Williams: 2015: Staying With The Issues

THE political space is turbo-charged because election fever is raging. As in every contest, front line stakeholders are working extra hours in order to remain competitive. But there are always rules in every game. In athletics, for example, there is a certain level of adrenal activism within which contestants must subject themselves. Anyone who seeks pharmaceutical assistance in order to stimulate his/her body metabolism for unusual performance will have himself/herself to blame at the end of the day. 

  Remember a certain Ben Johnson, the Jamaican born Canadian former sprinter with unusual speed? The man procured some help outside his physical capacity in the 1988 Summer Olympics and was subsequently disqualified. Very saddening.

  In the same vein, there are electoral rules and players who seek to gain undue advantage through unwholesome practices may also get disqualified. There are penalties for pre-election offences, as well as those committed during or after the elections. There are examples of politicians who were asked by the courts to return home after they were found to have cheated. One clear name in this category is that of Salisu Buhari (now pardoned), a politician from Kano State who became the first Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1999, but was later found to have presented a forged certificate.  He was convicted for perjury and his victory was diminished. The point is that even after the elections, politicians who emerge victorious, but in questionable circumstances could still be called to order. 

  So, staying with issues, one matter that has refused to evaporate with each passing day is the allegation that Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (GMB), candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) did not present his certificates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) together with his form. When that subject first broke about a month ago, a colleague sought my view and I promptly dismissed it. My initial argument was that if GMB has been in the business of elections since 2003, an exercise that required him to submit his credentials at each contest, why are some people just waking up with this distraction? I could never have imagined that INEC, under the able leadership of the late academic, Abel Guobadia in 2003; controversial, but effective Professor Maurice Iwu in 2007; and the trusted Attahiru Jega in 2011 and now 2015 would not be thorough enough with an issue as sensitive and vital as a candidate’s certificates. 

  But when the matter refused to die down and Buhari confessed that he actually deposed to an affidavit, which he submitted in lieu of his certificates as required by Section 131(d) of the Constitution, I began to pay greater attention to the issue. Yet, curiouser and curiouser, as one APC-friendly commentator loves to say, one month after, Buhari and his media experts are yet to give one simple explanation of what happened to his School Certificate.

  For emphasis, that relevant provision says a person shall be qualified for election to the office of president if he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent. Without debate, Nigerians ought to know that School Certificate refers to that certificate issued after passing through Form Five of those days or the Senior School Certificate they now have, which is issued after six years of classroom work at the JSS and SSS levels. The West African Examination Council (WAEC) regulates the examination leading to the issuance of this certificate. There is now the National Examination Council (NECO), which conducts a parallel examination for students passing out at the SSS level, leading to the issuance of a certificate that is an equivalent of the School Certificate we are talking about. Also without argument is the fact that there is a General Certificate of Education (GCE), which is issued after an external candidate must have sat and passed the West African School Certificate Examination (WASC).  It should not be an issue if a presidential candidate manages to present one of those three.  

  As for the First School Leaving Certificate, that one is issued after one must have spent six years in a primary School. In those days, there used to be primary seven or what was referred to as standard school. The Constitution of 2010 did not bother about those because the generation of Nigerians who went to standard school or who ended their education at the primary school level have no business presenting themselves as presidential candidates in 2015. Such persons, if they still exist must be enjoying their retirement. I pray their benefits are paid promptly.

  For Nigerians who are familiar with the School Certificate, it is the foundation of what one becomes in the main stream of modern society. You cannot attain great heights in the academics or professions if your School Certificate is in doubt. No serious person jokes with School Certificate.     

   However, there are some great Nigerians who did not have the opportunity to attend both primary and secondary schools. They were brilliant, but due to one reason or the other they could not go to school. Some left home after they manageably earned their First School Leaving Certificate, to learn one trade or the other in the big cities. Others were apprenticed to some firms, where they took time off work to study from home until they obtained that basic, foundational School Certificate or its equivalent, which is the GCE or what used to be Cambridge. Today, some of them are at the top in their chosen careers. One is a SAN and one of the best lawyers to come out of Nigeria. He did not stop there. He runs one of the best private universities in this country. The point is that, one or two things could make a promising child miss early education, but it is nothing to feel shy or boneface about, as we say in local parlance. As a matter of fact, it is something to boast about, that one missed going to college, but read from home and cleared all the papers. Sometime ago, I met some great scions of the ruling family of Auchi in Edo State. Boastfully, one told me he could not attend college, but he became a professor long before he passed on. He obtained his School Certificate from home.

  When the issue of Buhari’s certificate refuses to go away and those who should offer a simple explanation keep beating about the bush, it calls to question their sincerity about the change they profess.  And the crass manner they go about shows more of arrogance than respect for Section 131(d). 

  Where are Buhari’s certificates? This is a simple question that should not take one month to answer, but instead, APC media people are working very hard to shut Nigerians up. They will either berate the Nigerian Army for telling Nigerians that it is not in custody of Buhari’s certificate or attempt to dredge up some sentiments about Buhari attaining the rank of a General, therefore, it is an insult to demand that he respects the constitution.

 The Jonathan Campaign Organisation has accused INEC of conniving with the APC presidential candidate to subvert the Constitution. The PDP insists that Buhari did not submit his academic documents to INEC in 2011 and has gone ahead to do the same thing in 2015. 

  At this point, it is better for the APC to stay with this vital issue and stop roaring all over the place. They should put this pre-election matter to a conclusive rest before April 14, so that it does not haunt them to the Supreme Court, if indeed Buhari has no certificate to tender. I still don’t believe that is the case, but if there are clarifications to make, nobody should feel too big to explain to voters. 

  After all, General Gowon went to school after he had been head of state for many years. And it shows in his carriage, speech and worldview. Obasanjo also went to school and he is presently running a Ph.D. programme. Again, that crave for education has positively enhanced his capacity to churn out books and force all of us to listen to him. Education enhances the capacity to debate and not to feel intimidated. The lack of it will push persons into violent acts. That is not what Nigerians want and APC should demonstrate progressivism and explain to Nigerians. 

  The way the APC has prevaricated on the matter has spurred some Nigerians to ask what Buhari had done with himself since he was pushed out of power in 1985. Apart from his known pet project, which is to return to power, does it mean the man did not embark on some enlightenment or activities to encourage youth participation in business or governance? For a man that is so well loved, especially among the younger population, apart from his political endeavor, Buhari should also be the rallying point in the campaign to encourage northern youths to go to school. The records are scary, especially in the Northeast, where insurgents have destroyed all the schools and are recruiting young boys and girls to join them.

  Methink there is no better way to start, than for Buhari to clarify the issue with his certificate, to show that he is a lover of education.

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