Published On: Sat, Sep 3rd, 2016

Secondary School Certificate – A Compulsory Requirement For Presidency?

buhari2

The issue of competence is a hotly contested

issue. In every spectrum of human endeavour,

there are offices or posts designated for persons

who possess a certain level of competence, the

lack of which dispossesses or threatens the

assumption of such posts. In the days of yore,

competence to rule varied from consanguineous

blood lines of rulers to the possession of combat

skill, oratory finesse, and so on. However, the

modern day system of ruler ship has since tolled

a different line. Democracy has replaced the

tedious systems with a system that gradually

revolves round fairness, with freedom as its

fulcrum. In Nigeria, the competence of leaders in

political offices has been a nagging headache,

arousing litigious practitioners to seek

declarations in court of law, hence the focus of

this disquisition.

President Buhari of Nigeria has a suit against him

filed by an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Mr.

Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe, challenging the

competence of the president to rule in that

capacity. Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe had alleged that

Buhari was unqualified to aspire to the Office of

the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria

because he did not sit for the Cambridge West

African School Certificate WASC) in 1961 as he

claimed and as such breached the provisions of

the constitution relating to the qualifications

required to run for the position of President.

President Buhari has also been alleged by same

plaintiff Lawyer of perjury on the grounds that

he told a lie when asked whether he had the

WASC certificate. Quite astutely, Mr. Nnamdi

relies on Section 131 of the Constitution of

Nigeria, 1999 and the provisions of the Electoral

Act, 2010. The questions many have asked in this

regard is whether it is constitutional for him to

run the office of president without a Secondary

School Certificate. Now, this claim against Buhari

will be addressed accordingly.

First of all, it must be understood that the Law

works like mathematics. Laws, especially Statute

laws are applied like formulae with mathematical

exactitude. When certain steps are not followed,

the result is egregious. In this regard, the

constitution has set out the qualifications for

Presidency under Section 131 CFRN 1999. That

section provides that to qualify for presidency

the aspirant “must (a) be a citizen of Nigeria by

birth (b) have attained the age of 40 years (c)

belong to a political party and must be

sponsored by that party (d) be educated up to

at least School certificate level or its

equivalents”.

President Buhari’s worry falls under Section 131

(1) (d) CFRN,1999 which talks about School

Leaving certificate. The lay interpretation of that

sub section means that a president must have

school leaving certificate which translates to

contemporarily mean either WAEC, WASC,

NECO, NABTEB, GCE certificates to evince that

he was educated up to secondary school level.

This law is beautiful, at least it grants the

average Nigerian the opportunity to become a

President without having to be denied on the

grounds of not attaining a degree from a

University. It is arguable that this provision is an

undoing but that’s a topic for another day.

A closer look at Section 131(d) seems to have a

far-reaching interpretation. The sub section says

that the president may not have a School leaving

Certificate (in this case which is the WASC

Certificate that Buhari is said not to possess) but

if he has “its equivalents” he can become a

president. Now, what then are the equivalents of

such a certificate which many have considered to

be the lowest ebb the constitution can grant to

all and sundry, an attempt otherwise would mean

to ridicule and frustrate the idea of tertiary

education?

The Equivalents of a School leaving Certificate

are provided for in the same Constitution of

Nigeria under the interpretation section being

Section 316. The constitution carefully

interpretes that “Its Equivalents” as used

under section 316 (d) CFRN 1999, are “(a) a

Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent of

Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds

Certificate; or (b) education up to secondary

School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School

Certificate or its equivalent and (i) service in the

public or private sector in the federation in any

capacity acceptable to the INEC for a minimum

of ten years, and (ii) attendance at courses and

trainings in such institutions as may be

acceptable to the INEC for a period totalling up

to a minimum of One year, and (iii) the ability to

read, write, understand and communicate in the

English Language to the satisfaction of the

INEC” This shows that service as a military officer

for the country for no less than 10 years or even

the ability to read, write and understand English

Language suffices as an equivalent to the School

Leaving certificate required under Section 131

(d) CFRN, 1999.

As mentioned earlier, law works with

mathematical exactitude. The logic of applying

the almighty formula to solve mathematical

problems of a quadratic fashion, is applied

likewise in law. The broad interpretation given

by Section 318 of the Constitution to the term

“its equivalents ” mentioned in section

131(d) must be weaved into a unified whole. The

outcome of such a beautiful tethering of both

sections becomes the answer to Buhari’s spot of

bother. Common sense already shows that

President Buhari doesn’t necessarily have to

possess the WASC CERTIFICATE which he is

alleged of not having in his peaceable possession,

all he needs to have is whatever suffices as an

equivalent of the WASC Certificate as provided

under the constitution. Under Section 318, It is

said that the ability to read and write English

Language in a manner deemed sufficient by INEC

is an equivalent. No doubt the President can

speak English Language in the sufficiency and

appreciation of ordinary men of prudence in the

society. That is all that matters. In Haske v.

Magaji (2009) ALL FWLR (pt. 461) 887, the 1st

respondent was declared as the winner of the

sokoto state house of assembly elections.

Aggrieved by the result, the appellant filed an

action challenging the declaration of the 1st

respondent as winner on the grounds that he

was not educated to at least Secondary School

Certificate level or its equivalent. The court of

appeal in this case held that “the meaning of

definition of School Leaving certificate or its

equivalent and contained under Section 318

CFRN, 1999, can accommodate candidates who

woefully failed in their bid to obtain a West

African School Certificate. In essence, a

candidate need not to have obtained the

Secondary school certificate rather it is sufficient

that such a person has attended a school and

read or studied up to that level without

obtaining a certificate or can speak and

understand English Language satisfactorily”

Governor Oshiomhole was encumbered by the

same problem as against his rival, Airhiavbere

years back. It was in doubt whether he was

qualified to be the Governor of Edo State given

that his ambition was not traceable to any valid

School Certificate. However, this same

interpretation was given in his favour. As a man

who can speak English Language with verve, it

suffices as a valid equivalent to the presentation

of any School leaving Certificate.

Another issue is the inconsistency of the

provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 and the

Constitution. The Electoral Act has provided

similar qualifications such as those provided for

in section 131 of the CFRN 1999 .

However, Section 156, interpretation section of

the Electoral Act, did not interpret what the

phrase “its equivalent” means. It suffices in this

regard that the constitution enjoys supremacy

over the provisions of the Electoral Act. The

Electoral Act is a legislation of the National

Assembly and made pursuant to the constitution

of Nigeria. When an act is inconsistent with the

express provisions of the constitution, the

section that is inconsistent with the constitution

is void and inapplicable. Section 1(3) of the

constitution provides that “if any law is

inconsistent with the constitution, the

constitution shall prevail and that other Law

shall, to the extent of its inconsistency, be void” .

Thankfully, the scope of the Doctrine of

Covering the field as it reflected in Attorney

General of Abia State v. Attorney General of

Federation(2001) 11 NWLR (pt. 725) 689 at 728;

has been, in extenso, interpreted to mean that

when the constitution has abundantly provided

for a particular matter, any other Law which

varies from that which the constitution has

provided is void. It means therefore that the

Electoral Act cannot be invoked against

President Buhari when the constitution has

interpreted the combined sections of 131(d)

and 318 of the constitution to mean that the

president is validly qualified and competent to

hold office.

Lastly, it must be stated that the suit filed

against Buhari contained allegations of Perjury as

presented in the amended statement of claim

before the house. This is disquieting because

Perjury is a crime envisaged under Section 117

of the criminal Code of Nigeria, and as a crime,

only actionable by the state, represented by the

Attorney General. If indeed the president

perjured, the proper person that has the locus

Standi to sue is the Federal Government and

such a suit can only arise after the president

leaves office and not during the currency of his

office because he enjoys immunity against Civil

and Criminal proceedings pursuant to Section

308 of the constitution of Nigeria, 1999 (as

amended).

It is good law that a person must not amass a

glut of certificates before he is qualified to rule.

Competence to rule no doubt has to be

praiseworthy but must not be hinged on

educational qualifications. For the rich, education

may be a doddle, but for the poor sometimes,

even secondary school education is like carrying

owls to Athens; a rather difficult exercise.

Against this backdrop, the law is commendable

and it is in favour of his excellency, the president

to rule without encumbrance of any sort relating

back to the educational qualifications he

possessed of possesses. Section 131(d) of the

constitution may be pedestrian and known to

lawyers, and students of Law alike. However, it is

not a cut-throat provision because a better

interpretation is produced by Section 318 of the

constitution. We must all advert our minds to

the entire provisions of the constitution with

regard to a particular issue. President Buhari

validly remains as president whether or not he

has a WASC Certificate. Do not peddle

ignorance. Those burdened by sentiments may

wail but the law is the law.

 

Written  by DESTINY OSAYI OGEDEGBE

(Mr Possible).

 

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