I will start this piece by quoting Sallust who said that “Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.” In the same vein, Benjamin Disraeli states that “A precedent embalms a principle,”
while Tom Graves posited that “One precedent creates another and they soon accumulate and constitute law,” adding that “What yesterday was a fact, today is doctrine.”
The controversy surrounding the qualification or not of President Muhammadu Buhari to contest a presidential election has reared its head again, this time with a new dimension that if not properly addressed may have serious consequence on the nation’s political and academic future.
Buhari’s academic qualifications matter was highly debated during the 2015 presidential election with arguments for and against coming from his All Progressives Congress (APC) and the then ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) while also providing a veritable platform for lawyers, rights activists and the general public to dissipate their energy and for others, their frustrations.
Chapter 6 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) at Section 131 provides that any person aspiring to become the president of the country should: (a) Be a citizen of Nigeria by birth; (b) Has attained the age of forty years;
(c) Be a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and (d) Has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
Prior to the 2015 elections, Candidate Buhari had said that his academic certificates were with the Office of the Military Board. Though the claim generated much controversy, it was not legally resolved until Buhari won the election and was sworn in on 29th May as President of Nigeria.
Howbeit, a legal practitioner Nnamdi Nwokocha Ahaaiwe later filed a suit at the Federal High Court Abuja where he told the court that Buhari was not qualified to contest the office of the president because he did not sit for the Cambridge West Africa School Certificate Examination in 1961.
He told the court that the claim by Buhari that his certificates were with the Office of the Secretary Military Board was not true as the Board was not in possession of such documents.
The president subsequently filed an appeal against the dismissal and procured the services of 13 senior lawyers led by Wole Olanipekin, SAN while others include Lateef O. Fagbemi (SAN), Akin Olujinmi (SAN), Oluwarotimi O. Akeredolu (SAN),
Kola Awodein (SAN), Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), Charles Edosomwan (SAN), Emeka Ngige (SAN), Femi Atoyebi (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), Funke Aboyade (SAN), H.O. Afolabi and 10 other counsels.
The argument of Olanipekun and the other senior lawyers was that the academic documents Buhari filed in his Presidential Nomination Form No “President APC/001/2015” were currently with the Secretary, Military Board as at the time he deposed affidavit to that effect.
However, the lawyer later filed a notice to the court seeking to discontinue with the suit which led to Justice Adeniji Ademola to strike the case out on 30th June, 2016, saying that he could not continue with the case by virtue of Section 50(2) of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules.
But as the matter came up again this year following President Buhari’s declaration to seek re-election, rather than the earlier position that his academic documents are still with the Military authorities, the West African Examination Council, WAEC has issued what it called
Attestation Certificate to the President which the institution said is a representation of the true copies of his certificate.
The Board of WAEC led by its Registrar Dr. Iyi Uwadiae on Friday 2nd November, 2018 paid a courtesy visit to the President at the State House Abuja where they presented the Attestation certificate to him.
Buhari thanked the WAEC Board for upholding WAEC’s integrity over the years, adding that he expected nothing less from the institution.
The above action by WAEC was openly celebrated by President Buhari in company of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustafa, the Chief of Staff to the President Abba Kyari and the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu all of who were present at the ceremony.
In the same vein, APC leaders, members and supporters have been dancing over the latest development which they say has cleared all the doubts on the veracity of Buhari’s academic standing.
On the other hand, opposition parties and elements especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), its leaders and supporters as well as fans of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP have been sulking and cursing, arguing that the issuance of attestation certificate by WAEC to Buhari is an aberration and illegality.
However, instead of the ongoing attack and counter attack by politicians on the matter, what is necessary is to seek answers to the following questions:
A. Is WAEC legally authorised to give attestation certificate to a candidate?
B. Has WAEC issued such certificate to any candidate in the past?
C. Does the attestation certificate represent certified true document and therefore a true representation of its result?
The Supreme Court should intervene and make specific pronouncements on these matters as such is both crucial and urgent because if Buhari stands on the protocol provided by this attestation certificate to contest the 2019 presidential election,
it would amount to gross injustice for any other Nigerian to be disqualified from contesting any election, getting any job or admission into school or any professional body if the person presents attestation certificate from any institution in place of academic qualifications obtained earlier.
It is therefore important that all stakeholders including politicians and political parties understand the full import of the precedence being set by WAEC’s attestation certificate to the president because since we are a democratic nation operating in a civilised world, it would be wrong for anybody to assume that what obtains