By James KANYIP
The Buhari Secondary School WAEC Certificate saga is trending in the social and other media. Discussions abound here and there on this issue.
What is the legal position?
Section 131, specifically paragraph (d) thereof, and section 318 of the Constitution are relevant and apposite here. I will reproduce them hereunder for emphasis:
131.- Qualification for election as president
“(1) A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if—
“(a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth ;
“(b) he has attained the age of forty years ;
“(c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party ; and
“(d) he has been educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
And, section 318 of the Constitution defines the phrase “School Certificate or its equivalent” as follows:
“‘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; or
“(c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and-
“(i) 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
“(ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, and
“(iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and
“(d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
Based on the foregoing, section 131 (d) of the Constitution only requires Buhari to prove that he was educated or schooled up to at least School Certificate level without the necessity of sitting for WAEC, or the production of the Certificate. That is all!
See Senator Adeleke’s case decided by the High Court of Osun State on the 8th of August, 2018.
See also the Court of Appeal case of Bayo v. Njidda (2004) FWLR (pt. 192) 10 at 78 where it was 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”.
The above case received judicial approval of the Supreme Court in the case of Terver Kakih v. PDP & Others (2014) LPELR-23277 (SC).
More to it is that, given the community interpretation of the provisions of sections 131 (d) and 318 of the Constitution, even education up to Primary School Certificate level coupled with the production of the Certificate, and other non-educational requirements as stipulated in section 318 would have sufficed as the minimum requirements for Buhari to contest for the Presidential election.
This means that even without obtaining a Primary School Certificate, or obtaining education up to Secondary School Certificate level, INEC has the constitutional power and discretion to clear Buhari to contest in the Presidential election, if it is satisfied that he has:
1. Served in either the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to INEC for a minimum of 10 years.
2. Attended courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to INEC for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year.
3. Ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of INEC.
4. Any other qualification acceptable by INEC.
On the flip side, I think Buhari loaded the entire certificate saga upon himself.
Why did he swear to an affidavit that his Secondary School WAEC Certificate and all his other credentials were still with the Nigeria Army? Why did he choose a more complex process when he has a constitutionally simpler process to follow in order to meet the minimum requirement to contest the Presidential election? The affidavit was needless.
Buhari brought the problem upon himself by insisting he has a Secondary School WAEC Certificate that is supposedly still with the Nigeria Army. He raised the issue of WAEC Certificate by himself in his affidavit; and people are therefore entitled to react.
He should have quietly taken advantage of the other requirements open to him as a result of the expanded interpretation given under section 318 of the Constitution and move on. For instance, he should have simply asked INEC to clear him on the basis of the indisputable and incontrovertible fact that he had served in the Nigeria Army up to the rank of a General for a period of more than 10 years. That would have sufficed!
So, by opting for a more complex process, he has loaded an otherwise needless saga upon himself; and thereby raised questions as to his sincerity.