By James KANYIP
A High Court of Osun State sitting in Osogbo had on Wednesday, 08/08/2018, dismissed a Suit filed by two members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) seeking to stop Senator Ademola Adeleke as the governorship candidate of the PDP in the coming election in the State.
The Plaintiffs had filed the Suit praying the Court to restrain PDP from presenting Adeleke as its governorship candidate because he did not possess the basic educational qualification required by the 1999 Nigerian Constitution for anyone seeking to contest governorship election.
However, the Court held that Adeleke satisfied the requirement of Section 177 (d) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which stated that a governorship candidate must be educated up to secondary school level or its equivalent which, according to the Court, even the Plaintiffs had admitted in their affidavit evidence that Adeleke attended Ede Muslim Grammar School now known as Ede Muslim High School.
Therefore, the Court held that Adeleke did not need to pass the examination or posses the certificate before he can contest the election.
In arriving at that conclusion, the Court heavilly relied on the Supreme Court judgment in the case of Terver Kakih v. PDP & Others (2014) LPELR-23277 (SC), and the community interpretation of the provisions of sections 177 (d) and 318 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution. In that case, the Supreme Court equally gave judicial approval to the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Bayo v. Njidda (2004) FWLR (pt. 192) 10 at 78 where the Court of Appeal held thus:
“In other words as regards a secondary school certificate; it is enough, in my view that one attended School Certificate level i.e. without passing and obtaining the Certificate”
Therefore, the High Court held, based on the above cases and constitutional provisions, that a candidate does not need to possess a Secondary School Certificate to be eligible to contest governorship election, but must have education up to Secondary School level, which Adeleke and the plaintiffs had proved; and that Adeleke was qualified to contest the September 22 governorship election holding in the State.
The Plaintiffs’ case was accordingly dismissed on this premise.
With due respect, it is my firm view that the decisions in the Adeleke’s, Terver’s and Bayo’s Cases in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, respectively, are judicially absurd.
Why did I say so?
All the Courts in the above cases relied on the community interpretation of the provisons of sections 177 (d) and 318 (1) (a) and (b) of the Constitution to arrive at this common decision.
Section 177 (d) of the Constitution provides:
“A person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor if—
(d) he has been educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent”
Section 318 (1) provides:
“School Certificate or its equivalent” means—
(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…”
It is obvious that in arriving at their respective common conclusion, the Courts placed more reliance on the interpretation in paragraph (b) of section 318 (1) and closed their eyes to paragraph (a). While paragraph (a) defines ‘School Certificate’ within the premise of actually obtaining a Secondary School Certificate, or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, or the City and Guilds Certificate; paragraph (b) defines it within the premise of mere participation, attendance, or acquiring education up to Secondary School Certificate level without the necessity of actually obtaining a Certificate to prove it.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has, in solid judicial pronouncements, laid down the fundamental guiding principles that would come to aid in the interpretation of the Nigerian Constitution. For instance, in the case of Kalu v. The State (1998) 13 NWLR (pt. 583) 531, the Supreme Court stated these fundamental guiding principles as follows:
First, that such interpretation must be such as would serve the interest of the Constitution; best carry out its object and purpose; and give effect to the intention of its framers.
Second, all relevant provisons of the Constitution must be read together and not disjointly.
Third, where the words of any section are clear and unambiguous, they must be given their ordinary meaning unless this would lead to absurdity or be in conflict with some other provisions of the Constitution.
Fourth, where the provisions of the Constitution are capable of two meanings, preference must be given to the meaning that would give force to the Constitution read together as a whole and promote its object and purpose.
Fifth, although Nigerian courts may in appropriate cases have recourse to persuasive international jurisprudence and decisions of other common law countries for purposes of guidance, due weight must be accorded to Nigerian peculiar circumstances, especially the generally held norms, values, aspirations and local conditions.
Armed with these guiding principles, I am strongly inclined to say that the Courts should have given both paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 318 (1) of the Constitution a community or conjunctive interpretation to the effect that a candidate for governorship election should possess in the minimum a Secondary School Certificate; not merely attending a Secondary School in order to avoid judicial absurdity.
If attendance in Secondary School per se is the minimum requirement to contest governorship and other elections in Nigeria, at what point in time can it be established that a candidate has attended Secondary School? How can it be proved?
The Secondary School system in Nigeria is now segmented into Junior Secondary School and Senior Secondary School. Can a person that participated in Junior Secondary School only without participating in the Senior Secondary School be also qualified under section 177 (d) of the Constitution to contest for governorship election in Nigeria?
Can obtaining a Junior Secondary School Certificate, or participating in Junior Secondary School per se also qualify a candidate to contest governorship election in Nigeria?
The foregoing questions are important because the Constitution did not differentiate between the Junior Secondary School and the Senior Secondary School. It merely made reference to ‘Secondary School’. And, both of them are Secondary Schools, or constitute Secondary School for all intent and purpose.
Therefore, going by the common decision of these Courts, a person that attended Form 1 in the Junior Secondary School (JSS 1) even for just a day and then dropped out from the school, and the one that attended the same JSS 1 up to Form 3 of Senior Secondary School (SSS 3) and passed out with a Secondary School Certificate in his hands or its equivalent are on the same pedestal and therefore eligible to contest governorship and other elections in Nigeria. The same thing goes to a person who was rusticated for cultism and other misconduct, or withdrawn on poor academic performance from Secondary School.
Again, what happened to the person who was dropped out of secondary school in his final year, can we say he is also qualified to contest for governorship election in Nigeria?
By the common decision of these Courts, it means that one day mere attendees of Secondary Schools or drop-outs, or those rusticated from these Schools on grounds of cultism or other misconduct are also qualified to contest gubernatorial and other elections in Nigeria.
I do not think it is the intendment of the framers of the Constitution that such latter category of people should be the ones to be in political governance in Nigeria.
In any event, the repeated emphasis on the word ‘Certificate’ in both sections 177 (d) and 318 (1) (a) and (b) is conclusive that the minimum requirement is the possession of that Certificate; and not merely attending or participating in Secondary School. Besides, the only conclusive evidence of even attending or participating in the Secondary School is the presentation of the School Certificate itself.
Unfortunately for me, the common decision of these Courts, especially the one of the Supreme Court, represents the position of the law on this issue; and it is binding on all of us.
The implication is that, all a candidate requires to be constitutionally qualified to contest for governorship and other elective offices in Nigeria is to show that he has participated or spent just a day in a Secondary School in Nigeria without any Certificate to prove it. That’s all!