By Morenike Taire
Those who say Olusegun Obasanjo changed Nigerian culture forever between 1999 and 2007 have very good reason to say so. Apart from the Global System for Mobile Communications, GSM telephony introduction which has by and large been attributed to him, the Obasanjo administration displayed several landmarks traversing the good, the bad and the ugly.
You could not have attributed this to him as an individual, yet it was under Obasanjo that certificate scandals became the rage, starting with the sweet Fourth Republic Speaker, Salisu Buhari who had first come under suspicion on account of his age. It was long before the #Nottooyoungtorule age, or any hashtag for that matter. That Buhari had fallen under the prescribed age of 30 by one year, for the elective position he held as Representative of the Nasarawa Federal Constituency of Kano state for barely two months.
But that turned out to be the least of his problems, as the young Buhari also had a certificate scandal to contend with. The ‘Toronto’ scandal was born, as was the ‘Chicago’ scandal, which questioned the claims of the erstwhile Lagos State governor Bola Tinubu of having received an undergraduate certificate from the prestigious University of Chicago.
While the latter had survived by the sheer determination of his party, the Alliance for Democracy; the young Buhari had to sacrifice not his coveted seat alone but his entire political career. Giving up after a feeble fight for which he procured the services of the revered late FRA Williams, SAN, CFR, Salisu Buhari had released a strong and moving statement of apology to “all Nigerians home and abroad” for the controversy generated by the scandal.
“The controversy generated by that issue has greatly undermined my authority and prestige, making it difficult to (for me) to continue in office as Speaker and member of this Honourable House”, he had said.
Begging for forgiveness he had said, “I am bound under all circumstances to live above suspicion… Everything in life is for a purpose and my prayer is that my humiliation will illustrate that in our new democracy, nobody- no matter how highly placed- will be above the law”.
Someone ought to apologize to that gentleman, who is now middle aged and so politically damaged that he stayed away until recently, from politics. Clearly, his wish that our democracy be more important than any individual or group has not only failed to come to pass two decades down the line, the entire democracy has been so rubbished that some of those who suffered under the weight of military regimes have almost openly called for military intervention in the recent past.
It was in the Obasanjo era that certificate inquests had become a thing and morphed down the line from a valid check and balance in setting standards, education and otherwise, for men and women in public office. It is to the credit of the ruling PDP that it had not wielded its influence in keeping Buhari as Speaker, damning complaints from the citizenry and all other consequences.
Things have since changed. Far from being a means of ensuring standards, certificate inquests or the rumours of them have simply become another inglorious tool in the hand of political hustlers, honed to discredit candidates and substantives, of political positions.
No one has been spared, not even the President whose WAEC certificate comes up as a national issue each time the opposition to the ruling party feels the need to stir the murky waters. While the President has survived so far, very many have not.
In the last four years, persons in government at different levels including some formidable men and women were subjected to certificate inquests, including former NSE Amazon Ndi Okereke Onyuike and former Minister for Finance Kemi Adeosun, both of whom did not survive.
Some have even turned certificate inquests into a negotiating tool, with which those who are actually guilty of not possessing the certificate they claim they have are able to negotiate with the opposition, who also is using it as a negotiation tool in the first instance. Far from discouraging the practice, offenders are more likely to get away with a forged or non existent educational certificate than ever before.
The New and Social Media, rather than ease up the ability to decipher between real and ‘fake’ claims, has only succeeded in complicating matters. Those, like Dino Melaye, retired activist and Senator representing Kogi West at the Upper House, who are given to drama use the social media to distract and detract from the matter at hand. His wishy-washy certificate inquest did not only fail at dragging him down, it turned him into a successful drama queen whose singing and dancing talents were used to regale the cyberspace.
Another drama king politician, Ademola Adeleke who is better known as the Dancing Senator, had his ambition to occupy the State House of Osun fatally hurt by a certificate inquest which revealed the guber candidate might not have acquired the number of O-Levels he claimed to have. Will he get away with it? Only time will tell.