In this piece, OLALEKAN ADETAYO X-rays the controversy surrounding President Muhammadu Buhari’s inability to tender his secondary school certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission ahead of the 2019 presidential election
If you cannot stand the heat, a proverb says, get out of the kitchen. This best captures the unique way politics is being played in Nigeria. To some, politics is a game while some other people see it as a war that must be fought with all the weapons at their disposal. A life of a politician is an open book. The politician’s details, including medical records, family background and academic qualifications, are open for scrutiny and can become tools in the hands of opponents.
Such is the case of President Muhammadu Buhari. His travails started in 2014 when he declared his intention to run for the office of the President for a record fourth time. Like other candidates, Buhari, who contested on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, was required to attach his credentials to the form submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission. The nation’s electoral guidelines require the commission to, at a point, display the names of all candidates with their personal information, including their credentials.
By the time the exercise was done ahead of the 2015 presidential election, the information pasted by the commission on candidate Buhari, a retired General of the Nigerian Army, indicated that his credentials were with the Secretary of the Military Board. The claim became an issue. Despite the outrage that trailed it, Buhari won that election.
Three years down the line, Buhari emerged the presidential candidate of the ruling APC unopposed and the commission again published his name alongside those of other contestants for the coveted seat. While the credentials of his co-contestants, such as the candidate of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, were published, Buhari again attached an affidavit that he deposed to, insisting that his certificates are with the military.
“I am the above-named person and the deponent of this affidavit herein. All my academic qualification documents as filled in my presidential form, APC/001/2015, are currently with the Secretary of the Military Board as of the time of this affidavit,” he stated.
Like it was in 2014, the development has become an issue, with opposition members claiming that the President has no certificate and hence not qualified to occupy the exalted office he currently holds.
In the midst of the controversy, the Presidency has said the issue of Buhari’s certificate is a dead one and only idle people will engage in its discussion.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said, “It (the certificate issue) is something that had been laid to rest before the 2015 general elections. Those raising the issue are idle and they have run out of ideas. They see defeat staring them in the face and they are desperate to cling to any straw. This issue was resolved before the 2015 election. It is a matter of fact that when President Buhari and others joined the military, they took their original certificates from them. The military knew where they kept the original certificates of the President.”
If indeed the certificate issue was dead as Adesina claimed, then it must have something in common with the biblical Lazarus who Jesus Christ brought back to life four days after his death and burial.
The issue was ‘resurrected’ and it became a topic of discussion penultimate Friday when the West African Examination Council presented to the President an attestation certificate and confirmation of his 1961 West African School Certificate Examination result.
The documents were presented to the President during a courtesy visit by a delegation of WAEC, led by its Registrar, Dr Iyi Uwadiae. Uwadiae was accompanied by the Head, National Office, WAEC, Olutise Adenipekun; the council’s Head Public Affairs, Abiodun Aduloju; and the Zonal Coordinator, Abuja, Olufemi Oke.
Those who thought that the presentation would put an end to the controversy must be having a rethink now. Rather than ending it, it has opened up fresh wounds. For instance, opposition parties and some other individuals and groups have faulted the action of the examination body. This made the spokesperson for the Buhari 2019 Presidential Campaign, Festus Keyamo (SAN), to go sarcastic when he claimed that the opposition was hunting for the examiners who marked Buhari’s 1961 scripts. Keyamo wrote on his Twitter handle, @fkeyamo, “We understand the opposition is now hunting for the examiners who marked the PMB’s scripts in 1961 to ascertain whether the grades in the PMB’s WAEC result tally with the marks they actually gave him.”
A lawyer, Dr Kayode Ajulo, is one of those who hold the view that the controversy over Buhari’s certificate is unnecessary. In an interview with our correspondent, Ajulo said there were more serious national issues that should be of concern to all stakeholders than the issue of the President’s certificate. His position is that Buhari is qualified to contest the election.
Ajulo said, “The controversy is unnecessary and a distraction. As a young man in elementary school, I noticed how Shehu Shagari, the then presidential candidate of the then National Party of Nigeria, was being disparaged by some Nigerians such as Ayodele Awojobi and Tai Solarin. At the end of the day, Shagari became the President of Nigeria. I believe that there are a lot of serious issues that can be used than this one that I know does not hold water.
“The provision of the Constitution, Section 131 and the Interpretation Clause, is so clear on this matter. If they want to raise another issue, which they think can be used to disqualify the President, let them raise it, but not this one. There is no law in this country that will come to the conclusion that Buhari, having a primary school certificate and having worked for many years, should be disqualified from contesting. It is unnecessary and it is a distraction.”
Expectedly, however, the National Chairman of the opposition PDP, Uche Secondus, is not on the same page with Ajulo on the matter.
He told our correspondent in an interview that leaders must be ready to account for their past and present actions.
Secondus said, “The controversy over the President’s certificate is not a distraction. A leader must be ready to account for his past and his present. So, as the President, Nigerians expect their leader to come out clean on all issues that have to do with him and even with members of his family.
“He enjoyed the show in 2014 when some of his supporters were asking him to bring even a ‘NEPA’ bill as his certificate. He didn’t see anything wrong with it. Now, the same set of people that hailed him then without reservations are asking that he should show evidence that he went to school. What is wrong with that?
“Rather than being worried, the President should sit back and ask himself questions on what went wrong. Was he a good man then but now a bad man? He should examine himself.”
But a chieftain of the APC, Ahmed Gulak, agreed with Ajulo that Buhari’s certificate should not be an issue.
He told our correspondent that what should be of concern to Nigerians was if Buhari was delivering on his electoral promises.
The former presidential adviser argued that even if the President did not have secondary school certificate, the courses he had participated in as a military officer were equivalent to the certificate.
Gulak added, “The controversy is, of course, unnecessary. This is not an issue for campaign. Somebody could not have risen to the position of a General in the Nigerian Army without relevant courses. Those courses, even, assuming without conceding that he never went to any secondary school, are enough for the required qualification.
“If you look at our Constitution, it is stated that the requirement is secondary school leaving certificate or its equivalent. If you check the meaning of ‘its equivalent’ in the Constitution, it is clearly defined. It includes courses and experience accumulated over the years. They are equivalent to school certificate or even higher than that.”
He added, “These controversies are not relevant. The most important thing is that the man is doing his work well. He is taking the country out of the woods.
“Campaigns must be on issues, not frivolities. How has the present administration performed on security, on economy and in the fight against corruption? These are issues he based his campaign on. These are issues to discuss and not whether the President has certificate or not.
“This is a sitting President. He has been a military Head of State; he has been a minister and led a war to unite this country. Now, you are asking whether he has certificate or not in 2018. We should dwell on issues. We all know he is qualified to be the President.”
Whether the issue of the President’s certificate will finally be laid to rest or it will remain a recurring decimal till the 2019 presidential elections, only time will tell.
Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, in an interview with our correspondent, said members of the public were justified by creating an issue out of Buhari’s certificate.
The senior advocate believed the President must learn to lead by example and not by mere sloganeering. The lawyer noted that while the Electoral Act stipulates that candidates must attach their certificates to their INEC forms, Buhari was the only person, among over 70 presidential candidates, who did not attach his certificate. Ozekhome added, “The public is justified by creating issue out of Buhari’s certificate. Since the President said he is fighting corruption, he must live above board. The President must lead by example and not by mere sloganeering. In fact, the issue of his certificate will not go away because the same WAEC that said earlier that it did not have any record of the President’s certificate is the same institution that took attestation to him in the Villa.
“You cannot attest what is not in existence. What are they attesting to when they said the certificate does not exist in their archive?”