Buhari Has No Case To Answer On Certificate Suit

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By Dear Mr. President,

The suit reportedly filed by an Abuja-based lawyer, Mr Nnamdi Nwokocha Ahaiwe, challenging Muhammadu Buhari’s eligibility to contest the 2015 presidential election on the ground that he does not have a School Certificate, the basic educational qualification set out by the constitution for a candidate seeking to run for the office of president, is dead on arrival. This has to do with the fact that Buhari met all the educational criteria required for a candidate to contest the 2015 presidential election.

The 1999 constitution (as amended)  in section 318(1) under the sub-head of “Interpretation” states: “School Certificate means (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 10 years, and (ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totaling 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”.

Now, the question to ask is: How does Buhari’s educational qualification square up with each of the constitutional requirements for qualification to contest the 2015 presidential election bearing in mind that the satisfaction of only one option qualifies a candidate to contest such an election? In the case of option (a), the evidence that Buhari has a Secondary School Certificate is the Confidential Result Sheet of the University of Cambridge, West African School Certificate, 1961, which indicates that Buhari (Exam No. 8280002, Provincial Secondary School, Katsina) passed in the Second Division with 5 credits. This evidence is contained in a letter (AHQ MS/GI/300/249) dated 19th January, 2015 from Major General II Abbah (for the Chief of Army Staff) of the Department of Military Secretary of the Nigerian Army, Mambilla Barracks, Asokoro, Abuja, to the office of General Muhammadu Buhari entitled, “Forwarding of Academic Credentials (Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, N/308) Retired”.

Again, if we decide to subject Buhari’s educational qualification to option (b) which talks about “education up to Secondary School Certificate level”, Buhari is also home and dry. The statement of result signed by the Principal of Government College, Katsina (formerly, Provincial Secondary School, Katsina) indicating that Buhari, with Centre No. 8280 and Exam No. 002, sat for the University of Cambridge (West African Examinations Council) in 1961 while in Class Six, proves beyond doubt that Buhari had “education up to Secondary School Certificate level”. Even if Buhari had failed all his subjects in the examination, (which is not even the case in this circumstance), he would still have qualified to contest the 2015 presidential election. The evidence of satisfaction of the constitutional requirement to contest a presidential election is that he attended Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, with Admission No. 134, up to the final year of secondary school education, which was Class Six in Northern Nigeria at the time.

Even when we decide to appraise Buhari’s eligibility to contest the 2015 presidential election from the prism of option (c), which talks about “Primary Six School Leaving Certificate and other qualifications acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission”, one does not need any extraordinary intellect to come to terms with the fact that Buhari was more than qualified to participate in that election. There is no way Buhari could have attended the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, without obtaining a Primary Six School Leaving Certificate. Now, with a primary six school leaving certificate and a military career that spanned 24 years, Buhari more than satisfied the constitutional provision that a candidate is qualified to contest a presidential election in Nigeria if he or she has “Primary Six School Leaving Certificate… and service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission”.

As a matter of fact, even if the assumption is allowed that Buhari has no Secondary School Certificate, he would still have qualified to contest the 2015 presidential election. Buhari commenced his military training at the then Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna on April 19, 1962 and proceeded to the United Kingdom to complete his Cadet Training at Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot. He was commissioned in the rank of Second Lieutenant on January 26, 1963. He attended relevant military courses including the United States Army War College Course in Pennsylvania and Defence Services Staff Course in Wellington, India. The last two courses prepare senior military officers for higher command and leadership responsibilities. The fact that the Prof. Attahiru Jega-led INEC did not raise any eye-brows about these courses listed in Buhari’s registration form for the 2015 presidential election meant that even without a Secondary School Certificate, Buhari was qualified for the election since it was up to INEC to decide whether a candidate with “any other qualification acceptable by Independent National Electoral Commission” was qualified to contest such an election.

The problem with all those who are still raising dust or making a fuss over Buhari’s eligibility to contest the 2015 presidential election stems from their inability to understand that a Secondary School Certificate is not the minimum requirement for participation in a presidential election in Nigeria, and that even if it is, a “Certificate” only certifies that the educational qualifications claimed by a candidate was  not based on falsehood. As the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary points out, a “Certificate” is just “an official written or printed statement that may be used as proof or evidence of certain facts”. In other words, a statement of result signed by the Principal of Government College Katsina, indicating the results obtained by Buhari in the 1961 West African School Certificate Examination is a Certificate. In the same vein, the statement of result released by the Ministry of Education, Katsina State, indicating that Buhari passed his WAEC in 1961 in division 2, is a Certificate.

Contrary to popular belief as reported in the media, it is Barrister Ahaiwe that advertised his ignorance about the true meaning of the word, ‘Certificate’, and in the process embarrassed the Nigerian legal profession with his suit coming up on June 16, 2016, challenging Buhari’s eligibility to contest the 2015 presidential election. While it is true that Buhari’s lawyers have acted as if they do not understand the issues in Ahaiwe’s suit, it is very wrong to insinuate that the judge handling the case, Justice Ademola Adeniyi of the Federal High Court, Abuja, “is working for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)” because he dismissed all the applications by the defendant as lacking in merit. The truth of the matter is that if Buhari’s legal team fails to deploy superior arguments with uncontestable facts to challenge Ahaiwe’s suit, Justice Adeniyi will decide the case based on the best principles of law found anywhere in the world without minding whether it is Buhari’s ox that would be gored in the process.

 Nkem Ibekwe, who sent this piece from Nkemibekwe489@gmail.com, is the Chairman of Mezie Ala-Igbo Foundation