Brief Analysis of the Constitutional Meaning of School Certificate or its Equivalent: My Views on the Certificate “Saga” of Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the APC Presidential Candidate.

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23rd January, 2015.

Let us begin by going straight to the point. Without much circumlocution, the constitutional provision dealing with the requirements for qualification to vie for the office of the President of Nigeria is Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). The said section provides thus,

“ A person shall be qualified for election to the office of 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 or its equivalent.” – Section 131 of the 1999 CFRN (as amended).

This brief piece seeks to achieve two ends: to provide the legal meaning of school certificate or its equivalent and secondly to show whether or not same is of more importance in comparison to the issue of the alleged forgery of General Buhari’s certificate. However, here’s a caveat: the issue of the alleged forgery does not constitute the core objective of this piece.

It is common ground that the above paragraphs of Section 131 are to be read conjunctively (precedence can be readily supplied if this is really the issue or an issue at all). That settled, of greater importance to us in the Buhari certificate saga is Section 131(d). In paragraph (d), I shall be pointing out the word, “educated” and in similar vein, the phrase, “school certificate or its equivalent.” The said paragraph is concerned with the fact that such person has been “educated up to…” The active word here is “educated,” from the first limb of the paragraph. There is no use of the word “acquired” or another word of similar effect, which if used will be interpreted contextually to mean that the presentation of certificate is mandatory. To my mind, the Constitution framers only contemplated the fact that such aspirant has gone through his education with the minimum requirement (note the word “at least” in 131(d) ) of  a school certificate or its equivalent. This conclusion draws sustenance from Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) where the phrase, “school certificate or its equivalent” was lucidly defined.

As I rightly pointed out above, Section 131(d) contains the word “educated” and not “acquired.” However, it appears there is still a dichotomy of views as to the need for a certificate in the first place. The arguments for and against the need for its presentation to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a condition precedent abundantly confirms the existence of this dichotomy, which is a regrettable outcome and one that could have been avoided easily save for the desperate act by the PDP to disqualify a major presidential aspirant and gain easy victory for itself.

A major issue that should be raised for determination in the on-going political drama over General Buhari’s certificate is whether or not the political aspirant must acquire the secondary school certificate ( see Section 318(1)(a) ) or whether it is sufficient that he has been educated up to senior school level (see Section 318(b) ). The case of Laske v. Magagi (2008) 3 LRECN pg. 127 at 130 is laden with answers to this issue. In Ratio 2 of the above case, the Court of Appeal Kaduna Division held, inter alia,

“… in a number of decided cases, this court held that the meaning of       definition of level of school certificate or its equivalent as contained under Section 318 of the 1999 Constitution, can accommodate candidate who woefully failed in their bid to obtain a West African School Certificate (WASC)… In essence, a candidate need not to have obtained the secondary school certificate level or passed the secondary school certificate examination. It is sufficient that such a person has attended a secondary school, and read or studied up to the secondary school level, without passing and obtaining the certificate…”

That is the interpretation of school certificate as it touches S.318 (a & b)of the 1999 Constitution. Section 318(c) of the 1999 Constitution simplifies the conditions by even allowing for Primary Six Leaving Certificate or its equivalent. In the said paragraph, such aspirant is qualified where he has served in the public or private sector in the Federation for a minimum of ten years. Gen. Buhari was in the army for MORE THAN TEN YEARS and retired a General. Paragraphs (a),(b), and (c) of Section 318 are  meant to be read disjunctively and not the other way round. The requirements are so clear and unambiguous in even allowing a First School Leaving Certificate Holder the right to vie for the highest position of the land (Section 318(c)(i). It is therefore totally out of place and at best, a sheer waste of efforts trying to discredit the General’s certificate, when it is not a constitutionally compulsory requirement.

Moreover, the Court of Appeal Abuja Division held in Aikulola v. Akogwu (2006) 41 WRN pg. 29 -111, particularly at 46,

“… a person seeking to become a candidate for an election to the House of Assembly of any State in the Federal Republic of Nigeria must possess at least one of the qualifications set out in (a) or (b) or (c) above…”

Those who interpret Section 131(d) of the 1999 CFRN to contemplate secondary school certificate only, are simply embarking on a wild goose chase, without tactically sitting down to think and strategise a way to get hold of the goose. Such misdirection in law must be nipped in the bud because the ends of justice cannot be attained in manners of that kind.

Once we are able to appreciate the statutory definition of “school certificate or its equivalent” and the position of the courts on same, as succinctly put out in the two authorities above, we will realize that the issue of forgery of Buhari’s certificate is one unconnected with the minimum qualifications contained in Section 131(d) of the 1999 Constitution. It can only be a fundamental issue where it relates to the duty of the State in enforcement of the law on criminal perpetrators of forgery, especially as the credibility of a public office holder remains an important legal consideration.

A host of issues can follow as a corollary from the alleged forgery of said certificate. One of such is, on who does the duty lie in proof of the certificate; whether it is the aspirant who has been educated up to secondary school or the person alleging that the aspirant does not have the said certificate. This issue is not part of what this piece seeks to address. It is of fundamental importance, notwithstanding.

To my mind, the basic rule of evidence law, “he who alleges must prove” holds much importance herein. I do not see any legal exceptions rearing up convincingly on this issue. That is the law as it is; not the way it ought to be. The courts have the final say on the party on whom the onus to prove lies.  As I have pointed out, this is not the issue addressed in this brief piece. Not even INEC can disqualify the candidate presented to it by a political party once such candidate meets the legal requirements. Section 31 of the Electoral Act readily supports this assertion. The best the PDP can do is to take the matter to court.

In summary, let us be particularly guided by the provisions of Sections 131 and 318 of the 1999 Constitution and community of recent cases on this Buhari certificate saga.

Onisowurun Sampson, Esq.

[a.k.a Onis Sampson]

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