By Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
In spite of the clear provisions of the 1999 Constitution as amended that show that President Muhammadu Buhari is qualified to run for the nation’s presidency, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said yesterday that it would challenge the president’s suitability in court.
There had been controversy over the affidavit Buhari submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in 2015, claiming that his certificates could not be attached to his nomination form because they were with the military.
He had said, “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.”
The Director of Army Public Relations at that time, Brig-Gen Olajide Laleye, however, said the Army was not in possession of Buhari’s certificates as claimed.
“Nevertheless, the entry made on the NA Form 199A at the point of documentation after commission as an officer indicated that the former Head of State obtained the West African School Certificate in 1961 with credits in relevant subjects: English Language, Geography, History, Health Science, Hausa and a pass in English Literature. However, neither the original copy, Certified True Copy nor statement of result of Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s WASC result is in his personal file,” he had told the press at a news conference in Abuja.
Laleye, along with some other senior military officers, would later be retired upon the ascendancy of the APC administration in 2015.
The president made the same submission in his nomination form for the 2019 presidential run, and the PDP now seek to make an issue out of it, saying it would approach the court to determine if the president’s affidavit could take the place of verifiable certificate that would establish his academic credentials.
Although the presidency had dismissed the controversy as needless, contending that the matter had been settled since 2015, anonymous legal experts, who spoke to THISDAY at the weekend agreed with the president’s men, arguing that under the 1999 Constitution as amended, no certificate was required to be tendered before a candidate’s suitability could be determined.
They cited section 131 of the Constitution, which specified the qualification for the office of President.
It states, “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 years; (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and (d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
According to one of the lawyers, also a learned silk, “There is no doubt that the president has fulfilled all these conditions, including the last one that talks about academic qualification.”
He said there was a mistaken notion that a formal certificate was required, explaining that what a candidate needed is to show evidence that he had been educated up to a school certificate.
“A candidate may indeed score F9 in all subjects; he does not need to pass. Once he has attempted he is covered by the Constitution,” he said, adding, “Can we then say Buhari who went to War College and became a Major-General in the Army has not been educated up to school certificate level?”
Notwithstanding, the PDP said it would test this argument in court.
Speaking with THISDAY on phone yesterday, the South-west Chairman of the PDP, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, said that the main opposition party was heading to court to ensure a logical conclusion to the controversy surrounding Buhari’s certificate.
The move was also corroborated by the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, who said PDP’s lawyers were “under instructions to challenge the president’s unsubstantiated claim in court.”
“The party’s position,” said Ologbondiyan “is the legal principle that he who asserts must prove,” adding, “the president deposed to an affidavit that his certificates were with the Army; but the Army denied the claim. The court will have to determine whether candidate Buhari perjured, and if he did, whether he is a fit and proper person to hold high office. Secondly should he be allowed to use perjury to qualify to contest again?”
The PDP official said its senior lawyers were of the strong view that a case of perjury could be made and whilst the president could not be tried, a court declaration that on the face of his affidavit and the denial by the Army, he could be held to have perjured.
“But we leave the matter for the court to decide,” Ologbondiyan said last night.
Olafeso told THISDAY, “No one should still be under any form of doubt that Buhari has no certificate.”
According to him, “We have done so (approach court) in the past, they subverted the will of the people, they bent justice to their side and they remained silent over the matter. But this second time around, we will follow it to the letters. We will do so before he knows it.”
Olafeso noted that the issue of certificate was not the only albatross around Buhari’s neck.
He said, “Buhari has not been duly elected because the electoral law is clear, that it is either you elect the president or any other elective position in each of the party by direct or indirect primary.
“In his own case, they did not do only indirect, they went ahead to do direct primary. At what point in time did the law stipulates that both can be done at the same time. As far as I am concerned the APC has no presidential candidate.”
Section 31 (5) (8) of the Electoral Act states, “A person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit or any document submitted by that candidate is false may file a suit at the High Court of a State or Federal High Court against such person seeking a declaration that the information contained in the affidavit is false.
“(8) A political party which presents to the commission the name of a candidate who does not meet the qualifications stipulated in this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N500,000.00.”
While reacting to the statement made by Fashola at a town hall meeting on infrastructure last week in Ibadan, Oyo State, where he said a vote for Buhari would ensure that power return to the zone in 2023, Olafeso said he didn’t speak for the South-west people but for himself.
Olafeso stressed that Fashola and all his associates were not representing the interest of the South-west but their own interest.
He stated, “Fashola wants the South-west to suffer another four years of harrowing experience like they did in the last three and half years. It is nothing but an extreme selfishness borne out of irresponsibility politically for him to have said that people must suffer another four years under Buhari.
“The power he got in eight years in Lagos, what did he do with it comparing it with the amount of resources available to him? It was shared amongst the political class in Lagos, so, they are all enjoying themselves at the expense of the ordinary man.
“He is not speaking the interests of the South-west; the South-west will rather vote out this lifeless, incompetent government than wait for another four years just because we want power in the South-west
“The South-west is a highly intellectually developed zone and we believe in the development of our country. We want somebody that is interested in restructuring the nation that will provide for education and infrastructure.”
Olafeso added that the South-west zone had already decided to vote the APC government out of office because they have failed the Nigerian people.
“Who wants to take Fashola seriously, a first-class governor that turned to a third class minister?
“What have they done in the South-west that they will be taken seriously? He is not even in the power equation of the zone,” he stated.
PDP Cautions INEC to Resist Alleged Pressure from Presidency
Meanwhile, the main opposition party has also cautioned the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, not to succumb to alleged pressure to manipulate the electoral process in 2019, following his speculated secret meeting with the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, at the Presidential villa on Friday.
The INEC chairman’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, however, refused to confirm his boss’ alleged meeting with the president’s chief of staff. “I have no comment,” he told THISDAY on phone at the weekend.
A call and a text message by THISDAY to the phone of the National Commissioner on Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, were also not responded to at press time.
But the PDP said the polity was already tensed over INEC’s listing of the president for election despite his failure to present the constitutionally required academic credentials like other candidates.
This development, the party said casts a dark shadow on the credibility of INEC to conduct a transparent election.
The opposition party in a statement issued yesterday by Ologbondiyan said Nigerians were aware that by Buhari’s declaration, in an affidavit, that his certificates were with the military were false and that his nomination documentation was, therefore, constitutionally incomplete, making him ineligible to contest the 2019 presidential elections.
It said, “The PDP cautions the chairman of INEC not to succumb to pressure to manipulate the electoral process for President Buhari as such could cause serious crisis capable of disarticulating our nation.
“PDP’s fresh caution to INEC Chairman is predicated on an alleged secret meeting he held with President Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, at the Presidential villa last Friday.”
The PDP said now that Nigerians had rejected Buhari’s affidavit and insisted on his certificates, the APC is left with no option than to accept its self-inflicted misfortune.
“Meanwhile, we are not unaware of the anxiety and apprehension in the APC but such is the price of being stuck with bad merchandise,” it said.
The PDP also cautioned Buhari not to allow his personal ambition to push the nation into chaos.
The PDP cautioned Buhari’s handlers, who it said were desperate to force him on an unwilling nation, that they were fast pushing the nation to the brink and should be checked before it was too late.