President Buhari’s Certificate Saga
Following hot on the heels of the 16 February 2019 presidential election in Nigeria, it goes without saying that never in the chequered history of the country has the intellectual credibility of a presidential candidate been so bandied and so vilified in the social media as that of the incumbent President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. As usual, Nigerians lined up to do their kind of justice to his situation, especially along the lines of party loyalty.
Chapter VI, Part 1, Section 131 of the Nigerian constitution stipulates that for a person to qualify for the office of President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria Armed Forces, that person must be a citizen of Nigeria, aged 35 or above, a member of a political party and must have been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent.
An online newspaper first alleged that General Buhari may have told a lie on oath in the deposition of his certification before the 2015 presidential election as the leader and presidential flag bearer of a newly formed conglomerate mega-party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), when he told the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that his West African School Certificate was with the military authorities and that he could not therefore present it to INEC.
By 2018, it had become mandatory that documents relating to claims by public office seekers relating to their academic backgrounds must be presented to INEC. That was when Nigerians, mostly on the side of the opposition PDP, flared up the issue of General Buhari’s credentials again.
The declaration by APC of President Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate saw Nigerians agog with a seemingly interminable controversy over Buhari’s claims that his WAEC certificate was in the custody of the Nigerian Army. Some members from the opposition demanded from the INEC the outright banning of Buhari from the presidential contest on account of his inability to provide his school certificate. As we have already noted, this same issue had come up ahead of the 2015 presidential election but was resolved in Buhari’s favour before Nigerians went to the polls.
Buhari’s traducers were now saying that his claim of having a school certificate was false, and that he did not in fact possess the WASC. If this allegation was true, the consequences would be serious. The Nigerian constitution specifies that “any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in an affidavit is false may file a suit at the Federal High Court against such person seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit was false.” Once the court made that determination, the court would order the candidate disqualified from contesting an election.
In Buhari’s case, the burden of establishing the fallacy of the information about his WAEC result would be on the plaintiff. But that burden can also be abrogated if a witness from WAEC came to give evidence that Buhari did not sit for WASC in 1961, in contradiction of the information he gave in his affidavit or if any form of evidence was to emanate from the Army Board confirming that it was not in possession of Buhari’s school certificate, in contradiction of the information he gave in the affidavit attached to his INEC nomination form.
In an attempt to cover his back, officials of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) brought Buhari’s purported Certificate Attestation and Confirmation to him in his workplace and thoughtlessly took photographs of the “presentation” which was flashed across media houses in Nigeria. Buhari received the certificate from the Registrar of the West African Examinations Council in his office.
The PDP immediately made mockery of the President over the presentation of the WAEC Certificate of Attestation and Confirmation by the examination body in the last week of October 2018. Some Nigerians asked when WAEC officials started a “home delivery” service of its certificates. The opposition PDP was gravely upset by General Buhari’s alleged acquisition by “home delivery” of a forged WAEC Certificate Attestation which was widely beamed across media in the country. It was something no one had ever done before or probably will do after this time.
Even if the President actually took and passed the WAEC exams, why would the WAEC authorities bring his certificate to him at home as it were? Nigerians asked questions. Was it because Buhari was President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces? Did the WAEC authorities ever conceive the idea that sending a special delegation to deliver the Certificate Attestation to the President at home or in his office was scandalous? Did they want to save Buhari or actually expose him to the world as non-calculative and lifeless, courtesy of American President, Donald Trump? On the other hand, was President Buhari being cajoled into taking panic measures about his qualification for the high office of President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria Armed Forces? Was he actually succumbing to such pressures?
In deep grief, the PDP said the development had turned Nigeria into the laughing stock of the international community and that the President was being displayed as the beneficiary of “a duplicitous act” before the United Nations’ Assemblage. In a statement immediately released in Abuja, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan said the President’s handlers had succeeded in dragging a reputable institution like WAEC into public disrepute and opprobrium. According to the PDP, a check on the Attestation clearly showed that it did not have the original certificate number, the key authentication feature in all genuine Attestations by WAEC. Instead, ‘Non-Applicable’ was entered, indicating that the beneficiary did not have a certificate to be attested to and therefore rendering the said Attestation unauthenticated, fake and of no effect.
The party argued that the Attestation was for the West African Senior School Certificate which President Buhari could not have sat for in 1961, given the fact that the Senior School Certificate Examination was established only in the late 1980s. The party said it smacked of a high level scam that the same WAEC which in 2015 confirmed that it did not have the records of Buhari’s certificate, now had to send officials to present him with an Attestation that had no original certificate number. The party also noted that by WAEC rules, Attestations were only issued in the case of missing or destroyed certificates. It wondered why the examination body would issue an Attestation to President Buhari who claimed that his certificate was with the military and not missing or destroyed?
If it was not intended to circumvent the system and deceive Nigerians, the party argued, why did President Buhari’s handlers choose to write to WAEC to issue an Attestation when he, as the Commander-in-Chief, had the powers to direct the military to make available his credentials for all to see?
The PDP insisted that what the unauthenticated Attestation showed was that Mr. President did not have a WAEC certificate. They therefore urged his handlers to humbly admit that fact and apologize to the nation, having exhausted all gimmicks to mislead Nigerians. The Buhari Presidency should know, the PDP said, that there is no way truth could be suppressed.
The disagreement between the Presidency and WAEC authorities over who initiated the Attestation “deal” was also revealing. The party likened the twist in the President’s certificate narrative to a huge smear on the nation’s integrity and the Office of the President. And so, the PDP urged WAEC to redeem its image by handing over all its officials involved in the deal to the INTERPOL for investigation and prosecution, while it called on the Nigeria Police to immediately invite Mr. President’s handlers for questioning over what it defined as “this huge national embarrassment”.
Those who had sympathy for APC and General Buhari as its flag bearer thought differently and had a distinct card to play. They argued that had the constitution strictly required a school certificate or its equivalent only, then all the hot air being blown about Buhari’s school certificate would make sense if he failed to provide it. They argued that the word ‘at-least’ in the constitutional provision literarily meant ‘not less than’. It meant ‘the minimum’. It meant ‘not less than’. So, they did not see the West African School Certificate as an absolute requirement. Therefore, anyone who had a superior qualification did not deserve to be harassed or cajoled about the minimum requirement as the opposition PDP was doing to President Buhari. Moreover, they argued, to peg the academic requirement for the position of President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces at the equivalent of a General Certificate of Education (GCE) Ordinary level pass would amount to belittling the office of Nigeria’s President.
They postulated that the essence of bringing the academic qualification to the minimum of WASC was to promote universal suffrage and not necessarily that a school certificate holder was sufficiently equipped to lead a nation as populous and complex as Nigeria. Therefore, it would amount to a charade on the system if the academic requirement for the number one position in the nation was the equivalent of GCE O’ level qualification. In consequence, WAEC certificate was not an absolute requirement.
To them, heating up the polity over President Buhari’s presentation of a school certificate amounted to absurdity. Buhari’s rank as a Major-General in the Nigerian Army was obviously a certification superior to an O’ level. That fact, they insisted, cannot be contested. And what about the several doctorate degrees Buhari bagged from various accredited universities in the country? In addition, there were his other trainings and certifications in the military, all of them superior to WASC. So, they argued that Buhari should not be under any obligations to present an O’ level certificate or any particular certificate for that matter, as far as the election to the office of President was concerned. Having acquired several certificates, Buhari was at liberty to present any of the certificates he held. If his WAEC certificate was unavailable, any of his other certificates could serve the purpose provided it was superior or equivalent to O’ level, they insisted. It made sense.
The pro-APC advocates advised the Nigerian society to keep busy, not indolent at this point in time when campaigns should be extensive and policy-related and issues that are based on national interest and not on frivolities should be the concern of politicians. According to them, the fundamental issues that should dominate the political arena should be the resuscitation of the economy and the rehabilitation of the people, most of who opted for an indefinite strike starting from 6 November, 2018 – ahead of the February elections to protest against the inability or unwillingness of the government to pay their demanded national minimum wage of only N30, 000 a month across board in the country.
The group wondered if the leading opposition PDP now had what it would demand to lead the country better, different from its vision in 16 years of ruling the country between 1999 and 2015. Did it now have significant blueprints or reviewed policies for the people different from its known dance tune that was devoid of effective economic planning and execution? What policies or strategies could the PDP now guarantee to put in place towards ensuring that the nation did not revert to the appellation of “leading consuming and officially-corrupt country”?
The INEC may not have a difficult time coming to a decision about Buhari’s suitability especially as the constitution talks about “at-least” and it is probable that the President has higher qualifications from his military training than the school certificate level. But whatever it is, the decision of the INEC should put paid to this conversation that has brought about the most admirable arguments against and in favour of President Buhari’s certificate saga.
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