– Dr. Kayode Ajulo
As Nigeria prepares for the impending February 2019 Election, the season has sprouted a number of issues. While it is normal to reap issues at times like this, some of the issues sprouted are debatable and some are unassailable constitutional themes.
Those issues whose lives and spaces rely on the constitution to thrive cannot be subjected to pontifications for substance or logic, lest the society whom we owe responsibility and patriotic services suffer imbalance.
The academic qualifications or suitability of Nigeria’s incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari has been one of the scathing issues that have engulfed the space, particularly the media, wherein the issue has received exponential attention and review.
The matter is even more scathing when one weighs the fact that the issues are witnessing a second coming.
In 2015, the same certificate question was raised and was highly controverted. It became a near albatross to the presidential ambition of President Buhari. Even now that the president seeks re-election, the ghost of the certificate question that resurrected to hunt itself has continued to generate endless controversies.
There are two schools of thought involved in the controversy. The dominant School being the side loudly asserting in favour of the supposition that a person is not eligible to contest election to the Office of the President or other elective positions unless he/she produces a Secondary School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent.
It has stubbornly remained a subject of harsh contention that candidates must possess/produce educational qualification of at least Secondary School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent in order to be eligible to contest the forthcoming elections. Section 131 (d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) has been cited in support of the contention by proponents of that view to support their position.
The said Section (Section 131) provides: “ A person shall be qualified for election to the Office of President if- (d) he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or itsequivalent.”
Candidates contesting election to other elective positions must also possess a similar qualification. This is in view of the prescription in other provisions of the Constitution that candidates to elective post must have been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent.
Section 177 (d) prescribes that candidates contesting election into the office of State Governor must have been educated up to at least School Certificate Level or its equivalent. By virtue of Sections 142 (2) and 187 (2), the provisions on educational qualification of President and State Governors also apply to the Offices of Vice President and Deputy Governors respectively. Sections 65 (2) (a) and 106 (c) of the Constitution prescribe that candidates contesting elections as National Assembly and State House of Assembly members respectively must also have been educated to at least School Certificate Level.
It is on the strength of Section 131 (d) of the Constitution that the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), has been and is still being invited, to disqualify General Muhammadu Buhari (APC’s Presidential candidate) from contesting the upcoming Presidential Election.
It is likely that more requests will be made to INEC to disqualify other candidates, on the same ground of lack of educational qualification of “school certificate or its equivalent”.
Patently for lack of knowledge of the Constitution, most people do not know what the Constitution provides as equivalents of School Certificates because they are hidden in the Interpretation of the material Section, which some clairvoyant politicians/draft-men either in the bid to assist General Sani Abacha’s bid as a civilian President and or those who knew they would one day be affected by certificate issues wittingly inserted therein (when we technically dozed off) as PART IV: INTERPRETATION CITATION AND COMMENCEMENT. Cast in stone in Section 318, one does not even require any certificate to be President of Nigeria.
According to Section 318, “School Certificate or its equivalent” means:(a) a Secondary School Certificate, 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, did you know that even INEC has been empowered by the Constitution to accept any piece of employment paper as School Certificate equivalent to be even President of Nigeria?
The provision of Section 318 (1) was construed by the Court of Appeal in the case of BAYO v. NJIDDA (2004) 8 NWLR (Pt. 876) page 544 at 629H-630D, where Ogbuagu, J.C.A (as he then was) held: “The above provisions, are conjunctive and they qualify or mean “school certificate or its equivalent.”
Therefore, if any one of them is not present/ available, then, the candidate is out. Therefore, even if (i), (ii), (iii) and (d) are accepable by or satisfactory to INEC and therefore, cannot be questioned in a tribunal as being final, the absence of (c), also disqualifies the candidate.
The foregoing provisions of the law are clear enough for minds rich enough to interpret their consequences.
For one, it’s not out of place to review the parts of the laws that allow for the existing conditions or give life to the ‘equivalents’ that may be antiquated and weak.
However, while the President may or may not win re-election bid on other grounds, the question of certification and the position of the law on it is a duty we must do, especially as lawyers with responsibility to the society, who know that it is only right to say it as it is, irrespective.
However, not on the issue of certificate as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) empowers Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to accept any proof of 10 years previous employment as equivalent of School Certificate from President Buhari to contest for the post President of Nigeria.
Those who do not wish for Buhari’s election would do well to seek other grounds, and of course, there are.
*Ajulo, a lawyer, founder of Egalitarian Mission for Africa, was a former National Secretary of Labour Party.