By Shaka Momodu
What started in hushed whispers and was quickly dismissed with incredulity as a mere beer parlour talk coming from idle minds, appears to be gradually turning into a scandal of monumental proportions that goes to the very heart of the Nigerian nation, barely three weeks to a crucial presidential election in which the person in question is a candidate. The more I wish the scandal goes away, the more intriguing and resilient it becomes.
I was very reluctant to make this intervention on the raging scandal concerning whether the All Progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, possesses a secondary school certificate or not. But the more I ignore the controversy, the more worrisome the General’s attempt to so casually dismiss the grave allegations of possible fraud in his academic qualifications. The situation is murky, lurid and embarrassing with grave implications for the military and the country, and no one is providing proper clarity amid the smog of dust raised.
An otherwise straightforward issue is being explained in riddles, presumptions and evasive suppositions about a sterling military career which no one is in doubt of anyway. The doubt, however, comes from the foundation on which the referenced career was built. I have even read in some quarters that he holds a diploma certificate from United States Army War College. Well, to those arguments, I say as it is said in legal parlance, ex nihilo nihil fit, which means, something cannot stand on nothing or better still, something can only stand on something.
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. I, for instance, have my original academic documents. It is preposterous to say anyone will surrender his/her original academic certificates to an institution or an employer knowing full well that his/her entire life isn’t dependent on that institution. In any case, even if it was dependent on it, original certificates are your personal assets earned after being found worthy in character and learning. 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. I have spoken to few military officers in the last couple of days about the on-going macabre drama. They told me they have their original academic records with them. The question now is: why is Buhari’s case different? Can any of Buhari’s supporters whose original certificates are with his/her employer raise up his/her hand and be counted?
Okay, let’s even give the former head of state the benefit of the 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? It is worthy of note that Buhari didn’t say they were lost or burnt; he actually knows where they are, going by his affidavit. 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?
There are so many puzzles and fog surrounding this issue of Buhari’s certificate requiring urgent clarity. 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.
Now, how did Buhari spend his time before he was made chairman of PTF and after its dissolution? Has it even occurred to anyone that Buhari has never leveraged his influence and status as past head of state to support any worthy humanitarian cause such as eradication of polio, meningitis and even guinea worm that was very rampant in the North? Can anyone recall any forum where Buhari spoke to youths across ethnic and religious divides in an inspirational manner? Did he ever get invited to deliver any lecture anywhere in this country apart from Islamic events? Please, let someone correct me if I am wrong. Yet, this is the man who wants to change the fortunes of Nigeria, 30 yearWs after he left office as military head of state.
If the on-going controversy surrounding his certificate and his reluctance to clear the air with evidence is anything to go by, what legal and even moral grounds does he stand to aspire to the highest office in the land – when he cannot even meet the basic requirement of presenting his certificate? If proven that he has no secondary school certificate, then he may have perpetrated the greatest fraud in the military/political history of this country, and everything he has ever stood for will have no foundation anymore.
Think for a moment what the APC and its satellite groups – pro-democracy activists and our so-called constitutional lawyers would have done if a member of another party was the one accused of not having a certificate. All hell would have been let loose. They would be issuing statements everyday calling for investigation. But since this controversy broke, not a whimper from them. We have not heard that 60 lawyers are queuing up to defend the constitution against a possible breach by Buhari as they did to defend Speaker Aminu Tambuwal when he defected from his party, the PDP, and refused to relinquish his position.
Buhari by not producing his certificate means nothing as long as he is in APC. Talk of one nation, two moralities.