By Nkem Ibekwe
From whatever perspective Barrister Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe’s suit challenging the eligibility of Muhammadu Buhari to participate in the 2015 presidential election is appraised, it is clear even to the uninformed that it is an inelegant legal attempt to remove Buhari from office and foist Goodluck Jonathan again on Nigerians as their President. This is the conclusion any rational mind would reach after reading Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe’s ramblings on pages 56 and 57 of Saturday Thisday of June 11, 2016.
My initial reaction after reading Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe’s unintelligible outpouring (interview) was to wonder if he is truly a lawyer. Pray; how can a lawyer confuse the qualification for entry into the Nigerian Army with the qualification for contesting an election into the office of the President of Nigeria? Even then, how can a lawyer premise his magisterial pronouncement that “Buhari Has No Certificate” (WASC), just on the deceptive effusion at a Press Conference by the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR) in 2015 even when Buhari himself indicated in his INEC Registration Form that his educational credentials were with the Department of Military Secretary (DMS) of the Nigerian Army; the department that solely holds the academic and service records of Nigerian military officers? I shudder at the level of shallow and confused thinking that the likes of Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe exhibit in the course of their legal practice.
As I pointed out in my earlier outing on this matter in Thisday (Saturday, June 4, 2016, P.61) entitled ,“Buhari Has No Case to Answer on Certificate Suit”, the minimum qualification for participation in a presidential election in Nigeria, based on the provisions of the 1999 constitution (as amended), is not the Secondary School Certificate. Even then, there is concrete or documentary evidence that Buhari actually sat for and passed the Cambridge West African School Certificate examination in 1961 in Division 2 with five credits. If Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe had bothered to read my earlier intervention in the matter, I do not think he would have elected to advertise his ignorance on the issues of law, and in the process, drag the image of the Nigerian legal profession to the mud, as he childishly did in his offering under appraisal.
In fact, contrary to Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe’s contention that Buhari was fraudulently enrolled into the Army without the requisite qualifications, our President today applied to join the military as a Form Six student of Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, on October 18, 1961. His application was duly endorsed by the Principal of the School, who also wrote a report on him and recommended him fit and suitable for military commission. Buhari then sat for the WASC examination in November/December 1961 as was the practice until 1973 when the examination started to take place in May/June. As was usual at the time, Buhari’s WASC result came out in March 1962 and he had a Division 2 pass with five credits. The selection board of the Nigerian Army verified the original copies of Buhari’s credentials before he commenced his preliminary military training at the then Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna, on April 19, 1962. See Letter, (AHQ MS/GI/300/249) dated January 19, 2015 from Maj. Gen. II Abbah, Department of Military Secretary, Mambilla Barracks, Asokoro, Abuja, entitled, “FORWARDING OF ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (N/308) Retired”.
Again, and unfortunately too, Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe would want the world to believe that the fact that the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR) mischievously claimed in 2015 that Buhar’s personal file in the Army did “not have his original copy of his WASC, nor…the certified true copy of his WASC results, neither …. a photocopy”, meant that he does not have a Secondary School Certificate. However, the Department of Military Secretary (DMS) of the Nigerian Army has a cogent explanation for the absence of Buhari’s School Certificate in his personal file. According to the same letter, (AHQ MS/GI/300/249) issued by Maj. Gen. Abbah of the DMS of the Nigerian Army, “Records available in the Nigerian Army, based on the entry made in Nigerian Army Form 199A at the point of documentation after commission, indicated that the former Head of State obtained the West African School Certificate (WASC) in 1961… Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s WASC is however not in his personal file as it was not the practice of this department to keep such documents at that time.
The practice of maintaining photocopies of academic credentials of officers in their personal files commenced in the 1980s”. In effect, at the time the DAPR was deceptively announcing to the whole world that Buhari’s Certificate or its photocopy could not be found in his personal file, as evidence he does not have a WASC, the officer hosting the press conference knew or was aware that Buhari’s School Certificate or its photocopy was not supposed to be in his personal military file. Now, can anyone beat this mischief for which Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe has gone to town proclaiming that “Buhari Has No Certificate”? Politics Nigeriana at play!
But the point is that even if truly Buhari has no Certificate to show for his secondary school education, (which is not the case in this circumstance), he was still qualified to contest the 2015 presidential election. The constitution in section 131(d) says: “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of president if – he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent”. The constitution did not say that candidates must pass or possess secondary school certificates in order to qualify to contest presidential elections in Nigeria. In any case, section 318 (1) (b & ci) under “Interpretation” defines School Certificate or its equivalent as “education up to Secondary School Certificate level or Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and 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”.
Now, since Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe agrees that “…from available records at the disposal of the general public, General Buhari registered for the Cambridge West African School Certificate when he was in his final year in Provincial Secondary School, Katsina”, why is he finding it difficult to accept the fact that Buhari satisfied the constitutional provision in section 318 (1) (b) under “Interpretation”, which says that “education up to Secondary School Certificate level”, without necessarily sitting for and passing the examination, was enough qualification to contest a presidential election in Nigeria? Why is Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe finding it difficult to agree that since Buhari has a Primary Six School Leaving Certificate, coupled with 24 years service in the military, which satisfies the constitutional provision in section 318 (1) (ci), he was qualified to contest the 2015 presidential election? I am forced to ask again; is Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe truly a lawyer?
I am aware of the key or substantive issue Mr. Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe raised in his suit against Buhari which he did not disclose in his Thisday interview, and which I will refrain from commenting upon because the matter is subjudice. The point, however, is that Buhari’s legal team must buckle up and do the needful by trashing this matter once and for all because Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe’s suit is dead on arrival. It is very important that Buhari’s legal team treats Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe’s suit with all the seriousness it deserves. The failure to heed this sermon may result in a repeat of the unflattering scenario the All Progressives Congress (APC) experienced in the court during the cases to determine the winners of the gubernatorial contests in Akwa-Ibom and Rivers States where the losses of the party could be rightly attributed to unsatisfactory legal prosecution. The consequences of a similar result over the Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe suit due to lethargy or tardiness in Buhari’s legal defense, since he does truly have a Secondary School Certificate, may be too dire to contemplate.
––Nkem Ibekwe, a researcher, strategic thinker and human rights activist, is the Chairman of Mezie Ala-Igbo Foundation.