Editorial: The Lawsuit Over Buhari’s Certificate 

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True or not, the allegation that the APC presidential candidate lacks the requisite academic qualification to seek the presidency is, most embarrassing to President Muhammadu Buhari and the entire country. Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja has ordered that hearing notices be served on the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in connection with a suit seeking to disqualify President Buhari from contesting the 2019 general elections. The suit filed by three individuals, allege that the president lied in his form CF 001 submitted to INEC, regarding his educational qualifications and certificates. The plaintiffs are seeking a court declaration that the sitting president of the Federal Republic submitted false information regarding his educational qualification to INEC to contest elections into the office of President of Nigeria in the 2019 general elections. To which end, the plaintiffs want the court to disqualify the president from contesting the 2019 elections and to issue an order directing INEC to remove Buhari’s name as the presidential candidate of the APC submitted to INEC for the 2019 general elections. The fact that a judge has fix hearing of the case on Jan. 21, is a scandal and a national tragedy of great magnitude. Certainly, this is not in the national interest.

Not only has Nigeria been brought low, the entire nation where Buhari has served first as a military Head of State and civilian president after his 2015 election triumph is now an object of ridicule. The lingering controversy over Buhari’s certificates is not new. It surfaced in the twilight of the 2015 election, ostensibly because the ruling PDP at the time, read the political permutations correctly and saw no clear path to victory for then president Goodluck Jonathan. The PDP then alleged that Buhari did not possess the requisite qualification to contest the presidency, claiming he submitted a sworn affidavit to INEC, rather than the original of his certificates. Buhari apparently directed queries to that effect to the army, where he rose to the rank of Major General before becoming military Head of State. But the army added insult to injury when it came out to publicly deny keeping original certificates of its officers, stressing that officers’ file contains only photocopy of their credentials. 

At the time, INEC under Prof Attahiru Jega refused to be a party to the controversy, insisting that its duty was to organize free, fair and credible elections. Although the PDP is yet to comment on the lawsuit, keen observers have been quick to draw parallels between the 2015 certificate saga and the present lawsuit, which, to all intents and purposes, seem to have been filed by unseen hands loyal to the PDP presidential candidate and former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar. In 2015 when the controversy first erupted, Buhari dismissed it as cheap blackmail to ridicule him and sabotage his quest to win the presidency. He challenged then President Jonathan to run on his record, saying using the army as a special purpose vehicle to gain political mileage is an abuse of incumbency, which is unacceptable, contemptible and a disservice to the Nigerian people. 

It is hoped that INEC, which has been named as the third defendant in the lawsuit, will not allow the institution to be drawn into the controversial lawsuit, because the electoral act doesn’t give INEC the right to insist on provision of academic certificates. The 1999 constitution in Chapter V1 Part 1: Art. 131 (d) stipulates that anyone seeking the presidency must be educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent, but the Supreme Court in various pronouncements has specified that the ability to read and write was all that entitled a citizen to contest any election. It is obvious INEC is not empowered to disqualify a candidate presented by a political party; therefore, there is no way Buhari can be disqualified from contesting the February 16, 2019 election. The option open to anyone who feels strongly about the issue is to go to court, which probably explains the lawsuit. 

Quite naturally, there are pros and cons in the debate, which ultimately may never be resolved fully, even if Buhari presents his original certificates, because some will question their authenticity, while others will question why he has been unable to address a lingering controversy that trailed his 2015 presidential election victory. Then as now, the standing view is that the manner in which the issue was handled was bereft of transparency and due process. 

This begs the question: what certificate did Buhari present for the previous three times when he contested and lost the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011, on the platforms of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC)? The other question is: why the PDP and its supporters are wasting time and energy beating this dead horse? Is this a sign of panic? Unless credible answers are provided for these posers, it would appear the plaintiffs in the mischievous lawsuit, whose political preferences can be easily discerned, and the entire nation is complicit in this show of shame. Indeed, it is a collective shame on all Nigerians that a sitting president of the Federal Republic would be ridiculed in this manner. 

Is the present gale of defections from the PDP to the APC giving the PDP anxious moments; hence the desperation to discredit and stop Buhari? Isn’t it alarming that instead of proffering clear policy solutions on how the party will address the myriad of problems confronting the country, the PDP is distracting voters with trivialities? After spending time in the political wilderness for four the last four years, Nigerians want to know for example; if the PDP regains power, will they abolish the grossly unpopular governors’ security votes and immunity from prosecution or prune lawmakers’ jumbo pay? Will they build local refineries and eradicate the bogey of fuel subsidy? Will they reduce the cost of governance? Nigeria’s security challenges and poor economic performance and pervasive poverty call for rigorous policy proposals from contenders for political offices in 2019. Nigerians should not accept any lamentations or excuses about how bad things are, and how they will take forever to resolve. 

Contrary to what politicians may think, Nigerians are not fools. All things being equal, the PDP has its work cut out for it as the February 16 presidential poll should be a referendum on the incumbent president and his litany of unfulfilled promises. Notwithstanding the systemic decadence and increasing mediocrity in the nation’s governance institutions, whoever aspires to the presidency must be ready to lead the way in rising above pettiness and embrace decorum as the most basic lesson not just on how power is won, but also how it is accounted for. Nigerians deserve and should demand much better than identity politics and vague promises. Beyond that, Atiku and the PDP must understand that a good salesman does not sell his goods by knocking off his competitors. He sells them on their merits. Forget Buhari’s certificate; let Nigerians, to whom the government belongs have the ultimate say, in who leads them over the next four years.