By Noble White
General Muhammadu Buhari and Running mate Prof. Yemi Osibajo and Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso while addressing Journalists at Kano government house, Kano
The constitutional qualification for a candidate to be eligible to stand for presidential election is a minimum of secondary school certificate or its equivalent. Otherwise, that person is deemed ineligible. As things stand now, Buhari?s eligibility is being questioned and all we get are emotive career profile responses spanning a lifetime, rising to the very pinnacle of the military as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
The question now is: has the APC presidential candidate met this all important constitutional requirement? The nation is yet to get a concrete answer to this question.
Buhari?s first public statement at a press conference on the issue on Sunday failed to clear the air surrounding his academic records. If anything, it has added fuel to the raging fire. His argument that he has contested thrice before is unacceptable. He must go beyond the polemics and provide the necessary evidence about his certificate.
In a sworn affidavit earlier, the General did attest that his credentials and academic records were with the Military Board. That was the first curious move about the unfolding drama. Where are his original academic documents? As far as I know, no institution collects original certificates from a candidate for keepsake. The only copies collected by institutions and employers of labour are photocopies; original documents are only brought for sighting and then returned to the candidate. Even the most rabid supporters of the General know that original academic records are never given to institutions or employers; they are kept by the owner.
Okay, let?s even give the former head of state the benefit of doubt that his academic certificates are with the Military Board, but he sure knows how to access them anytime he wants. And being a former head of state, his request to the Military Board for copies will be met with the utmost dispatch. Why didn?t he do that instead of rushing to swear an affidavit? Did he really need to swear an affidavit that his academic certificates are with the Secretary to the Military Board? So, why didn?t he go and collect them instead of resorting to an affidavit? The army has issued a statement stating it has Buhari?s career records and not his academic records, stating further that all past military officers can request for the their credentials if they so desire. Why has Buhari refused to request for his credentials for onward submission to INEC, thereby taking the wind out of sails of this developing and embarrassing mess and subsequently putting the issue to rest once and for all? What is Buhari afraid of? Has he been living a lie all these years while pretending to be the most upright man in the country? Why did it take so long for the nation to find out the truth about Buhari?s academic or non-academic qualifications? Why is his party, the APC, unable to satisfactorily clear the air?
The argument by APC that he has commanded three divisions of the Nigerian Army, rose to the rank of a major general and ultimately became the head of state and has contested presidential elections thrice begs the question, and is neither here nor there. Where is his secondary school certificate upon which other possible academic records stand? As a matter of fact, it beggars belief that the party is making such a puerile argument, when what is needed is a robust rebuttal with unassailable facts by making a public presentation of his certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to quieten the doubts and suspicions. By taking the current position without a supporting shred of evidence, the party?s position has remained at best tenuous.
APC?s defence amounts to saying that a man who successfully committed a heist several times before he was eventually caught is not guilty of stealing because he was not caught in his many previous escapades. The question here is: can the grounds of past successful heists neutralise the fact that, that person committed a crime? Of course, the resounding answer to this is no. The fact that Buhari may have gotten away in the past and for so long because of the weakness of various institutions of state does not make it right. He has only been lucky that he operated within the regimented confines of the military establishment of a command-and-obey structure where questions of probity are hardly asked of superior officers. He probably got away in three election cycles because the rule didn?t require candidates to produce evidence of their qualifications. Added to that, is the fact that, it was taken for granted that he is a former head of state.
If Buhari is unable to provide evidence of a secondary school certificate or its equivalent, then there is a big problem. Whether he attended several military training programmes and courses is immaterial, if they were obtained without the basic qualifications to have become a commissioned officer of the Nigerian Army. The question that naturally arises from this is, which academic records did he use to join the army and on the basis of what was he promoted? Was he able to join the army and earn promotions on the strength of his ethno-religious background? Was it the quota system at play? Were entry requirements lowered for Buhari in 1962 when he entered the Nigeria Military Training College, the precursor of the Nigerian Defence Academy? What documents did he submit in the last three presidential election contests? The answer to this last question is that in the past, the rule only required a candidate to fill his qualifications, but that has changed. The rule according to Form CF001 now requires a candidate to not only fill his qualifications, he must attach photocopies of such. This was where the cat was let out of the bag. Instead of Buhari attaching his certificates as the rule requires, he ran to swear an affidavit that his documents were with the Military Board. Even if he merely filled his qualifications in the past, what were his claims? Did he swear to an affidavit to buttress those claims? If he did, won?t he then be guilty of perjury?
Ironically, the party that is riding on the crest of change and its candidate who has been rebranded and presented to Nigerians as a saint and the new face of change appear unwilling to subject themselves to the most basic requirement of transparency and the minimum legal requirement for eligibility. The sincerity of the change agents has been put to test, and instead of demonstrating that its ?change? is not just a hollow sloganeering mantra, the APC has been foot-dragging and fiddling with the intelligence of Nigerians. And if I may remind APC and Buhari, ?no one ever gets missing on a straight road.?
I have heard some people say, whether Buhari has a certificate or not, doesn?t matter, since a certificate is not what is required for one to provide good leadership. Well said. But my problem with that position is that it violates the law of the land. The more scary part of that preposition is his supporters? willingness to tolerate this clear act of fraud by giving Buhari exemption from criminal liability of possible forgery and perjury while accusing others of corruption. And even arrogantly selling his candidacy on the strapline of integrity and unblemished record.