BY ABIMBOLA OJENIKE
The unending monologue over whether General Muhammadu Buhari has School Certificate raises a question that is rather tendentious and faulty. The idly-conceived narrative, now spreading like wildfire, is to suggest erroneously that the Nigerian Constitution actually requires a candidate to hold or produce West African School Certificate as minimum educational qualification to contest as President.
There is humour in political propaganda, including the present one, to suggest that even if Buhari has a galaxy of stars to his Khaki as a General, it only goes to show that he was a brave General and not necessarily that he is educated. Those who came up with the Buhari-is-illiterate hoax would also want us to believe that the US Army War College was probably referring to a different Muhammadu Buhari who graduated in the Class of 1980 on 9th June of that year as the most distinguished international student. The rumour should be enjoyed for its humour, but do we have to go as far as misrepresenting the law?
What if all Buhari has to show are the stars he got as a General, does that mean he is not eligible to contest? That Buhari has not dignified the political mischief with a response probably suggests that he takes this for what it truly is. Nothing short of him pasting his credentials on his forehead as he goes for campaign would douse the rumour.
I don’t hold Buhari’s brief. I am not even interested in whether he has the papers or not. My motivation for writing this piece is the aversion for how this tribe of politicians deliberately distorts facts, propagates ignorance and peddles invectives rather than focusing on real issues about how they would rescue a nation in the cesspit of misery. I wonder how this is a political trump card for the same President who had advocated for an issue-based campaign.
The most cursory look at the Constitution would reveal to anyone that Buhari is as educationally qualified as President Jonathan with his equally oft-disputed Ph.D.
Section 131 (d) of the Constitution provides that a person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent. Section 318 goes further to say that a “School Certificate or its equivalent means:
- a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or
- education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or
- 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.
The language of the Constitution is plain and unless Buhari’s scoffers are themselves deficient of the ability to read, write and understand in English Language as provided above, there is no conceivable way anyone can say Buhari is not qualified. Indeed, if Buhari is illiterate and he was, as Head of State, able to reduce the inflation rate from 23% to 5%, keep Naira at N1 to $1.4, unemployment at 6.1%, pay all debts, withstand IMF’s pressure to borrow and devalue Naira and quell Maitatsine (Boko Haram’s predecessor-in-terror), he deserves to be celebrated in the rank of geniuses like Einstein.
In contrast, President Jonathan, with his oft-disputed Ph.D, has an uninspiring scorecard of devaluing the Naira, keeping inflation at 8%, Naira-Dollar exchange rate at $1 to N184.50 (as at today), youth unemployment at 80% capped with a grisly record of running a terror-ravaged country and condoning corruption. With knowledge and competence in mind, you would begin to wonder if Nigeria is not better run by a President that has never seen the inside wall of the classroom.
From a broad view, this controversy renews interest in the undeserved recognition given to educational papers rather than the functional knowledge that education should bring. Certificate has been conventionally misrepresented as evidence of knowledge and competence. A time there was in this country when we thought that low educational qualification was probably a major factor for inept leadership.
If this was ever true, President Jonathan, Ph.D has shown us that this might be, at best, a cultural fallacy. Here we are as a nation, with a President who has a Ph.D, the economy is comatose, excess crude account is virtually empty, external reserve is badly depleted, missing funds here and there, we have only a marginal increase in installed power generation and transmission capacity but with no electricity after over N3trillion spending on power under Jonathan’s administration alone. What is more, our lives are even more insecure despite over N3.1trillion defence spending.
Realising that we may have modelled our idea of a President on false criteria, many people are disappointed and are beginning to ask the right questions about Mr. President’s Ph.D – what he did he write his thesis on, who supervised him and who (other than Patience Jonathan) was President Jonathan’s former student?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we don’t need highly-educated men in power. I am only suggesting that as between Jonathan and Buhari, our choice of a President must be for higher considerations of competence, functional intellectualism and principled leadership.
In the final sense, this controversy about whether Buhari is in possession of his West African School Certificate is futile because the Constitution stipulates no such requirement for anyone to stand election. The propriety of this is a matter for another day. Lastly however, as we are asking Buhari to show papers for his knowledge, we should be asking President Jonathan to show knowledge for his papers.
*Follow Abimbola on Twitter @beambini