By Samuel Ogundipe
The idea that the presidential candidate of All Progressives Congress in the 2015 general elections, General Muhammadu Buhari, does not have a school leaving certificate and is therefore not qualified to stand for election was mainland into the femoral artery of the presidential campaign last week, as political parties intensify efforts aimed at swaying voters their way.
People of every persuasion tend to be baffled by the fact that the certificate issue stubbornly persists. Many dismiss it as a loopy, PDP-orchestrated conspiracy theory, the province of a few wild-eyed zealots and ethnic jingoists whom the media cannot resist. But on every level, it’s a much broader phenomenon.
At its underpinning, the certificate controversy is the extreme manifestation of the belief that the reason General Buhari did not clip his original certificate with the candidate form he submitted to INEC is because he didn’t graduate from secondary school to begin with, thereby running afoul of the Constitution. The power of this idea, odious as it may seem, can be glimpsed in the wide swath of people who say they believe Mr. Buhari had fraudulently joined the military when he was admitted in 1961.
Although Buhari has been known to have participated in presidential elections since the last three cycles–2003, 2007 and 2011–, his educational credentials did not become a campaign issue until he failed to follow the same process he followed in those three elections. It is believed that a recent amendment of the electoral law is what elicited General Buhari’s manoeuvre: Unlike in the past when candidates just needed to fill their academic qualifications without having to submit proof thereof, the amendment requires that candidates must now attach their certificates to their forms in order to prove a candidate indeed acquired all the academic levels he or she may claim to have attained.
Sambo and His Certificates
Another candidate that did not accompany his academic credentials with certificate is Vice-President Namadi Sambo. Sambo deposed to an affidavit that his certificates, which are up to masters degree level, had been consumed by fire. His alma matter, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, issued documents to back up his claim.
But Buhari is facing an uphill battle over a similar fate because he’s the presidential flag bearer of his party and also his chances are now ostensibly more better than in previous elections when the PDP never considered him a threat.
It started on Monday, December 29, 2014, when INEC publicly displayed the academic qualifications of all candidates alongside their certificates. The candidates’ information displayed by INEC as submitted by their respective parties showed that unlike the rest of the contestants, General Buhari did not submit his certificate alongside his form. Instead, he submitted an affidavit sworn at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
The affidavit dated November 24, 2014 and was submitted to INEC on December 18, 2014, almost a week after clinching his party’s ticket in Lagos.
“I am the above-named person and deponent to this affidavit therein. All my academic qualifications documents as filled in my presidential form, President APC/001/2015, are currently with the Secretary, Military Board as of the time of presenting this affidavit. The affidavit is made in good faith and for record purpose,” Buhari noted in the document.
By Tuesday, December 30, 2014, the news of Buhari’s certificate had supersonically filtered across the country, consequently prompting PDP supporters from all over the world to swoon on it. “We hope the APC will comply with the existing laws of the land and release its candidate’s certificate to INEC,” the PDP said in a statement same day.
‘Army Cannot Keep Original Certificate’
On January 2, 2015, a military source disclosed that “the Army can not keep anybody’s original certificate because it is the personal property of the owner.’’
The source explained further that “The original certificate of any officer or soldier is only needed at the point of entry into the service either as a cadet officer entering the Nigerian Defence Academy, or the recruitment officers when interviewing recruits to be sent to the depot for training. That is so, because they are needed to verify what were in the photocopies supplied by them or from the necessary examining bodies.”
This prompted the Leadership and Accountability Initiative, a public interest non-governmental organisation, to invoke the Freedom of Information Act to get the Nigerian Army to release Buhari’s academic credentials in its possession.
“Standing on the strength of Sections 1 and 7 of the Freedom of Information Act, we wish to most respectfully apply for the information pertaining to the academic records of General Buhari (rtd), as claimed in his affidavit,” the group’s Executive Coordinator, Nwazuruahu Henry Shield, said in the letter.
But a defiant Buhari maintained indifference as the chorus for him to release his certificate intensified, preferring instead to focus on his campaign. As Buhari and his party continue to crisscross the country to canvass for votes, the certificate scandal keeps dominating the headline in lieu of their campaign statements. Most cited conspiracy about Buhari’s certificate kerfuffle was the question about if, or when, he sat his West African School Certificate.
Fani-Kayode Leading Buhari-Tender-Certificate Crusade
Leading the crusade to have Buhari tender his credentials is Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, a former Minister of Aviation who now heads the media department of President Jonathan’s reelection campaign. Fani-Kayode alleged about Buhari’s failure to submit his credentials that: “The fact that he got away with it in 2003, 2007 and 2011 does not make it right. The minimum that Nigerians require from him is the presentation of his secondary school certificate which enabled him to gain admission into the Nigerian Military College in 1962 and on which basis he became a commissioned officer of the Nigerian Army.”
The APC swiftly shot back, noting that Buhari was duly educated and warned that the Nigerian Army risks being “the casualty” of the entire commotion should it fail to appropriately exonerate the retired general.
On Wednesday, January 14, Buhari media aide, Rotimi Fashakin, said in a media interview that the academic credentials of his principal were seized following a successful coup carried out by Ibrahim Babangida against Buhari’s military junta.
“After the coup and the arrest of Gen. Buhari by the Babangida administration, military officers raided the home of Buhari, ransacked it and carted away many documents. Buhari’s academic credentials were among the documents that were taken away,” he said.
On Tuesday, January 20, the Nigerian Army took an official position on the matter by announcing that it is not in possession of Buhari’s WASC certificate. Brigadier General Olajide Laleye, Director, Army Public Relations, said the army only found Buhari’s application letter and recommendation of his principal at Provincial Secondary School, Katsina.
“Neither the original copy, Certified True Copy (CTC) nor statement of result of Major General M Buhari’s WASC result is in his personal file.”
He added that even though it was a basic admission standard that all applicants submit their certificates in the process of seeking admission into the military, no evidence that this practice was followed in the case of General Buhari.
“It is a practice in the NA that before candidates are shortlisted for commissioning into the officers’ cadre of the Service, the Selection Board verifies the original copies of credentials that are presented. However, there is no available record to show that this process was followed in the 1960s.”
While the media briefing was underway, the military simultaneously dispatched all the academic records of Buhari in its archive to his office in Abuja.
These developments further amplified the controversy and the candidate realised that keeping silent with the hope that the controversy will eventually fizzle out is no longer a working strategy.
Buhari: My Certificate with Military Statement an Assumption
And on Wednesday, January 21, Buhari called a press conference in Kano where he told the world that his earlier statement that his WASC certificate is with the military was an assumption, adding that he’d written to his secondary school for his academic records.
“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. This is why I formally requested my old school the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, to make available the school’s copy of the result of the Cambridge/West African School Certificate. This will be made available to the press the moment this is available.”
He added that he sat WASC in 1961 and mentioned the Late Shehu Musa Yar’Adua as one of his class mates at the time.
Barely two hours after Buhari’s statement, the news broke that his secondary school had released his statement of results, showing he had indeed sat WASC in 1961.
The statement of result, rather than clear the air on the issue, did very little to disabuse Buhari’s political adversaries who didn’t waste time to start pointing holes in the document.
Some of the errors they highlighted include the error in spelling of the result bearer’s name. The name on the result says Mohamed Buhari. General Buhari has always spelt his name as Muhammadu Buhari. They also claimed that the name of the principal who signed the document was missing. Another question was about how Buhari managed to be in form six when Katsina College only had up to form five level in 1961.
Finally, the critics alleged further that even if General Buhari had sat WASC as he claimed, the fact that he failed mathematics has validated their claim that the fraudulently joined the military.
“No one can enter the army without having at least pass in mathematics,” they said.
On Thursday, January 22, Mr. Fani-Kayode demonstrated through a large screen computer how General Buhari’s statement of results may have been forged.
“Our conclusion from all these is that the documents purportedly released by Government College (Pilot) Katsina, upon which the APC Presidential candidates hopes to bury the doubt about his eligibility for next month’s election are forged, manipulated and fraudulently procured. They are therefore untenable in fact and in law.”
Another PDP supporter who weighed in on the matter was Mr. Mukhtar Alexander Dan’Iyan, a U.S.-based Nigerian political analyst cum social media expert.
“Some might think certificate issue is over, it isn’t. To gain admission Buhari deceived the Nigerian Army. This is unacceptable,” he said.
He added that “To save Buhari, reasonable people are saying extremely unreasonable things that they would never say for anyone else.”
The APC now appears apprehensive by the growing controversy over its flag-bearer’s fate as the election date looms on the horizon. The party’s spokesman, Lai Mohammed, urged Nigerians to forgive Buhari for the inconsistencies he’d shown regarding the whereabout of his certificate.
“This happened long ago. He was a former Head of State and i don’t think he’s going to look for job anywhere where they would ask him to bring his original credentials. He swore an affidavit and he tendered it when he contested for presidency in 2003, 2007, and 2011 respectively. I think Buhari should be pardoned if he cannot produce his certificates.”
Vindication from Cambridge
General Buhari has received consistent vindication from the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), now known as Cambridge Assessment, which noted that the general’s results is tenable because it has the same format as all results of examinations it conducted in Nigeria in 1961.
“Examination results were classed in grades by 1 to 9. 1,2,3,4,5 & 6 indicate a Pass with Credit; 7 & 8 indicate a Pass; 9 indicates a Failure,” the institution noted in response to enquires from Nigeria about Buhari’s released results.
Cambridge Assessment also corroborated Buhari’s claim that scoring credits in mathematics was not a requirement when he sat WASC in 1961.
“To pass the School Certificate, candidates had to pass examinations in a variety of groups. It was compulsory to pass English Language, but not Maths, in order to gain the Certificate. The number of candidates who sat for the WASC Hausa examination in 1961 was 152.”
Hausa was also in the curriculum as claimed by Buhari. “Our records show that Hausa was set in the Northern Region in 1961.”
The school, however, declined to specifically support or deny that Buhari as an individual actually sat the exams.
“This is in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and Section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.”
But it will release the documents if Buhari requests for them. “We can only confirm or verify results at the direct request of or with the permission of a candidate.”
As expected in a matter like this, legal practitioners have been making their individual deductions on the certificate kerfuffle. While some argue that the fact that Buhari rose to the position of a Major-General in the army should suffice as a prove that he’s qualified to helm the affairs of the nation; those against the APC candidate say the issue is not about his achievement as an individual but the position of the law.
PDP backers argue that Buhari’s mien as a no-drama politician coupled with the fact that he’s campaigning as a non-corruptible politician have been punctuated by his certificate scandal. “Kind of hard for a man who’s entire military career is based on fraudulent academic qualifications to claim he has integrity,” said Dan’Iyan.
The Sections of the Constitution at the center of the certificate row are 131 that says “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if (a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth; (b) he has attained the age of forty (40) years; (c )he is a member of a political party; and (d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.” And 318 that defines school certificate or its equivalent as “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(INEC) for a minimum of 10 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 (INEC); and
“(d) Any other qualification acceptable by INEC.”
Liborus Oshomah, a lawyer and social critic, said Buhari’s detractors have no tenable reason to disqualify him.
“Either he passed maths of failed all the subjects, the existing laws at the time he joined the military did not forbid him from being admitted.”
He added that anyone who feels that Buhari’s statement that he assumed his paperworks were with the army amounts to perjury should proceed to the court of law.
A group of youth activists under the platform of Patriotic Vanguard has been staging a daily protest around Lagos, asking General Buhari to provide his certificate.
“We want him to show evidence of his academic qualifications,” they said. “He’s not above the law.
Upon resumption of striking court workers under the authority of Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), pro-PDP lawyers took to the premises of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to file suits challenging the candidacy of Buhari.
Mr. Chike Okafor was the first to successfully file a suit with the court in which he sought a special hearing for the court to determine the eligibility, or lack thereof, of the APC candidate.
In suit #FHC/ABJ/CS/01/2015, Barrister Okafor argued that going by Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution, quoted earlier in this article, General Buhari has failed to prove that he has the minimum academic qualification to stand in the upcoming elections.
Also seeking Buhari’s disqualification from this year’s presidential election are citizen litigants, Shield Jones Ufot, Jimmy David, Ogueri Enwerem and Tochukwu Okorie. They filed a suit through their lawyer, Ezekiel Ugochukwu, on the 27th of January to challenge Buhari’s alleged fraudulent academic background.
General Buhari gave “false evidence to a public officer contrary to Section 157 of the Penal Code,” they argued in the suit. This, they aver, is “punishable under Section 158 of the Penal Code Law.”
How the issue will eventually play out is a narrow guess for observers, because the Supreme Court has held that INEC does not have the power to ban candidates in Atiku vs INEC, 2007. But the court has never set a precedent in a dispute over academic qualifications of a candidate. But some politicians have been shamed out of office for making counterfactual claims about their academic qualifications.
In 1999, the first Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives in the Fourth Republic, Mr. Salisu Buhari (no known relation to the APC candidate) was forced to step down after his claim that he acquired a degree from the University of Toronto was rebuffed.
The Supreme Court may be forced to hurriedly adjudicate the matter before the elections if Buhari is unable to provide his certificate, a senior lawyer mouthed to WESTERN POST on Friday. But, until then, the PDP and its supporters do not seem to be in a hurry to discontinue making an issue of the certificate.
The APC raised an alarm Thursday that the PDP-led federal government has entered into an agreement with an unnamed judge to disqualify its candidate. Media reports quoted Mallam Garba Shehu, the Director of Media and Publicity of the APC presidential campaign, as saying the party has reliably gathered that the PDP is attempting to disqualify Buhari over alleged perjury he committed when he sworn to affidavit that his certificates are with the military. Shehu cited the called off strike by judiciary workers as part of the plan.
Ekiti State Governor flaunted his certificates from primary school while addressing a cross section of youth corps members in his state. “Let General Buhari flaunt his certificate,” he said.
President Jonathan has not publicly weighed in on the certificate squabbles, but at least one of his aides, Reno Omokri wrote on his Twitter wondered why “it’s taking forever to find a certificate,” in an apparent jibe at Buhari.