Buhari’s school certificate saga

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Rotimi Fasan

As the 2019 elections hot up, Nigerians are once again clamoring for President Muhammadu Buhari to produce evidence that he attended secondary school up to school certificate level. This is not just an idle but a constitutional demand that requires contestants for the office of president to be secondary school graduates at the very least.

Mr. Buhari, as Nigerians well know, has not been able to produce this evidence. His explanation is and has been that the original copies of his school certificate are with the Board of the Nigerian Army where he submitted them at the point of enlistment in the military.

Conversations and, indeed, controversy about President Buhari’s educational qualification are not new. They were a major issue during the 2015 election. No doubt because there was widespread disenchantment with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, led government of President Goodluck Jonathan, many Nigerians did not care very much and were satisfied with his explanation concerning his certificates. Perhaps, because the party in power realised too late that the support Buhari enjoyed could lead on to victory, they too were not explicit in their insistence that Buhari show evidence of school certificate education. As the world now knows, Buhari went on to win that election and is today an elected president seeking re-election. Since 2015, however, Buhari’s popularity has plummeted and in the wake of the PDP’s primaries that produced

Atiku Abubakar, a former Vice President, as presidential candidate, supporters of the PDP candidate and other Nigerians are again asking that Buhari show evidence that he is school certificate-qualified to be president. This follows the President’s camp’s desire to fight both dirty and clean as they question the source of Atiku’s vast wealth. Atiku who has for a very long time nursed a presidential ambition is considered a formidable opponent, one with the right connections and enough wealth, to give Buhari a very credible run for his money and position as incumbent president. But in the manner many Nigerians in 2015 could not care less about questions concerning Buhari’s certificates, they are not bothered about issues concerning the source of Atiku’s wealth today.

If not for anything else, what this all shows is the level of disenchantment with Buhari’s performance, especially the hollowness of his anti-corruption fight that is perpetually impervious to corruption allegations and even evidence against not a few of his close associates. Add that to Buhari’s nepotism, his open partiality to Nigerians from both his region and religion and his failure to decisively end persistent insecurity in different parts of the country, especially in the Middle Belt and North-east of the country.

The government’s disrespect for the rule of law is yet another point at issue. In Buhari’s narrow world, the perversion of justice that comes with disrespect for the rule of law, evidenced best by his administration’s cheery-picking of which court orders to obey or not, is not corruption. But Nigerians see things differently and are openly challenging the president’s position in the manner they have chosen to ignore questions about Atiku’s wealth.

We must, however, not be blind to the gaps in the position of some of those now asking that Buhari produce evidence of school certificate education while being clear about the kind of argument and position being canvassed by opponents of the President, some of whom, it would appear, actually want the world to believe that Buhari is a cattle herder let loose, a raving illiterate without any kind of formal education. Which is another way of saying he never attended secondary school.

As a political talk that may be fine. Otherwise, this might be taking disgust too far and denying the evidence of their own eyes. For one, there have been corroborative statements from contemporaries of President Muhammudu Buhari that attended secondary school with him. There is evidence also that the subjects he claimed he did at the School Certificate Examination, which some have questioned, were indeed on offer as school certificate subjects in the 1960s. Same thing goes for the grading system which was based on figures.

Alex Ajayi, a former administrator, recently claimed the distinction of issuing school certificate to three former heads of states, namely, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Muhammadu Buhari. While it may be difficult to separate fake and authentic news in this age of social media, we may also want to consider the statement attributed to General Alani Akinrinade that new officers into the army were made to hand in the originals of their certificates to the Board of the Nigerian Army. Buhari’s contemporaries have not questioned this claim, however, far-fetched it may sound to many of us.

But such apparently extreme procedure should not look improbable in an institution like the military when we consider there are today even embassies in Nigeria that demand originals of applicants’ certificates for certain categories of visas. Anything could happen to these documents while in the custody of these organisations. It is, therefore, possible that the Army Board, given our shoddy record-keeping procedures, has misplaced Buhari’s documents.

This would justify his insistence that the documents are with the Army Board. But for the fact that we are never inclined to get things right as a country, nothing stops current administrators of the President’s former secondary school either confirming the true state of things where they cannot or will not issue a new certificate. Neither would the argument stand that Buhari has superior professional qualifications having trained in certain military academies.

The point of debate is not that he has these superior qualifications but rather the basic secondary qualification that should qualify him for the higher qualifications. In a country where many have lost their position on account of forgery or lack of qualification, questions about the President’s educational qualification cannot be waved off. We only need to put things in context, ask the right questions and demand the right answers.

Except they are happy pursuing a futile endeavour, the idea that Buhari could be disqualified at this point on grounds of non-possession of school certificate, as it would appear to be the case with those clamoring for the President’s certificates, is at once far-fetched and a non-starter. It will not happen- certainly not under the present Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Just as we demand of the All Progressives Congress (APC) the PDP should fight Buhari on the basis of his performance record and not get distracted by side argument. To insist on Buhari’s disqualification at this point when evidence shows he attended secondary school and graduated with a certificate is bad, thoughtless politics.

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