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Time To Reject Politicians With Missing, Phoney Certificates

Austyn Ogannah Column

Last week, anyone anywhere in the world, who was online to get news about Nigeria, would have stumbled on the very grim revelation that was splashed across the front pages of newspapers where the current vice presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Kabiru Masari, boldly claimed that his school certificates were missing. It was uncannily reminiscent of claims by the substantive presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who had earlier used the very same narrative.

It was embarrassing to realise that the men, upon whom the responsibilities of leadership for no fewer than 200 million Nigerians could potentially be placed could not be responsible enough to provide copies of their basic academic credentials for public scrutiny, if indeed they attended the schools where they claim to have studied.

The brouhaha began when on Friday, June 24, INEC publicly published the personal information it received from the 16 presidential candidates vying for the highest public office in the land in the February 25, 2023 presidential election as mandated by the Constitution.

The constitutional requirement is meant to give the general public the opportunity to check the accuracy of the candidates’ claims, regarding their qualifications and suitability for office. Therein, it was discovered that Tinubu not only omitted the details of his primary and secondary education, but also failed to include his tertiary education certificates. Admittedly, the more questions about the legality of his candidature were being raised, the more these glaring omissions are scrutinised and theories as to why he was unable to include these details started picking up the pace.

However, this is not the first time that Tinubu’s academic credentials have generated controversies. In fact, it was the APC presidential candidate that started it all with his misleading claims contained in filings with the electoral commission decades ago.

In his recent filing, his INEC form contained an affidavit in which he stated that his credentials were stolen after he was forced into exile by the late Sani Abacha’s military junta. It reads, “I went on self-exile from October 1994 to October 1998. When I returned, I discovered that all my property, including all the documents relating to my qualifications and my certificates, in respect of paragraph three above, were looted by unknown persons. My house was a target of series of searches by various security agents from the time the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was forced to adjourn, following the military takeover of government of November 17, 1993. I was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, banking and finance. I was also a plaintiff in one of the two suits against the Interim National Government in 1993. I went on exile when it became clear to me that my life was in danger.”

It brought back memories of the legal battles that Tinubu had to fight in the past about his credentials. In his papers with INEC when he stood for governorship of Lagos State election in 1999 and 2003, he repeated the same claim of certificate loss. He did, however, claim to have attended the St. Paul Children’s Home School in Ibadan from 1958 to 1964 and Government College, Ibadan (GCI) from 1965 to 1968 before moving on to Richard Daley College in Chicago from 1969 to 1971 and the University of Chicago.

However, during Tinubu’s first term in office as Governor of Lagos State, the media questioned the validity of the credentials he submitted to INEC for the 1999 election, accusing him of perjury and certificate fraud. The late human rights advocate, Gani Fawehinmi, prosecuted a case of certificate forgery and perjury against Tinubu until the Supreme Court dismissed the case on the technical grounds that the governor was immune from legal prosecution.

The court ruled that only the state House of Assembly had the authority to look into the claims against Tinubu and punish him if it was discovered that he had engaged in any illegality. The Lagos State House of Assembly set up a committee to probe the investigations, but the petitioners failed to appear. On his part, on September 23, 1999, the governor made an appearance, according to the committee’s report. He was said to have accepted responsibility for the discrepancies in his credentials that evoked suspicions of fraud and forgery. He supported his claim by tendering a form he submitted in 1992 when he contested for senatorial elections under the Social Democratic Party and to which he had attached copies of certificates of his credentials from both Richard Daley College and Chicago State University. He did not tender any documents showing that he attended primary or secondary school as he claimed in the INEC filing.

Tinubu and Masari are not the only politicians who have been embroiled in this “missing certificates” brouhaha. In fact, there are many active politicians who are getting away with these missing certificates tales with some even carrying forged academic certificates.

This development has sparked the need for us to ask very serious questions about the sort of personalities that should be involved in this democratic process, in the first place. Playing the same hand used by Tinubu, Masari deposed an affidavit with INEC to explain the absence of copies of his credentials at the primary and secondary school levels. It read, “That sometime in January 2021, while on transit within Wuse Area, FCT– Abuja, I discovered that my original Certificate of Occupancy of plot NoKT 17522, GRA Katsina Estate; Certificate of Kaduna State Development Centre from 1994-95; Grade 11 Certificate from Katsina Teachers College from 1979-83 and First Leaving School Certificate issued by Masari Primary School, Katsina State from 1972-78 got lost. That all efforts made to trace the documents proved abortive, hence this affidavit. That this affidavit is required for record purpose and for all authorities and persons concerned to take note. That I make this declaration conscientiously, believing same to be true and in accordance with Oath Act 2004 LFN.”

It boggles the mind to think that the ruling party could field two candidates for the top two jobs in the country, who will be charged with managing the country’s vast human and natural resources, but who, on one hand, cannot fulfill basic requirements of the position and, on the other, are showing themselves to be at sea in making the required efforts to get fresh copies of these most important documents, especially for individuals seeking public office, investing in public trust and counting on public faith. These excuses for any other job are enough grounds to make the candidate using them already appear unserious and ill-prepared for the responsibilities of the role. Yet, these are not just any other jobs; they are jobs that come with constitutionally-backed requirements that are passed into law by the National Assembly and which hold as the law of the land.

Instead, what we see in the Constitution is a very direct, unambiguous and all distinct requirement for office of President. Section 131 of the Nigerian Constitution states: “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the 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 School Certificate level or its equivalent.”

Section 318 (1) of the Constitution went further to explain the meaning of “Certificate level” required in section 131. It read: “According to the section, a certificate is defined as the following: (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- (1) 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 (11) 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 (111) 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.”

I don’t even want to get into the ridiculous and absurd educational requirements for the job of president and vice president as enacted by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President. Yet we wonder why the country is being run aground.

Those who jumped in support of the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari when the issue of his own missing certificates became a front-burner issue in 2018, before the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) was forced to issue a quickly hashed certificate with the picture of old Buhari to boot, were very quick to use the explanation of Section 318 to gloss over the need for those who come to equity to ensure that they are exemplary people with many a sign of infringements or cause for concern of fraudulent activity.

After Buhari’s certificate mess, the country does not need Tinubu’s and certainly could do without bringing in Masari’s case or any other candidate for office to the fore. In Delta State, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, is enmeshed in school certificate fraud after significant discrepancies were discovered in his academic certificates.

We cannot be a country serious about getting it right, going forward, when basic factors like satisfying the bare necessities of job requirements are left to the mercy of affidavits and phoney certificates that cannot stand under proper scrutiny.

The missing certificates misadventure is one too many and a subject that ought to be given the seriousness it merits at the highest levels of lawmaking.

When in February the House of Representatives deliberated on a bill sponsored by Adewunmi Onanuga (APC, Ogun) to increase the minimum education qualification required to run for some offices in Nigeria passed unanimously for second reading, there was a very pertinent question that Ms Onanuga posed as she sought to amend Sections 65, 106, 131 and 171 of the 1999 Constitution in querying why school certificate should be the basic requirement to rule the country. She asked: “If a Managing Director who holds an equally strategic position in a company within this country, cannot be employed without a university degree or its equivalent, why should the above political offices be held by people without a university degree or its equivalent?”

I join her to ask, “Why should we trust those who cannot get their school certificates and who ask us to trust their affidavits? Enough is enough!”