Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a human rights activist and lawyer, speaks to TOBI AWORINDE on the controversial school certificate of President Muhammadu Buhari
What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding the school leaving certificate of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I believe that there are two issues in respect of his matter. There is a legal issue and there’s the morality and integrity issue. The legal issue is regulated by Section 137 of the constitution and also Section 318 of the same constitution. So, in respect of Section 137, anybody who is a citizen of Nigeria, who is educated and sponsored by a political party, is entitled to contest the elections as president. That occasion has however not been defined as you having a minimum of the school leaving certificate or its equivalent. And the equivalent is defined in summary to mean somebody who can read, write, communicate in English Language and, in the course of his experience and exposure, become a little literate.
So, my understanding of that section is that the constitution has downplayed the physical presentation of the certificate. The emphasis now is on experience and exposure. Even if you attended secondary school and didn’t get up to Class Five to obtain a certificate, it does not disqualify you. In that regard, I don’t think it is compulsory that the President needs to physically present a certificate other than to show that he has been educated to such a level whether in the secondary school, or attended some courses in the course of his military career.
In this particular case, the president has been head of state in the past; he has been a minister in the past, and (as) a major-general in the army, the exposure he has gone through is sufficient enough for us to conclude that he has met the requirement of being able to read, write and communicate in English. The President is entitled to contest legally since he has been sponsored by a political party.
Are you saying that the President is free to contest even if he didn’t submit any certificate to INEC?
Nobody forced the President when he deposed to an affidavit before the Independent National Electoral Commission by which he verified the fact that he possessed the school leaving certificate. So, it is the President and his handlers who have pushed him into this same crisis. All he needed to do was depose to an affidavit to say he had been educated to that level. But if he has now deposed to an affidavit that he has passed through secondary school and he has the certificate; if there is a demand on him to produce it, he has to produce it. As the president of this nation and somebody championing integrity, it cannot be swept under the carpet. If the story of Premium Times is correct to say the principal only said he was admitted and there’s no evidence that he completed it, it would mean that the President has lied on oath and that is a serious matter for anybody aspiring to govern this country. So, if the President is unable to produce that certificate, it would be a moral burden on the All Progressives Congress, whether they can present a candidate who has lied on oath to come and rule the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In that regard, I support the majority of views of most Nigerians that if the President indicates in his affidavit that he has a certificate and he is unable to present it, it is better for him to decline to run for office. And then there are other issues about performance, going by his first term, the killings in the land, the constant blackout and all the failed promises.
Then the final issue is this: It is clear that the President did not buy his form from the APC for nomination. (Kogi State) Governor Yahaya Bello and some other persons claimed to have raised some funds through some organisations, which went and bought the form for him and presented it to him. That is clearly unconstitutional and unlawful. It is against the guidelines of INEC. If you cannot afford the cost of the nomination form of your political party, you are disqualified from contesting. INEC had said the party should not make this a financial burden on its members but nobody forced the APC to impose the cost of N45m on its forms. So, if it has a candidate who couldn’t afford that form, people who are going to contribute money must be transparent. We must know their names and the source of the money because we are talking about a regime that is fighting corruption. If you cannot trace the source of that money, the President cannot lay hold on that form to use it as the basis of his nomination for the office of president. Those are the issues that the President needs to explain to the people of Nigeria.
Is there an onus on the West African Examinations Council to produce the certificate?
WAEC is a public institution, and by virtue of the Freedom of Information Act, any Nigerian can approach the institution to confirm whether it issued or did not issue a school leaving certificate to Buhari as claimed. INEC has that duty in law to produce its own copy or, at least, give a statement of its own archive as to whether such a person has passed through its system or not.
Considering the series of certificate scandals that have rocked the Buhari government, do you think the President should step down like the former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun?
If it becomes established that the President swore to an affidavit that he has his WAEC school leaving certificate and whether WAEC or his school or anybody can confirm that he does not possesses it, that should end his presidential ambition. There is no reason for anybody to advise the President to seek election for 2019 if he has lied on oath. That is one angle. The second angle is that that should also end his presidency because the issue of integrity and a transparent government is important to us when we mention the name of President Buhari. If people who work under him and are exposed to this kind of challenge have been able to show to Nigerians by resigning, and the APC as a political party did not allow the Minister of Communications to vie for office because of the controversy surrounding his National Youth Service Corps, I cannot see why it would allow the President to continue to remain in office on behalf of the party, if there is an issue concerning his certificate. It is an impeachable offence and I’m sure the National Assembly will be pressurised to commence impeachment proceedings against the President if it turns out that indeed he does not possess the certificate that he claims to possess.
President hasn’t violated constitution by saying credentials with army – Ajulo
A former National Secretary of the Labour Party, Dr Kayode Ajulo, tells TOBI AWORINDE that President Muhammadu Buhari hasn’t violated the constitution, regarding his unseen school certificate
What do you think about the controversy surrounding President Buhari’s secondary school certificate?
This is my humble legal opinion which took me a lot of research. This case, I believe, will hold society to say the truth, irrespective of anybody’s political affiliation. It is well-known in Nigeria that I’m not a member of the All Progressives Congress. I’m not a member of the Peoples Democratic Party. My last political intervention happened to be with the Labour Party, from where I resigned voluntarily and, since then, I have yet to get myself attached or affiliated to any political party. I have nothing with President Muhammadu Buhari and I have nothing against him. If I had my way, I would want us to have a new president in this country.
That being the case, the truth and legality of the certificate need to be put to rest, particularly when you see that a lot of resources and time are being wasted. In my research, I made it so clear that Buhari is qualified to contest the presidency of Nigeria. That is why when it comes to qualification, particularly when it comes to his educational qualification, the constitution is so clear about what you need to have. Section 131 talks about school certificate but, unfortunately, Nigerians seem to be fixated only on that Section 131 because that is the only section that talks about the qualification. That is where it talks about ‘you should not be bankrupt’, ’you should not be a lunatic’, and so on.
However, every (provision of the) constitution and particularly every statute of legislation always has an interpretation clause. By the time you go to interpretation clause, that is, Section 318 of the same constitution, it defines what ‘school certificate’ means. It not only defines what it means, it talks about the equivalent. That means, ‘if you don’t have it, this one will pass for that’. And that is why you find that Buhari, having a primary school leaving certificate with 10-year work experience, is qualified because they say, if that would be the equivalent of the school certificate we have so much talked about.
So, constitutionally, Buhari does not have to provide his secondary school certificate.
Not only that. The last sub-section of that legislation clause in the constitution goes as far as saying ‘any other document that the Independent National Electoral Commission may take from you’ — it is in the constitution; I’m not the one that prepared the constitution. But unfortunately, in Nigeria, we don’t really read the constitution. I wish we could start it from Ondo State that every student in my state must have a copy of the constitution. I think that this should be part of the functions of the government. We have noticed today that even some lawyers pretend to know. Maybe because of their interests, they seem to deceive themselves. But it is part of the hope that I have that we need to direct the people. I won’t say (otherwise) because I am a lawyer and somebody is giving me money to go to court over something that I know is not.
I believe that our disciplinary committee of the Nigerian Bar Association and our Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee need to look at such lawyers when a case is so obvious but they still tend to disturb courts by legislating over something.
Are you saying, like the PDP alleged, it is a waste of time going back to the court to challenge the legality of the President’s failure to produce his school certificate?
What you take to court is to raise the question. But when it is so clear, particularly when it comes to interpretation of the constitution, I believe any lawyer that would be advising the PDP would advise them that when the apex court, that is, the Supreme Court, has held that when it comes to interpreting the constitution, you need not to infuse anything into the interpretation. It must be given a literary meaning. From the literary interpretation of the constitution, it is so clear that Buhari is qualified. You may not waste the time of the court by jumping to court and using the court as a campaign ground to raise political issues. I believe that there must be a time where the court puts a stop to this.
There is also the issue of the affidavit that the President swore to, saying the army is with his school certificate….
I want to believe Buhari did not say the army is with his school certificate. He said the army is with his credentials. I discussed with a lawyer that called me this morning (Tuesday) to say the same thing. I said, ‘Have you seen his affidavit?’ In the area of his credentials, the army authorities are still with it. And it is so painful that I find myself defending Buhari. But I don’t think I am defending him because I’m not one his agents. I’m not one of his aides, but I believe, for the sake of the law, we should not ridicule our law by trying to raise issues that are a nonsuit. It is so clear. Have most of those raising the issue seen the affidavit? Have they seen how the affidavit is couched? Except they want to tell me they have different affidavits that General Muhammadu Buhari deposed to. But the one that has been brought to my notice and the one I have seen, when it comes to the issue of ‘my credentials and qualifications’, he never mentioned school certificate, primary school certificate, PhD, Bachelor of Science or whatever. He said, ‘Everything is with the army authorities.’
There are some facts that the court itself would take judicial notice of. There are some facts that are very notorious. It is the notorious fact that we have one General Muhammadu Buhari who was general officer commanding, third armoured division of the Nigerian Army. It is a fact that we have somebody who was one of those that planned the coup that removed Shagari and one of them became the head of state of this country that signed several decrees. Part of the decrees signed by Buhari was Decree 4; we are aware of that and several other draconian decrees. It is the fact that Buhari spent over 20 years in the military. All the facts are there. So, if somebody said ‘my credentials are with the military’, I don’t think there is any perjury in that.
As I said, the one I saw — though that may not be the one that others have seen — is what I am speaking on because as a lawyer, you must speak about facts and of law. But if there is any other that may not have come to my knowledge and may point to Buhari being liable of perjury, Kayode Ajulo has not seen that. I am speaking from what I’ve seen and what I know.