By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Presidential Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja has held that President Muhammadu Buhari was eminently qualified to vie for the presidency.
The tribunal, in a lead judgement that was delivered by its Chairman, Justice Mohammed Garba, held that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its candidate, failed to prove that Buhari lacked the requisite academic qualifications to contest the February 23 presidential poll.
It held that the Buhari’s curriculum vitae that was tendered by the petitioners themselves, “contained impressive credentials” that qualified him to contest the presidential election “even if he tendered primary school certificate”.
The tribunal maintained that evidence of the petitioners proved that Buhari was not only “highly qualified, but eminently qualified” to contest the election.
It said the fact that Buhari did not attach his certificates to the Form CF001 he tendered before the INEC, was not a ground to draw a conclusion that he does not have them.
It said there was no evidence that Buhari was not qualified inline with provisions of sections 131, 137 and 138 of the Constitution, adding that the petitioners failed to prove that West African School Certificate, WASC, was not in existence as at 1961 when the 2nd Respondent (Buhari) joined the Army.
Besides, the tribunal held that statement by the former spokesman of the Nigerian Army, Brigadier General Olajide Olaniyi, which the petitioners relied on to insist that Buhari lacked basic educational qualifications, was misconstrued.
It equally held that though the petitioners claimed that Brig. Gen. Olaniyi had in the said statement, denied that Buhari’s certificate was with the Army, he was however not called to testify as a witness before the tribunal.
The tribunal noted that Brig. Gen. Olaniyi had in the said statement, merely asserted that the Army was not with Buhari’s original certificates, admitting however that he (Buhari) got six credits in English language, Geography, History, Hausa, Health Science and Literature.
The tribunal wondered how Brig. Gen. Olaniyi knew about the subjects Buhari passed in his 1961 WASC if there was no credential in his Army file (Form 119a).
“The only reasonable inference is that the 2nd Respondent presented his WASC to Army”, Justice Garba held, saying “it will be incredible to hold in the face of exhibit P-24, that the 2nd Respondent does not possess qualification to contest for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as stipulated in section 131 of the Constitution”.
According to the tribunal, since the petitioners failed to produce Brig. Gen. Olaniyi as a witness, the statement he issued with respect to Buhari’s certificate which was admitted in evidence, lacked probative value and deemed to have been dumped on the tribunal.
More so, the tribunal held that whereas section 137 (1) stipulated conditions under which a person could be disqualified, section 318(1) defined what School Certificate or its equivalent means as provided in section 131.
It listed credentials that can qualify a presidential candidate to include the Grade 2 Teachers Certificate, education up to Secondary school, Primary 6 Certificate or it’s equivalent, service in a public sector acceptable to INEC for a minimum of 10 years, as well as the ability read and write in the English language.
The tribunal said there was evidence before it that Buhari finished both his primary and secondary education in 1956 and 1961 respectively before he joined the Army.
It said there was also evidence that Buhari attended military training from 1961 to 1963, saying “it was established beyond doubt that the 2nd Respondent had his educational qualifications”.
The tribunal held that neither the constitution nor the Electoral Act required Buhari to attach any of his certificates to the Form CF 001 before he could be adjudged to have met the pre-requisite for qualification.
It stressed that since INEC’s screening process required candidates to depose to an affidavit to attest to the veracity of the information contained in the Form CF 001, there was no need for the presentation of the actual certificates.
The tribunal, therefore, resolved the issue in Buhari’s favour.