bother to interrogate the quality of change he preaches, yet the fall from grace is remarkable. They’ve hyped the fellow so much that they were openly telling Nigerians that his win is a fait accompli. Yet, what this episode has revealed is that the emperor has no moral clothes to cover his wrinkled nakedness. Whether this mess is as a result of his arrogance or cluelessness is immaterial; what matters is that we do not need in our national leader whatever qualities he thinks he’s exhibiting through this episode.
I was chatting with a friend who ordinarily is not greatly interested in politics, but who this time had done everything to ensure he gets to vote. For more than three weeks now, he’d enjoyed telling me he would be voting Buhari. It got to a point I stopped discussing politics with him again, because I considered him a lost cause. But yesterday, he came around with his 19 years old daughter and solemnly informed me he won’t be voting Buhari anymore on February 14. I thought he was pulling my legs, so I ignored him. But his daughter quickly explained why. The girl had some of her mates visiting her at home and the dad overheard them poking fun at Buhari. They couldn’t understand how he became a general in the army on the back of a letter from his school principal. When my friend confronted them, it was her own daughter that asked him: “What does Buhari know about me? How can a man who forges certificates while preaching anti-corruption inspire me? Dad, this guy made it to a general only because he’s Fulani and he’s about to make it to Aso Rock only because he’s Fulani and nothing more!” I quickly interjected by saying that was a tad harsh, as there is no proof the man forged anything, but I could as well be talking to a rock as the girl proceeded to show me in detail why the certificate issued is a forgery. “Uncle, why you dey argue like this now? This thing dey very clear O! Na Oluwole be this!” My friend simply summarized his reason for not wishing to vote Buhari again as mental fatigue. “I don’t have the head for all this, I’m tired!” I sighed as we spent the rest of the evening sipping wine and watching TV in awkward silence. For my friend, I think he simply cannot afford to take a decision he cannot defend before his daughter, especially in the face of mounting evidence against that choice, but I can’t help thinking this is how most independent-minded voters originally drifting towards Buhari are feeling at the moment. How long can they continue to defend crass incompetence masquerading as class?
The problem with us is that we do not appreciate history. That is why we keep making the same mistakes, turning in a circle. That is why 2014 sometimes looks like 1966. I’ve been seeing excerpts of Ben Gbulie’s Five Majors making the rounds. Coincidentally, I read that book two weeks before the Buhari’s coup. I can say it is one of several books by Nigerians and informed foreigners that have aided my understanding of the military establishment and the leadership at the time. When men like Ben Gbulie and other Southerners with superior qualifications were spending two years at the prestigious Sandhurst to be commissioned officers, Buhari and his Northern brothers were spending less than six months in Aldershot to attain the same thing and on return they were having accelerated promotions ahead of their Southern counterparts for no other reason than that they were Fulani or Hausa. Buhari’s certificate saga is making people go back to their history to see the horrible things they thought they had left behind stare them back in their face from our contemporary national pages. When a young university graduate who’s pounded the streets for three years without a job reads that Buhari joined the army with a letter from his secondary school principal and in a few months became an officer, what is he to think? Would we be telling him this was years ago when we know that this still obtains today in the same Nigeria under which we all claim equal citizenship?
It is precisely for these reasons we have been clamouring for a genuine National Conference, so we can sit down and discuss the basis of our unity as a country and fashion a fairer way forward for everybody of any ethnic nationality within one nation. We know that there are people Nigeria has invested in, but who have used that investment against Nigeria and other ethnic groups but their own. We see these people running things and treating other Nigerians like second-class citizens. Buhari belongs to that class. We saw it when he was head of state in the way he humiliated Southern leaders and we’ve seen it since he left office in the way he championed divisive Northern causes against the rest of Nigeria. For a long time now, he has effectively been the political spokesperson of Boko Haram. He had declared to us that an attack against Boko Haram is an attack against the North; he has attacked the Nigerian Army for defending the nation against their threat, yet he’s been the one shouting loudest against President Jonathan over insecurity.
President Goodluck Jonathan has superintended a National Conference, the first of its kind without any underhanded political agenda and whose result we’re pleasantly looking forward to begin to implement in the near future. Is that not how modern nations develop? But what are we hearing from Buhari? Nothing on the National Question, just a cold, calculated desire to implement Sharia all over Nigeria! The Buhari who joined the army on the strength of a mere note from his principal because he’s Fulani, the Buhari that was promoted ahead of his more brilliant and more qualified mates and who was and still is a beneficiary of the dark history of the Civil War and the unjust, corrupt and unfair quota system forcefully put in place by him and his forebears wants to lead our new nation with new dreams. With Arab money, money stolen by his associates from states’ coffers nationwide and foreign spin-doctors earning their dollars, they are turning the ordinarily visionary young people of our country into robots maniacally chanting his name, ready, able and willing to deliver Nigeria to him without a thought as to what happens thereafter! They have worked themselves into a frenzy of hate against Jonathan in their blind love for Buhari and the fairytales he’s coated in. The die is cast! We can smell the burning flesh already, can’t we? Good! Let’s just keep in mind that the victims of history are not those who lived or didn’t live it, but those who refuse to learn its lessons. A word is enough for the patriot.