Opinion  Buhari’s Dance on the Cardboard

*President Buhari reading his address at the IPI event, Presidential Villa, Abuja...Thursday, June 21, 2018. Photo: Sunday Aghaeze

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By Hon. Josef Omorotionmwan

For some time now, issues around Candidate Muhammadu Buhari’s West African School Certificate, WASC, have become four-yearly rituals. Over time, the attack and the defence have grown rather incrementally ferocious. The total lack of consistency on the part of the candidate may not have been too helpful to the course of the defence. We, however, see the entire episode coming to an end in the 2019 session after which, this candidate may have no need for the cardboard.

Up to the last session in 2015, we worked on the understanding that credentials serve only the end of determining a candidate’s suitability for the job. We had no problem in giving Buhari a clean bill of clearance to contest the 2015 presidential election. We went down memory lane of his performance as a military ruler in his first coming; and even wondered why he was not asked to take a bow at the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, screening.

This was one man who came to power at a time when the economy and every infrastructure were near total comatose. He quickly initiated the War Against Indiscipline, WAI, and embarked on rebuilding the socio-political and economic systems, with reasonable measures of success, before the regime was ousted after two short years.

At that time, we did not see why we should be demanding the WASC from a man who by our estimation, had acquired some superior qualifications in his military career, in Nigeria and abroad – culminating in a Masters Degree in Strategic Studies in the United States of America. Besides, he possesses a chain of awards that is perhaps an arm long.

As impressive as the foregoing may seem, they represent the Old School.The modern trend, which is amenable to the laws of the land is that the basic qualifications, besides assessing the applicant’s suitability for the job, also help to unearth hidden factors. Recently, the Edo State Government had cause to prune down its workforce and get rid of some dead-woods.

The Catch 55situation arose when the workers were asked to appear for screening with their Birth and First School Leaving Certificates. Many did not need to be advised to take to flight. They had ridiculously reduced their ages through the instrumentality of affidavits, that they would have acquired the certificates even long before they were born! To that extent, those basic qualifications are symbolic. They test for sincerity, honesty and all that.

The recent amendment to the Electoral Act has promoted the WASC to the level of a major requirement to stand for a presidential election. It is reasonable to expect that if the President says he has the WASC, he should be believed. The President has never declared his certificate missing or misplaced. Therefore, such certificate should be at his beck and call.

Yet, this is one issue on which Candidate Buhari has been taking the entire country on a merry-go-round.

In 2015, instead of providing his Certificates as required by law, Buhari deposed to an affidavit at an Abuja High Court that“All my academic qualifications documents as filled in my presidential form, President APC/001/2015 are currently with the Military Secretary, as of the time of presenting this affidavit”.

Four long years after, Buhari made the same deposition – that his certificates are with the Army Board. Who is deceiving whom? The Army Board has since deposed that it does not have Buhari’s credentials – not even photo-copies thereof: “It is a practice in the Nigerian Army that before candidates are short-listed for commissioning into the Officers’ cadre of the Service, the Selection Board verifies the original copies of credentials that are presented. However, there is no available record to show that the process was followed in the 1960s. Neither the original copy, Certified True Copy (CTC), nor statement of result of Major General M. Buhari’s WASC is in his personal file”.

The evidence is further corroborated by a former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, “President Muhammandu Buhari was my junior in the military rank, at school – even if not the same school – but I presented my Certificates to the INEC in 1999 and 2003, how come my own are not with the military?”

We watch with a sense of trepidation, the theatricals of executive running from pillar to post. This was the point at which Buhari cobbled together, a press conference, “I had assumed all along that all my records were in the custody of the Military Secretary of the Nigerian Army. Much to my surprise, we are now told… there are no copies-+ of the certificates in my personal file”. Coming from a man who was himself the Military Secretary, Army Headquarters, during the period 1978-79, this is absolute hogwash! Let him tell that to the marines.

Wonders shall never end. Where on earth do people leave the original copies of their certificates with their employers?

In more civilized climes, this candidate would have been reminded of the provisions of Section 118 of our Criminal Code, which stipulates, “Any person who commits perjury is liable to imprisonment for 14 years”. But not in Nigeria where the judiciary is a respecter of persons whereby Candidate Buhari has consistently violated our laws and still gets elected as the President of the Federal Republic.

It gets messier by the day. In this rumble in the jungle, Buhari’s next move was to inform us that the Provincial Secondary School (now Government College), Katsina, which he attended over 50 years ago will make his Cambridge/WASC available to the public. We hear that the Report of the Katsina State Government in this regard was fraught with errors and alterations, which leave it in the purview of Section 137(1)(j) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999: “A person shall not be qualified for election to the office of President if he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission”. To that extent, the new road was closed. The search continues.

The dance is becoming more interesting and intriguing. Last Friday, a powerful delegation from the West African Examinations Council, WAEC, from the Council’s Headquarters in Accra, Ghana, led by the Organization’s Registrar/Chief Executive, Mr. Iyi Uwadiae, arrived Aso Rock, Villa for lunch, equipped with a souvenir labeled ATTESTATION OF RESULTS for our President. Is this the certificate we have been waiting for?

It is indeed a world of contradictions and double standards. In the abstraction, we shout at roof-tops that all candidates are equal and must be treated equally but in reality, while Candidate Buhari commands us to go looking for his credentials and declare him qualified, other candidates must provide their credentials or be disqualified.

The President’s men are threading familiar grounds. For them, no news is good news. Their grand design is to keep us busy and guessing till election comes and goes; and the qualification question will expire. But they don’t know that it is not always smart to be smart.

We may never realize how it feels to be recorded by history as the President who kept entering into the main house through the back door! Time will tell.                                                       

*Email: joligien@yahoo.com

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