By Ikechukwu Amaechi
As he did in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking re-election, has again failed to hand in his academic credentials to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as required by law.
Four years ago, the president, who was the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was not put to task over it.Seemingly emboldened, in 2019, he is hoisting his academic qualifications on the effigy of affidavit, telling INEC that all his academic credentials, including WAEC result, are with the military.
“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,” he deposed in an affidavit.
Sadly, President Buhari is the only one out of the 79 presidential candidates jostling for the country’s ultimate political diadem that is refusing to play by the rules of the game.
In 2015, he made the same claim, telling INEC that his credentials were with the secretary of the military board, a claim which the military, Buhari’s primary constituency, pooh-poohed.
Military not in possession of Buhari’s result
Brigadier-General Olajide Laleye, former director of army public relations, said that the military was not in possession of candidate Buhari’s West African School Certificate Examination result.
“Records available indicate that Major General M Buhari applied to join the military as a Form Six student of the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina on 18 Oct 61,” the military apparatchik declaimed through Laleye.
“His application was duly endorsed by the principal of the school, who also wrote a report on him and recommended him to be suitable for military commission.
“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.”
Of course, regardless, Buhari was allowed to contest the election. A thoroughly weakened and lame duck President Goodluck Jonathan could not stop him from floating his trial balloon of political sophistry.
The APC spin doctors quickly went to town then, claiming that the military under Jonathan’s command had descended into the cesspit of politics by disavowing Buhari’s claims.
For daring, Brigadier Laleye, who later became the Commander, 4th Brigade of the Nigerian Army, lost his commission. He was booted out of the military in April 2016.
But this is 2018 and everything has changed. Unlike in 2015, Buhari is not just a presidential candidate, he is the President and Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Nigerian armed forces. If the military played pranks with Buhari four years ago, can they still do that today? What will be the purpose?
But just as he did in 2015, the president is hiding behind his finger, while his legion of spin doctors are on overdrive, howling, giving all manner of spurious excuses.
The Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said it is a “non-issue.”
“We have moved beyond that,” he said conceitedly on Channels TV Sunday night.
Really? How could Nigerians have moved beyond that, yet it still remains a burning issue?
“Obasanjo said that it is an insult on a man, who rose to the echelon in Nigeria Army, attended the War College in the US and Staff College in Nigeria, for anyone to start asking whether he has a certificate or not. I think I want to rest this case on that because it is a non-issue,” the minister ripostes.
Lai Mohammed refused to tell Nigerians that Obasanjo made the comment in 2015 in the heat of the conspiratorial liaison between him and Buhari against Jonathan. It will be interesting to know the former president’s take on the matter now that the romance has soured.
The president’s media aide, Mr. Femi Adesina, went a step further, calling the controversy “a dead issue.”
“The certificate saga is a dead issue, only idle people will consider it,” Adesina said.
“It is something that had been laid to rest before the 2015 general elections.
Adesina leaned on General Alani Akinrinade to ensure that his messaging was not knocked off-kilter.
“It is a matter of fact that when President Buhari and others joined the military, they took their original certificates from them. The military knew where they kept the original certificates of the president.
“In fact, a former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alani Akinrinade, corroborated that the military collected the original certificates of all its officers,” Adesina said.
Depose to affidavits in lieu of their certificates
But General Buhari is not the only retired military officer to contest elections in Nigeria.
His seniors, Obasanjo and late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu were all presidential candidates. While Ojukwu ran for the presidency under the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in 2003 and lost, Obasanjo won in 1999 and 2003 under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Did they also depose to affidavits in lieu of their certificates?
General Akinrinade was quoted as saying it is “a terrible insult to the Armed Forces” to claim that Buhari, a three-star general, has no certificate.
I beg to disagree. It is rather the president who is treating Nigerians so condescendingly by refusing to come clean on an issue as important as this.
I would rather think that the more egregious insult in the circumstance is a president who has treated his fellow countrymen most contemptuously by refusing to play the game by the rules.
Is it not ironic that a system that is prosecuting Senator Ademola Adeleke, the PDP governorship candidate in Osun State, over alleged examination malpractice, is claiming that Buhari’s certificate issue is a non-issue?
Some lawyers have also argued, rightly, that constitutionally, the president does not need a WAEC result to qualify as a candidate since the constitution so ridiculously lowered the educational qualification bar.
While Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution provides that, “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,” Section 318(1) went on to add “(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 (i.e. without the certificate); 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 ten years ….”
But those who argue along this line miss the point.
What the president declared to INEC
What did the president declare to INEC – Secondary School Certificate or Primary Six School Leaving Certificate?
Let me be clear here: The President cannot come out of this certificate saga smelling rose.
He may well use the bully pulpit of his presidency to deflect attacks and avoid scrutiny and punishment.
But he is the president of Nigeria. That counts for much because with the presidency comes an obligation to set a moral tone for the country. He has not done that in this matter. Integrity is, indeed, made of sterner stuff.