Nearly Sixty years after Nigeria’s independence, the country has continued to grapple with the challenges of leadership, elections and eligibility of candidates seeking public offices. The situation appears worse even in the present 4th Republic which started since 1999. This democratic dispensation has particularly been characterised by various legal issues bordering on eligibility of candidates.
However, the development may soon be a thing of the past. Recently, Senator Isfifanus Gyang of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Plateau State, sponsored a bill seeking to raise the minimum education requirement for those seeking elective office in Nigeria from School Certificate to National Diploma.
Under the subsisting 1999 Constitution, the minimum education requirement for people who want to stand for election for president, governors and legislators at the federal or state level is minimum of School Certificate level or its equivalent.
Nearly all Nigerian leaders past and present possess a minimum of School Certificate level or its equivalent. However, whether or not leadership qualities are a factor of educational certificate is debatable even as many Nigerians argue that the minimum of School Certificate level or its equivalent required of those seeking elective offices in the country had negatively impacted on the country’s development.
In the proposed amendment, which has passed the first reading, Gyang is seeking the amendment of the provisions of Sections 65 (2) (a), 131 (d), 106 (c) and 177 (d) of the Constitution to raise the minimum education qualification for elective office in Nigeria from at least School Certificate level or its equivalent to National Diploma (ND).
The proposed amendment seeks that Section 65 (2) (a) of the subsisting 1999 Constitution which reads: “A person shall be qualified for election under subsection (1) of this section if he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent; for those seeking election to the National Assembly, should be substituted with; “if he has been educated to at least National Diploma level or its equivalent.”
Similarly, Section 131, which specifies that anyone running for the office of the President must have “been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent” will be rephrased as “if he has been educated up to at least HND level or’ its equivalent.” Likewise, Section 106 (c) of the Constitution, which says that any person seeking election into the House of Assembly of a state must have “been educated up to at least the school certificate level or its equivalent”, will be altered to read; “If he has been educated up to National Diploma level or its equivalent”, while Section 177 (d) of the Constitution, which says that a person seeking election as state governors, “must be educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent” will read; “If he has been educated up to at least Higher National Diploma Level or its equivalent”.
A great thinker, Jia Lin, in commentary on Sun Tzu, Art of War, states: “Leadership is a matter of intelligence, trustworthiness, humaneness, courage, and discipline. Reliance on intelligence alone results in rebelliousness. Exercise of humaneness alone results in weakness. Fixation on trust results in folly. Dependence on the strength of courage results in violence. Excessive discipline and sternness in command result in cruelty.When one has all five virtues together, each appropriate to its function, then one can be a leader.”
Many commentators agree that in the nearly 60 years of independence, the country has struggled with leadership challenges. In fact, renowned author, Chinua Achebe wrote in his 1984 classic, ‘The Trouble With Nigeria’ that; “The trouble with Nigeria is simply a failure of leadership. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
Looking at the various leaders since independence, Nigeria has had the likes of the first president of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, known for his nationalist and pan-African disposition, Awolowo for his welfarist policies, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, renowned for his humility and humanness and later President Olusegun Obasanjo known for his courage. Nigeria has also had such leaders as late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was so honest that he admitted the election that brought him to office was flawed, President Goodluck Jonathan, an intellectual and a true democrat, and President Muhammadu Buhari, a disciplinarian, whose mere ‘body language’ as it were invoked compliance among other leaders.
Despite parading the above leaders, the leadership question has persisted with many of our former leaders ending their tenures with question marks on their administration. The arguments that trailed the successive administrations are many. In his humility and humanness, Balewa was taken to be weak, and in the process, the First Republic collapsed. In the courage he displayed between 1999 and 2003, Obasanjo was seen as a brute. In his democratic disposition and observance of due process, Jonathan was perceived to be slow action and many rebelled against him,
just as the Buhari administration is today seen as cruel by many Nigerians for taking tough decisions.
Debate on Buhari’s certificate
The debate on the education qualification of President Buhari has raged for a long time. It became so pronounced in 2014 when Buhari emerged as the presidential candidate of the All progressives Congress (APC), a mega coalition of four opposition political parties, the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which was formed in February 2013 in anticipation of the 2015 general elections.
Before then, Buhari had contested the presidential election three times earlier on the platforms of the ANPP in 2003 and 2007 and the CPC in 2011.
Nearly all Nigerian leaders past and present possess the minimum of School Certificate level or its equivalent specified in the constitution. Buhari’s certificate however generated attention because it was not attached to Form CF001submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Buhari had submitted a sworn affidavit to INEC in which he said the original of his certificate was with the Military Board. The military later denied being in possession of the document. In the confusion, the opposition asked INEC to disqualify Buhari from contesting the Presidential Election on the ground of lack of the requisite school certificate or its equivalent to run for office.
Government College, Katsina (previously known as Provincial Secondary School, Katsina) later released the SSCE certificate of Buhari, with the name Mohamed. The West African Examination Council (WAEC) also presented Buhari with an attestation certificate. But critics maintained that Muhammadu and Mohamed cannot be the same person.
Many Nigerians have equally argued that the minimum of School Certificate level or its equivalent required of those seeking elective offices in the country had negatively impacted on the country’s development.
No longer an issue
After Buhari was declared winner of the Presidential Election, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and the PDP challenged the declaration by the INEC that Buhari won the election on many grounds including that the secondary school he said he attended did not exist at the dates stated by Buhari.
However, the tribunal ruled that Buhari’s certificate from the Nigerian military is higher than the Secondary School certificate stated as a minimum academic requirement for the election by the constitution.
Chairman of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Justice Mohammed Garba in his lead judgement, held that Buhari’s certificate from the Nigerian military is higher than the Secondary School certificate stated as a minimum academic requirement for the election by the constitution.
He said, “Mr Buhari is not only qualified, he is eminently qualified to contest the election.” The tribunal also held that the discrepancy in Buhari’s name on school certificates as tendered by Atiku, is irrelevant in the determination of the case.
The judge also cleared the controversy of the names Muhammadu and Mohamed. “Whether it’s Muhammadu with a ‘U’ or Mohammed Buhari with an ‘O’, there all refer to and identify the second respondent”, the tribunal said. It also said Buhari was not required to attach his certificate to his presidential nomination form.
“A candidate is not required under the Electoral Act to attach his certificate to his form CF001 before a candidate is adjudged to have the requisite qualification to contest the election”, Justice Garba said.
Not satisfied, Atiku and the PDP appealed to the Supreme Court, but the apex court equally dismissed the petition. Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Mohammed in his judgment said, “We have examined all the briefs and exhibits for over two weeks. And we agreed that there is no merit in this appeal. The appeal is dismissed…”
However, legal practitioner and former President of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike however described the judgment as unfortunate. “One lesson I learnt from the Supreme Court judgement on Atiku vs Buhari regarding the 2019 Presidential election is you can do whatever you can do to win an election, anybody challenging you should go and prove it. The judgement that Buhari was not bound to present his certificate and that those who say he is not educated should prove it is a disaster.”
We need educated leaders
Uwazuruike threw his weight behind Nigerians who clamour for raising the minimum education qualification bar for those seeking elective office, arguing that leadership is very complex to be left in the hands of those that are not well educated.
He said, “Raising the education bar is a worthwhile idea because the era of illiterate leadership should be something of the past. Anybody that wants to lead this country should educate himself. It is only an educated person that can for example, read a motion paper on the floor of the National Assembly or be in a position to dissect what is going on. It is only an educated person that can represent this country at any level and not bring shame on the country by his lack of education.”
He added that the minimum education qualification for legislators which the proposed amendment put for at least a National Diploma should even be taken higher.
According to him, “Law making requires a certain minimum standard of comprehension. We need intelligent and knowledgeable lawmakers. As an Igbo, I can campaign for office in Igbo language, Tunde can campaign in Yoruba language and Shehu can campaign in Hausa, but when we meet in the legislature, the language of communication will be English and if we are not educated, the three of us will be stack illiterates. That is why in the National Assembly, we have some people who are just bench warmers, but when it comes to voting on a bill, they will raise their hands as they have been instructed. The last constitution amendment exercise was a disaster because they were just voting as they were instructed. We need educated people there.”
Olanrewaju Suraju, Chairman Governing Board of Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) Resource Centre also supports raising the minimum education qualification requirement.
He said; “I think it will be a positive development because part of the major criticism from the public is that we are governed by people who are less qualified as it were to be elected, and that some of them forged their certificate to get elected into office. So, this will ultimately respond to those claims.
“We must however take this forward by ensuring that people are providing and producing legitimate results and not forged results. It will not address the concerns originally expressed if the certificates are forged. We have a number of them in the National Assembly that are guilty of producing forged certificates.”
Call for caution
Professor Ishaq Akintola, Director of Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) and lecturer at the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo, argued that while the calls to raise the minimum education requirement is commendable that care must be taken not to “dwell so much on paper qualification.”
He said, “emphasis on paper qualification can be a little bit deceptive in the sense that people manipulate it. We have cases of those who get others to write examinations for them just to have the paper qualification. I think the emphasis should be on integrity and credibility. We have heard stories concerning the qualifications of legislators and how some forged their certificates. Some of these stories have been proved to be true in the court of law. I agree that those seeking elective offices should be educated, but for some of us emphasis should be more on credibility, morality and discipline.”
He added, “These days, if you look around you will see that the quality of education has fallen drastically and the fraudulent practices in the public and private sectors have sieved into the education sector and classrooms. It is in the school administration and some people claimed to have gone through the university without seeing the four walls of the university. Unfortunately, also, some people come in through the main gate of the university and go out through the second gate without the university reflecting in them. This emphasis on western and paper education, we must know some people go through school while some go through other means that are not school to be educated.”
Qualification doesn’t equal performance
Suraju further argued that educational qualification doesn’t always translate to performance in office. He warned that care must be taken to ensure that competence is not sacrificed on the altar of paper qualification.
He said, “Insistence on qualification is really a touchy issue because some of the leaders we have had in the recent past did not exhibit impressive performance in spite of their certificates. But there is always a difference between the ones that legitimately worked for and earned the certificate and those ones that presented dubious certificates. There is no way education does not have an impact on the people who genuinely worked for the certificate that they exhibit. Education has a very positive impact on the lives and activities of people. It is also completely different from those who have intricate leadership capacity in them. Those with leadership capacity in them will be enhanced by the education they acquire and that will make them different from people either without certificate or even leadership quality.”
As commendable as the proposed amendment appears, it requires a constitution amendment to become law. The amendment proposed by Gyang has passed the first reading, but the Bill may not be read for the second time unless President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan sets up a Constitution Review Committee, to deliberate on it and then report back to the whole house. Even if it gets to the second reading and also makes third reading and eventually receives a favourable vote at the National Assembly, it must be passed by at least two-thirds majority of the state assemblies, that is two-third majority in at least 24 out of the 36 state assemblies.
This is not the first attempt altering the provisions of the 20 years old 1999 constitution seen by many as an imposition by the military.
In fact, the Sixth National Assembly (2007-2011) passed three alterations on the constitution. The Seventh National Assembly (2011-2015) commenced what would have been the fourth alteration, but the process was stillborn after the lawmakers introduced a clause that removed presidential assent from the process of constitutional amendment.
President Jonathan vetoed the amendment and also dragged the National Assembly to the Supreme Court when the legislature tried to override his veto. Under the constitution, the legislature can override a presidential veto on a bill if the sitting of the whole house passed it a second time with two-thirds majority.
The Supreme Court directed that the status quo be maintained, and restrained the National Assembly from overriding the veto, while it ordered the President and the Assembly to resolve their differences amicably. Whatever differences they had were never resolved as the amendment was done few days to the expiration of Jonathan’s administration. Attempt at the fourth alteration therefore died a natural death as the constitution also forbids a new legislative session from inheriting a bill from its predecessor.
In January 2016 the Eighth Assembly (2015-2019) commenced another review in the Senate and House of Representatives respectively. It considered a wide range of issues. Some of the most laudable amendments include the reduction of eligibility ages to run for office, otherwise called the Not Too Young to Run Act. The amendment reduced the minimum age to run for the presidency from 40 to 35, for state governorship from 35 to 30, for the Senate from 35 to 30, for the House of Representatives from 30 to 25, and sets the minimum age for membership to state Houses of Assembly at 25.
As the debate to raise the minimum education qualification rages, Uwazuruike also warned that efforts at ensuring the emergence of educated leaders must go beyond amendment of the sections on education qualification alone but must also touch on the Interpretation Act.
He said, “As it is now, the Interpretation Act also talks about equivalent of school certificate, that if you have worked for certain number of years, it is equivalent to school certificate. With due respect to those who drafted the Interpretation Act, they are wrong and if we are not careful in the next few years, we will have illiterates as leaders. There are many people who are politically knowledgeable but educationally blank and they are giving us problems. So, they should also amend the Interpretation Act, we want people who have formal knowledge with political knowledge.”