Buhari’s “Certificate Saga” Vs Atiku’s “Corruption Toga:” Time to Listen to George Santayana es Now (a Legal Opinion, by Sylvester Udemezue)


Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa is an inimitable rule of law advocate, human rights crusader and distinguished constitutional lawyer in Nigeria. But, one major thing that stands Mr Adegboruwa out among his ilk is his pluckiness and unswerving tenacity to stand up to call a spade by its name, at all material times, no matter whose ox is gored. I have read a legal opinion, credited to the fiery legal luminary, but which came off as a Press Release dated 27 October 2018, and titled, Why Buhari doesn’t need WAEC certificate to contest in 2019.” (see http://dailypost.ng/2018/10/27/buhari-doesnt-need-waec-certificate-contest-2019-adegboruwa/). After having cited and discussed the provisions of sections 131 and 318 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), Mr Adegboruwa had gone ahead to draw the following conclusion:

“So, it is only a moral burden, for the President, if he claimed to have attended any secondary school, to produce the certificate of that school, to the satisfaction of Nigerians, but that has nothing to do with his legal right to contest election as President. The debate is thus unnecessary. Let’s move on to other issues.”

I completely agree with Mr Adegboruwa. Aside from the constitutional provisions to which my learned friend has copiously referred, there are a plethora of other legally justifiable reasons why I believe the issue of President Buhari’s non-production of his WAEC Certificate has become akin to a hatchet that is not of any use in the farm, and as such must be buried and forgotten.

A breakdown of the definition of “School Certificate or its equivalent” as provided in section 318 (1) of the 1999 Constitution shows that possession of School Certificate is unnecessary if a candidate in an election possesses “its equivalent.” The Premium Times newspaper recently reported that the Government College, Katsina, (formerly Provincial Secondary School), which Muhammadu Buhari had allegedly graduated from in 1961, had released Mr. Buhari’s secondary school certificate examination results confirming Mr. Buhari’s claims that he undertook the University of Cambridge West African School Certificate Examinations. PREMIUM TIMES displayed a computer printout from Cambridge University as well as a statement of result, signed by the current principal of Katsina College, and dated January 21, 2015. (see https://theeagleonline.com.ng/katsina-college-releases-buharis-wasc-result-scanned-copy/).

Constitutional requirements relating to production of a WASC/WAEC Certificate is useful but only to establish that the affected candidate has attended a secondary school or sat for the WASC/WAEC/NECO. So, where such Certificate is not available, a copy of the Certificate or Statement of Result in the candidate’s possession or a CTC of either (issued by relevant authorities) could come in to save the situation. The report by Premium Times clearly displays a scan CTC of Mr Buhari’s WASC Statement of Result. Section 89 (c) and (e) of the Evidence Act, 2011 (Nigeria) provides that “secondary evidence may be given of the existence, condition, or contents of a document when – the original copy has been destroyed or lost and in the latter case all possible search has been made for it, or the original is a public document within the meaning of section 102” of the Evidence Act. Section 90 (1) (a) of the same Act then provides that where loss or destruction is the case, “any secondary evidence of the contents of the document is admissible.”  I respectfully believe that the CTC of the Statement of Result of Mr Buhari can come under section 90 (1) (a) of the Evidence Act, and as such has met the provisions of section 318 (1) of the Constitution requiring evidence of “education up to Secondary School Certificate Level.”

Submission of a genuine WASC Statement of Result to INEC has been judicially recognized in Nigeria as evidence that the affected candidate has met the relevant constitutional requirements for qualification in this respect. See the case of ANPP v INEC & Ors [2010] 13 NWLR (pt. 1212) 549, However, where the document/Certificate /Statement submitted is found to be fake, the affected candidate stands disqualified pursuant to section 137 (1) (j) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 which provides that “a person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if he has presented a forged Certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

I agree that if PMB has said (on oath) that he has a WASC Certificate, then he has a burden to produce the Certificate. But, it must be noted that this is not the same as the legal question as to whether or not he is qualified to contest in line with the combined effects of sections 131 (d) and 318(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. I am of the view that, as my learned senior (Mr Adegboruwa has submitted), Mr Buhari is so qualified. I need however to add that we must be careful about this Certificate saga to avoid a repeat of the smear campaigns of 2015; some persons were busy then castigating Mr. Buhari for not having a School Certificate. The pointless scathing attacks against him were so intense that many more people started getting attracted to his cause out of empathy. Some persons who perhaps had not bought into his candidacy started turning around to love him, so much so that this became a major factor that ultimately led to his landslide victory in the 2015 presidential elections. I therefore humbly advise that, as the 2019 elections fast approach, politicians, their supporters, allies and fans must learn to focus on material issues that pertain to governance, employment, economy, education, agriculture, security, provision of basic infrastructure, and the general well-being and welfare of Nigerians; they must take attention off mundane issues which have little or nothing whatsoever to do with performance or non-performance in public office.

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Further, I think 2019 would make it the fifth time Mr. Buhari is contesting elections into the Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria —- 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019.  Are those who now complain about his non-production of his WAEC Certificate not guilty of lashes and acquiescence? “Delay defeats equity” is a variant of the maxim that “equity aids the vigilant, not the indolent.” Where were these Certificate wailers in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015?  Or, was Mr Buhari qualified then, but not now?

Aside from the aforesaid, it amounts to an insult to/on Nigeria for us to be representing a retired Nigerian Army General as if he didn’t go to school. I think by doing such, we are wounding the reputation of Nigeria and the integrity of its armed forces. Yes! And when we wash our dirty linens in public, we should not be surprised when foreigners begin to treat our armed forces and its officers and men with superciliousness and condescension! We teach others how to treat us. If we lower ourselves before outsiders, they treat us like trash.

What is more? Mr Buhari has occupied some of the highest offices any Nigerian can aspire to in Nigeria:

  • The military Governor of the North-Eastern State: 1975-1976;
  • The Federal Commissioner (position now called Minister) for Petroleum and Natural Resources: 1976-1978;
  • The pioneer Chairman of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation: 1977-1978;
  • Held the position of General Officer Commanding, in the Nigerian Army: 1981-1983;
  • The Military Head of State and Government of Nigeria: 1984-1985;
  • The democratically elected President & Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; 2015 to date.

Looking at the various positions and offices he has held, including having occupied the office of President and Commander in Chief for about five (5) years, one cannot but ask, “If he is not qualified to run for the presidency, who else in Nigeria is qualified?” The truth is, from whichever angle one looks at it, Mr Buhari has met the requirements of the Constitution as they relate to eligibility to stand for elections in Nigeria.

Now, let us talk about his military trainings and various special courses undertaken by him as a serviceman. Mr Buhari is reported to have undertaken the following course and trainings while he was in military service:

(Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammadu_Buhari)

Now, if these trainings and special courses do not (each or altogether) rank above the WASC Certificate, which is my humble view, then they should at least be taken to be sufficient to constitute the “equivalent” of the WASC and as such to qualify Mr. Buhari to contest any political office in Nigeria.

One other thing about section 318 (1), as cited Mr Adegboruwa, is that a person who did not even attend any secondary school at all and therefore did not sit for WASC/WAEC/NECO may nonetheless be qualified contest any election in Nigeria if he shows that he (1) possesses the Primary School Leaving Certificate AND either (a) has been a public service or (b) has attended courses and training in institutions or (c) is able to read, write and communicate and understand the English Language. For Mr Buhari to have gained an admission into a Provincial Secondary School, Katsina, as he did, he must have graduated from a Primary School.

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What is more? The Constitution gives the INEC the exclusive powers to declare a candidate eligible if the candidate possesses “any other qualification acceptable to INEC.” Accordingly, even if Mr Buhari does not have a WASC/WAEC Certificate, did not attend any secondary school, does not possess the Primary School Leaving Certificate and did not attend any primary school, INEC could still decide to declare him qualified to contest on grounds that he possesses any other qualification which INEC considers acceptable. The Constitution does not define the scope or type of qualification that may be acceptable to INEC for this purpose. So, in such a case, NO other Nigerian, and not even a court of law, has any locus to question the decision of the INEC to declare the affected candidate eligible if INEC does so because it (INEC) believes that the candidate possesses such other acceptable qualification. The subjective test is applied here!

I had have earlier spoken about issues as this when Osun State’s Adeleke and his certificate first came up. We saw how campaign of calumny against Adeleke based of his “no-certificate” and “dancing” status had helped to sway voters in his favour against his major opponent in the 2018 gubernatorial elections in Osun State. This was later to repeat itself during the August 31, 2018 APC Governorship primaries in Lagos State. An aspirant had told the world at a press conference that his opponent had previously been (1) arrested and detained in the USA for being in possession of fake currency; and also (2) was later admitted and rehabilitated at Gbagada General Hospital, Lagos, for some “mental illness.” As a result of this accusation, the accuser lost any remaining goodwill, sympathy and support he had enjoyed among majority of APC Lagosians. He was to go on to lose the gubernatorial primary election in its aftermath and not even his later allegations of rigging or manipulation could move anyone because he was already disqualified in the minds of many who felt it was improper for him to have used his opponent’s medical conditions (if any) against his opponent. All in all, we need to learn that when in an election you attack your opponents over frivolous or inconsequential matters, you indirectly work against yourself and your interests, because such moves are usually bound to backfire at the end.

Similarly, we must put a stop to the now rampant media trial of alleged “corrupt” persons in Nigeria. A situation in which, without conviction or pronouncements by any court of law, we begin to present our citizens as either corrupt or as criminals, is not healthy for the nation. By indulging in such, we are telling the outside world that Nigeria and Nigerians are not safe to do business with. The obvious consequence is that inflow of foreign investment would shrink as investors are scared to come in, seeing that most Nigerians are said to be corrupt. Who wants to do business with a “corrupt” country? I have also heard some people pushing and imposing the corruption “toga” upon Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as a political weapon to dissuade his supporters and render his candidature unsellable in the 2019 presidential elections, even when we know he currently does not have any pending criminal/corruption charge anywhere in Nigeria or elsewhere. I think the only option available to those who label him “corrupt” is to drag him or cause him to be dragged before a competent court for proper criminal prosecution in order to determine his actual status on the corruption index. If we won’t follow due process to establish his guilt (if any), then we must cease persecuting and castigating him upon allegations which are not yet proven before any court. Just as the needless campaign of calumny against PMB in 2015 had played a great role in ensuring his victory in the polls, if we do not immediately discontinue this hateful, legally unsubstantiated, campaign against opponents, such might backfire, as happened in 2015.

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In the celebrated case of Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi v. Independent National Electoral Commission (2008) 5 NWLR (Pt 1080), the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) had submitted Hon Chibuike Amaechi’s name to INEC as its Governorship candidate in Rivers State for the 2007 elections, and later substituted Omehia’s name for Amaechi’s on the basis that AMaechi was indicted for corruption by the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). No court of law had however made an order disqualifying Amaechi from contesting the Governorship elections. Hon Amaechi had challenged his substitution up to the Supreme Court of Nigeria, which in its lead judgment, took time to denounce in very strong terms any form of imposition of any penalty or disqualification, persecution other punishment for alleged embezzlement or fraud solely on the basis of an indictment for corruption, contrary to Section 36(5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.  Says the Apex Court (per George Adesola Oguntade. J.S.C): 

“I say again that convictions for offences and imposition of penalties and punishments are matters appertaining exclusively to judicial power.   See Sokefun v. Akinyemi [1980] 5-7 S.C. (Reprint) 1; [1981] 1 NCLR 135; Garba v. University of Maiduguri [19861 1 NWLR (Pt. 18) 550. An indictment is no more than an accusation:   In Sokefun v. Akinyemi (supra) this court per Fatayi-Williams, CJN said at page 146 as follows: It seems to me that once a person is accused of a criminal offence, he must be tried in a court of law where the complaints of his accusers can be ventilated in public and where he would be sure of getting a fair hearing. …The jurisdiction and authority of the courts of this country cannot be usurped by either the Executive or the Legislative branch of the Federal or State Government under any guise or pretext whatsoever….It is not a simple matter to find a citizen of Nigeria guilty of a criminal offence without first ensuring that he is given a fair trial before a Court of Law….It is simply impermissible under a civilized system of law to find a person guilty of a criminal offence without first affording him the opportunity of a trial before a court of law in the country. Indeed, it is a subversion of the law and an unconcealed attempt to politicize the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences.”

This is where reference to the American philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, GEORGE SANTAYANA (1863-1952) becomes apposite. Writing on page 284 of “Reason in Common Sense,” which is Volume 1 of his book, The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress, George Santayana had warned that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” From its original form, and because of its prominence, the declaration had produced many paraphrases and variants, including that: (1) those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it; (2) those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them; and (3) those who do not know history’s mistakes are doomed to repeat them. It is our responsibility to live out the lessons of history by paying heed to George Santayana’s wise counsel. Politicians who dwell on frivolous matters usually end up campaigning for and winning empathy for their opponents. It happened in 2015. It happened in Osun State in 2018. It happened in Lagos on 31 August 2018. It might happen again unless we learn to remove the monkey’s hand from the soup before it turns to human hands.

Our problem in not hearing is not that we do not have ears; it is just that most of us do not use them! This could be a part of the reason Craig D. Lounsbrough, Licensed Professional Counsellor in the State of Colorado, USA, once queried: “Do we forget, or, is it that we just refuse to remember?” Anyway, it’s our choice to make. But we must be prepared to live with the choice we decide to make. One cannot blame anyone else but oneself for the choices one makes. All great choices are made with great risks. You must decide for yourself if the consequences are worth the action you are willing to take. (See Cathlin Shahriary in Lanthe, published in2015).

Note: This piece is by NO mean an endorsement or promotion of any candidate in any election in Nigeria. The writer is not a politician, but only interested in the promotion of rule of law in a constitutional democracy.

God bless Nigeria!



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