By Azu Ishiekwene
After former Vice President Atiku Abubakar emerged as the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party at the Port Harcourt convention in October, the party said it looked forward to an issues-based campaign and challenged the ruling All Progressives Congress to roll up its sleeves.
There are many issues to debate with the APC whose promise of change is losing its appeal, but the last place I expected the opposition to launch its attack is on the West African School Certificate of President Muhammadu Buhari: it’s a waste of time and a troubling evidence of mediocrity.
In 2014 when this matter first came up, the public was genuinely interested in its authenticity because WASC is a minimum requirement in the electoral law for running for the office of president.
According to Nigeria’s electoral law, there are, at least, four basic requirements for contesting the office of President: 1) citizenship of Nigeria; 2) attainment of the age of 40; 3) membership of a political party and sponsorship by that party; and 4) possession and presentation of a WASC or its equivalent.
When doubts arose over Buhari’s WASC four years ago, PREMIUM TIMES sent an email to the University of Cambridge, which used to conduct the examination at the time, for verification.
Although Cambridge Assessment refused to give specific details of the content of the result, on the ground that the law only permits it to do so with the approval of the candidate, there was enough hint in the response to PREMIUM TIMES to suggest that Buhari’s claim was true.
In any case, it’s improbable that he would have been eligible for courses at the Defence Staff Services College in India in 1973 or the United States Army War College by simply wangling his way, regardless of basic or professional experience.
It’s a measure of the hubris that the public must endure in the forthcoming elections that the PDP should be looking for certificate forgers outside its own backyard and even press the matter to the point of distraction.
Log in the eye
The party’s candidate in the just concluded governorship election in Osun State, Ademola Adeleke, was alleged to have hired a candidate to take his school certificate examination for him and might have invented an excellent result if he had not been arrested and charged to court.
Yet, at some point in the election, it looked like this same candidate was going to emerge winner, and voters did not seem to care, even if he was going to walk to the Government House on a road paved with forged certificates and echoing with shaku shaku music.
Something is obviously broken in a system, where PDP, the grandmaster of impunity, will now pose as the moral arbiter of a new dawn. Should they hold Buhari to account for the claim he made in his INEC form about his certificate being in the custody of the Military Board? By all means, yes. But in coming to equity, they should do so with clean hands, and a bit of common sense, even if it’s borrowed.
Next to Buhari’s file in which they’re attacking in INEC’s office over the purported absence of WASC, lies the file of the PDP’s own candidate, Atiku Abubakar, which contains some of the most shameful admissions of financial opacity, to put it mildly.
Atiku, their candidate, claimed in his form with INEC, that he earned N60.2 million in three years, and paid N10.8 million in taxes within the same period. After 16 years of running a country where tax collection was observed in the breach – except for the period under Ifueko Omoigui-Okauru – the PDP has obviously invented its own tax habits and rules, with generous exemption for its presidential candidate.
If this were not the case, it would have occurred to the party that under current tax laws, what Atiku filed is a crime. The tax law provides that any personal income at N3.2 million and above is taxed at 24 per cent; that means, if for the sake of humour, we assume that Atiku earned N60.2 million in three years as he claimed, he should have paid N18.06 million in taxes, and not N10.8 million.
As for how much Atiku really earns – or what he does from which he earns a living – we may never, ever know. How much he makes from Intels, Prodeco, Atiku Abubakar Farms, or ABTI Schools? We’ll never, ever know.
But there are a few things which we know, because he said them. Four years ago, for example, he said he subsidises his private university, the American University, with $1 million monthly. That subsidy now tops $3 million monthly.
If a man of such extraordinarily modest means, reputed to spend millions of dollars monthly, declares three-year income of N60.2 million and pays tax of N10.08 million, at least N8 million less than the face value of what he declared, that should raise some questions.
Maybe not in PDP circles where money is chicken feed. But voters ought to be interested in how those offering themselves for office made their money and whether tomorrow when they run after them to pay taxes, these folks also pay their fair share.
Atiku said he got his break as a Customs officer in 1971, when he took advantage of a hire purchase opportunity offered by SCOA motors to buy three Peugeot cars, which he put to commercial use. We believe him, just as surely as we believe that Buhari is too poor to afford the nomination form, but Atiku’s tax math is not adding up.
The candidates’ records filed with INEC is public document and fair game for scrutiny, including scrutiny by the political parties and the public. So, I understand PDP kicking up a fuss about Buhari’s certificate. The point, however, is that PDP being PDP, the party is in such a hurry to return to power, it assumes that we have all forgotten where its dead bodies are buried.
Well one of them is sticking out in the tax returns of its presidential candidate, and it’s not looking good.
Ishiekwene is the Managing Director/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview and member of the board of the Global Editors Network.