Adekanye: The non-issue about Buhari’s qualification

OVER the last month, the news media, including the various social network platforms, have been inundated by the controversy over whether or not the presidential candidate of the opposition party, retired General Buhari possesses the minimum educational qualification to run for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the impending February 2015 Elections. The controversy reached its crescendo over this past weekend when a top member of the governing party’s campaign organisation and himself a legal practitioner called a world press conference to publicise the matter about this alleged “certificate scandal.” Ordinarily, as a thoroughbred academic, and not given to intervening in patently partisan political debates, this writer would have kept quiet and allowed the political process, including waiting for the Supreme Court ultimately, to pronounce on the matter. But the obligation one feels one owes to the Nigerian public as a whole makes it incumbent upon one to share one’s knowledge and expertise regarding the matter. I submit that the so-called non-possession of educational qualification up to “School Certificate level or its equivalent” alleged against retired General Buhari is a non-issue for the 2015 Elections, as the allegation is incorrect, not sufficiently constitutionally informed, and therefore irrelevant to the campaign for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2015 Elections. The reasons for asserting this are as follows.       

    Firstly, whereas retired General Buhari might not have possessed a Second School Certificate but obtained OCS Mons qualifications from England before being commissioned into the Nigerian Army officer corps, and whereas all Nigerian Army officers of his generation and those before him who had attended Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, were also most unlikely to possess Secondary School Certificate (and in sharp contrast to their counterparts who having gone to Sandhurst were in all likelihood to have had Secondary School Certificate), this does not mean that, through attendance at courses and training in other recognized institutions in the course of their professional career, such officers had not subsequently added other educational qualifications that placed them way beyond the level of the Primary Six School Leaving Certificate holder. 

    Secondly, Buhari’s entry into the Nigerian Army officer corps (combatant) coincided with the time of introduction of the quota system of selection (May 1961) which was intended among other things for accommodating some of the lesser-qualified candidates from the North, rather than have the officer corps dominated wholly by candidates from the South. Before 1961, Nigeria had maintained considerably high educational standards for selection into the Army officer corps. Up to that year, for example, a potential officer was required to possess the minimum academic qualifications of Credits in four subjects, including English Language, at the West African School Certificate level, or for their equivalent four Ordinary Passes at General Certificate of Education (GCE, London). It was also during that period that were recruited for “combatant commissions” the five university graduates to be recruited into the officer corps, namely Chuckwumeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Victor Banjo, Olufemi Olutoye, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Oluwole Rotimi, and Adewale Adegboyega.  After May 1961, however, and with the introduction of the quota system, the alternative qualification of Teachers’ Grade II Certificate, or the Royal Society of Arts (R.S.A.), Stage II Certificate, was stipulated, obviously to accommodate some of the lower-qualified Northern candidates; although, as it turned out, candidates from the South also benefitted from the considerable lowering of standards that resulted from operation of the quota system. Thirdly, by the end of the year of independence in 1960, the Nigerian Army had as many as 17 members of the emergent national officer corps possessing Mons OCS qualification or its equivalent. Among the senior officers (combatant) of retired General Buhari’s generation or the generation a little before who, like him, had had Mons qualifications or their equivalent were Olusegun Obasanjo, Olu Bajowa, Joseph Garba, Ibrahim Babangida, George Innih, David Mark, Mohammed Sani Sami, and Sani Abacha. Among the Army senior officers (combatant) of retired General Buhari’s generation or the generation a little before him, who had gone and passed through the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS) type of training or the equivalent, were Chuckwuma Nzeogwu, Yakubu Gowon, Illiya Bissala, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Murtala Mohammed and Alani Akinrinade. There were those recruited from other professions  and commissioned into the various technical arms and support services including Henry Adefope and Adeniyi Austen-Peters. 

    But it would be disingenuous to claim that any of these categories of officers, particularly those with OCS Mons qualification or its equivalent, did not have educational qualification that went beyond the Primary School Leaving Certificate level, especially if they had spent more than 20 years in service and risen through the ranks from the first and second lieutenant grade through captain and major to colonel and brigadier and ultimately to general. This is best illustrated by the most celebrated case of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, an initial ex-Mons graduate, retired general since 1979, and subsequent holder of a number of higher degree certificates including one Diploma and a Masters from the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and currently registered as PhD candidate at the country’s premier University of Ibadan.  

    Fourthly, while in service, Buhari had added to his vita other educational and professional qualifications, through attendance of numerous training courses. He had also written a number of promotion examinations to earn his advancement from lower-officer cadre (beginning from cadet, second and first lieutenant) through the middle ranks (captain, major) up to the rank of colonel. Besides, in the Nigerian case, since by the time Buhari reached the rank of colonel, most issues about promotion as well as retirement within the Army especially after level of colonel tended to be regulated by mostly political considerations. Since retirement from the force, Buhari has had many honours, distinctions and awards conferred upon him for various meritorious services. 

    Apart from the steady rise he enjoyed in his military career to the topmost rank of full general, and the many key command posts he had held in the Army from 1963/64 up to July 1975, the previous political combined with military appointments which retired General Buhari had held to-date include having been Military Governor, North Eastern State of Nigeria, August 1975–March 1976; Minister for Petroleum and Natural Resources, March 1976–June 1978; Military Secretary, Army Headquarters, July 1978–June 1979; Head of State and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, December 1983–August 1985; Member, Council of State (being one of the country’s highest advisory bodies, since August 1985 and up to-date; Chairman, Petroleum Trust Fund), 1995 -1998. Although most of these appointments, particularly the last set, could be described as political and as having been made and received under a period of military rule, there can be no disputing that performance at the duties involved would have required of any occupant of those jobs and offices to possess considerable experience and judgment, as well as the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English Language, plus the possession of other qualifications beyond the level of the Primary Six School Leaving Certificate. Would anyone say retired General Buhari did not possess even these minimal qualifications? But ultimately, is that combination of qualities just stated not what the educational requirement prescribed for election to the office of the President ultimately reduces to?      

    The latter set of questions, arising from the fourth point just made, leads naturally to the fifth and last observation and, perhaps, also the most crucial point that I must make for capping the foregoing counter-argument of my intervention in the debate regarding the alleged “certificate scandal”. It is that retired General Buhari more than satisfies the constitutionally stipulated educational criteria requiring him as a candidate to have “been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent”. For, although Article 131 (d) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) states among other requirements for election as President that “a person shall be qualified for election to the office of President” if s/he “has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent”, that provision is not meant to be taken in the literal sense or taken out of context, but rather interpreted according to the meaning originally intended by framers of the Constitution. The meaning of the phrase “School Certificate level or its equivalent” is to be found in the Interpretation, Citation and Commencement part of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which begins from Part IV, Article 318 (1), and is meant to have been read alongside Article 131(d). In that Interpretation part of the Constitution can be found defined what the framers of the Constitution meant and intended by that provision, which ought to be read by anyone seeking a fuller understanding of the phrase regarding “School Certificate or its equivalent”. 

   To quote from Part IV, Article 318 (1) of the Interpretation section of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) expressing the meaning given by the framers in full, then, by the constitutional provision in Article 131(d) requiring any candidate for election to the office of President to have “been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent”, the framers of the Constitution are understood to have meant the possession of any of the following credentials:

“(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; or

(c)Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and –

• 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, and

• attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable  to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totaling up to a minimum of one year, and

• the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English Language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission; and

• any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

    Thus, constitutionally, the ultimate test about retired General Buhari’s educational qualification rests on whether or not he possesses “Primary Six School Leaving Certificate” plus “the ability to read, write, and understand and communicate in the English Language”. In the currently raging debate on the matter, one has not heard anyone on the contending side of the argument state that even this minimum qualification the retired General does not possess – that is, if we discount everything else about his professional career life, and above all the record of exemplary public service. 

   Given all the foregoing, it is hoped that this matter about retired General Buhari’s educational non-qualification for election to the office of the President in 2015 will have been finally settled and permanently laid to rest. It is in fact a non-issue for campaign purposes and irrelevant to the forthcoming 2015 Elections. Possibly, the INEC authorities, including those working in their Legal department, already know this.

• J. ‘Bayo Adekanye, PhD, FSSAN is Emeritus Professor of Political Science & Civil-Military Relations; and Fellow of Social Science Academy of Nigeria.

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