Buhari’s certificate controversy and the essentiality of education

August 3, 2019
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Nigeria’s 2019 presidential election has ended, but the contest is ongoing at the tribunal. Politics is a mean game – and politicians devise every means to win. That ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar is challenging the result doesn’t mean he won. He may have indeed lost and still be imploring the tribunal to return him elected. In the same vein, President Muhammadu Buhari’s insistence that he won doesn’t mean he actually did. He may have robbed Atiku and still be persuading the tribunal to pronounce him validly elected. Aside from determining who really won, two significant issues are before the tribunal: Atiku’s citizenship determination and Buhari’s certificate verification.

The suits are distinct. Deciding when and where to be born is beyond Atiku’s control, but Buhari could have averted the certificate controversy if he had devoted time to education. Atiku would be suffering for an action taking by the colonialist if the court rules that he is not a Nigerian, but Cameroonian. The genesis of Atiku’s citizenship case is the 1884 scramble for, and partition of Africa. His citizenship might not have been a subject of litigation if the western nations had not partitioned Africa. The tribunal thus has an unenviable task of determining Atiku’s eligibility to contest for president, on account of the West’s adjustment of his ancestral boundary, before he was born.

The testimonies and pieces of evidence presented at the tribunal revived Buhari’s certificate controversy which started in 2014. Buhari’s witness, Major-Gen. Paul Tarfa (retd) avowed that the Army never collected the certificate of the 1962 course officers during recruitment, as earlier claimed by Buhari. This landmark confession revealed Buhari’s claim that his certificate was with the military in 2014 is an untruth. Nigerians thought then President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the military to withhold Buhari’s certificate to disqualify him for contesting. Suspicion brew after Buhari won the election and still couldn’t present his certificate, despite being the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The certificate-with-the-military excuse became untenable.

Buhari did not attach his certificate to the 2019 presidential nomination form, as lawfully required. To make amends, Abba Kyari, the Chief-of-Staff to the President tendered the president’s Cambridge assessment international education certified statement of West African School Certificate (WASC). Kyari claimed he personally signed and collected the document on behalf of Buhari. Atiku’s counsel argued during cross-examination that colleges don’t release certificate to third parties. This assertion is untrue. Colleges do release certificate to the third party on the instruction of the graduate, but certain conditions must be met. Such includes, but not limited to: a letter from the graduate indicating that his/her certificate be released to a third party; and such party must provide a valid form of identification.

To strengthen his defense, Buhari brought in Oshindehinde Adewunmi, the Deputy Registrar of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) in Nigeria to lead evidence in support of the document Kyari tendered. This, unfortunately, did more harm than good. When shown the report Kyari claimed to have collected on Buhari’s behalf, Adewunmi stated that the document is not a WAEC certificate, and he has never worked for the body that issued it. The witness said he cannot affirm the authenticity of the document because it does not bear his signature.

A comparison of the two documents Buhari presented – the Cambridge certified statement of WASC and the 1961 result sheet of the Provincial Secondary School Katsina – revealed some inconsistencies. One stated that Buhari sat for eight subjects, while the other said he sat for six. The name on one is ‘Mohamed’ while the other is ‘Muhammadu’, although Buhari’s witness stressed that both names have the same meaning and are interchangeably used in Islam.

The discrepancies in the documents are making people opine Buhari would lose the case. Their argument is premised on Section 131 of the constitution, which states that ‘any contestant for the position of president of the country must have a minimum qualification of School Certificate or its equivalent’. However, they fail to take cognizance that Section 318 (1c) stated that ‘anyone with primary school certificate which has served in the Nigerian public or private sector, in any capacity, for a minimum of ten years is deemed to have the equivalent of a school certificate’. Buhari is thus qualified to contest and be president having served in the Army for over ten years. That, however, opens the door to new arguments.

The tribunal can only sack Buhari if his years of military service, which makes him qualified to be president under Section 318 (1c) is declared void. If Buhari joined the military with inadequate qualification, could his years of service be declared void? If Buhari was recruited into the military without a certificate and was not given a duration to produce it, who should be blamed? Buhari or the military? In any case, would it be fair to make Buhari suffer for the wrongs of the military recruitment board as the Supreme Court did to Ademola Adeleke in Osun?

The litigations and embarrassment the certificate scandal has brought upon Buhari could have been avoided if he had dedicated some time to scholarship. He had enough time to acquire more qualifications after General Ibrahim Babangida toppled his military regime in 1983. Retired General Olusegun Obasanjo — Buhari’s senior in age and in the military — bagged a Bachelor and Doctorate after he left office as President in 1999. Buhari is not an accidental president. His three unsuccessful race for the nation’s top job, cumulatively 12 years of aiming for president, is enough for him to have bagged a diploma or degree.

Buhari was yearning to lead but failed to prepare for leadership. This showed in his six-month late appointment of ministers in 2015. It is also manifesting in his abysmal performance and mishandling of sensitive national issues. His lack of ideas, narrow-mindedness, and sectionalism is disintegrating the country and hampering growth. He has given little for every much expected. One cannot, in fairness, totally attribute Buhari’s shortcomings to insufficient education. The government of his predecessor who holds a doctorate was a colossal failure.

Nonetheless, that Goodluck Jonathan failed doesn’t mean Buhari should. Buhari’s underperformance hinges on his apologists cheering of wrongs. Justifying Buhari’s failure to get educated is moronic. Many of those defending him severely punish their children for not scoring ‘A.’ They want their children to earn higher degrees, but passionately defend a president with a controversial certificate. Some of these apologists demand for Bachelor’s degree, National Youth Service Corps certificate, and five years of working experience before they can hire and pay 70,000 Naira (about $200) per month. Such a brazen show of double standard is disturbing.

Sections 131 and 318 of the 1999 constitution needs to be amended. The framers made it possible for anyone to be president, so long as they can “read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission.” The best may never get to lead the rest if the constitution is not amended. The less educated ones would continue to govern; appointing and issuing directives to professors. Nigerian leaders, many of whom are not so educated, control the resources and earn huge, while the professors and citizens make peanuts. The professors that should be ruling the less educated are the ones conducting elections to bring them to power.

Nigerian education needs oxygen. The struggle to make ends meet has turned many professors to political job seekers and errand boy. High fees, vast unemployment, and inadequate reward for academic excellence is discouraging people from becoming educated. A friend once said “education is the master key” and “Bata re a dun kokoka” loosely translated “you would wear the best shoes if you’re educated” inspired many to invest in education, but they’ve gained nothing. Politicians and political thugs are the ones wearing the best shoes.

Everyone must endeavor to be educated despite the challenges and discouragements. Buhari and Osun state former governorship candidate, Ademola Adeleke’s ordeal is a powerful lesson that the education you fail to acquire may be all you need to win tomorrow.

Things are turning around for the good of the educated. Education is changing the game. Faster than anyone imagined. The educated ones are bringing innovation to businesses and taking over the jobs from the uneducated. Booking taxi through apps is gradually gobbling the job of the uneducated drivers. Many people view education has the ticket to working in an office, dressing corporate. No. Education ideally gives you knowledge of the world around you and the skill to do things in a better way.

The case of Wunmi comes to mind. Wunmi is a female university graduate who studied mass communication but earns a living from furnishing homes. She uploads furniture pictures on e-commerce platforms and contract artisans to produce them when she has an order. The artisans’ inability to open and manage an e-commerce store is fetching Wunmi money. She won’t have been an intermediary if the artisans are educated. She is earning huge, thriving and expanding, while the uneducated artisans are earning less. That’s the power of education. Buhari, Adeleke, and Wunmi are lessons. Learn.

*Omoshola Deji is a political and public affairs analyst. He wrote in via moshdeji@yahoo.com

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