It does seem that when a politician is popular people overlook his sins and when he becomes unpopular they want to examine his faults. In 2015, the Buhari-mania and its mantra of Change would not allow anyone examine the matter of Buhari’s certificate but it does seem that with the turn of events, those who were ready to accept recharge card and NEPA bill in place of a certificate are insisting they want to see the real certificate.
Those who regularly respond to calls for proposals in the humanitarian and development sector know that one of the first places you must read through are the guidelines for application. These are more or less criteria for eligibility. If among the things required are audited reports for five years and you are only four years old as an organization, you simply know ipso facto that your organization is disqualified; and if they require only a ten paged summary and you go ahead to make it fifteen, or they want an anti-terrorism certification attached and you forget to, or attach only two out of three required letters of support from established organisations, then you must already know you are out, being that the first step is to prune the applications and without even reading the proposals, screen out those who had not met the criteria.
When in 2015 social media were awash with the reaction of Nigerians with regard to the school certificate of General Muhammadu Buhari the notable and funniest ones were “Even if Buhari presents recharge card as his certificate, I will vote for him” and “Even if he presents NEPA bill as his certificate, I will vote Buhari.” This went to show how the younger generation of Nigerians had such faith in Buhari that they would overlook all required criteria just to make a change from the Jonathan presidency. Underlying the humour and sarcasm however was an implication that something must be attached at least, whether recharge card or NEPA Bill.
As at that time I wondered why that should be an issue whereas Buhari had contested the elections thrice but Ozokhome (SAN) explained that previously the law required candidates only to mention their qualifications. So up till the 2011 elections there was no issue with regard to Buhari’s certificate; he could simply have claimed that he had a PhD and not be liable as such; the legislature, for obvious reasons amended the law and required that candidates show evidence of their credentials and according to Mike Ozekhome (SAN), “equivalent” meant NECO, GCE, London GCE, etc. So the matter ought to be very simple. If Buhari has a school certificate or its equivalent he ought to bring it forward and attach.
But the question is, do we go on making inconsequential noises? Do we sincerely expect INEC to be independent enough to insist on this criterion when it is a sitting president that is involved ? Do we expect Buhari and the APC to obey a court order restraining Buhari from contesting the 2019 presidential elections ? It is laughable. After all Buhari has attended many military courses, courses equivalent to tertiary and perhaps even post graduate studies, and then rose to the rank of a general.
What appears contradictory is that the whole basis of the campaign of the ruling government has been a new Nigeria, a Nigeria of integrity, exemplified and embodied in the integrity of the president against the supposed corruption of other major contenders; it becomes a very sensitive issue to not meet a criterion as simple as showing one’s school certificate ! If truly Buhari cannot present his school cert it raises questions about his integrity much more than that of any other candidate for the office, as his integrity is a major plank. The revelation by the army in 2015 that it had neither the original nor certified true copies of Buhari’s credentials raised a further question of a false claim, although the army reversed itself later.
There have been write ups recently purportedly coming from the army explaining why there is no certificate on social media but I cannot trust this. But does Buhari not really have those credentials ? If an examination body issued the certificate, are the records not available ? And if he didn’t sit for those exams and claimed to have those papers, isn’t that a monumental fraud at a period people had not even opened their eyes to such practices ?
To be honest whether Buhari had his school cert or not makes not much difference to the improvement in governance. However for the future, in a country of 188 million Nigerians, I sincerely believe we have gone past the era when anyone would superintend over the affairs of this country who did not pass through the walls of a university or its equivalent. Since our laws have so drastically reduced it to the level of school certificate, the least I would expect as a citizen of this country is for that simple eligibility criterion to be met.
We were all here when the younger Buhari and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Ibrahim Buhari, was exposed with regard to his Toronto certificate. Before then it was common for anyone to make a claim of having studied abroad and to show a certificate for it. Since Salisu Buhari’s exposure, the tendency to make false claims may have reduced. I would rather the senior Buhari came out plainly that he had no such certification than allow the plank of integrity which he stands on to collapse under him.
What could pose a threat is that the scenario is different. In 2015 Goodluck Jonathan conceded. What if Buhari is declared winner and the opposition goes to court to say he was not qualified to run in the first place and since courts make their rulings based on available laws and evidence, what if the supreme court decides that he isn’t actually qualified ? Can we imagine the turmoil that could arise if Buhari decides to remain in power for “national security” interests which according to him are superior to rule of law?
Maybe a leeway is to look at the intention of the law. If the intention is to ensure that the minimum level of education for a President should be school certificate, then it could probably be argued that through experience and training, Buhari has exceeded that level. Maybe that should help us to put behind this distraction of certificate. I would rather Buhari was defeated at the polls than preempt a loss by disqualifying him. If he has a certificate, he should attach it, if he does not have, let that secret knowledge and the gnawing feeling of guilt be his punishment. But let him contest and lose rather.
***Fr. Evaristus Bassey, Director of Church and Society at the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN), lives in Abuja