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Qualification for a president of Nigeria

By Ben Nwabueze   |   29 January 2015   |   11:00 pm

Jonathan-pix

WITH the general elections now only three weeks away, it seems altogether right that the qualification of anyone aspiring to the office of President should agitate our minds. 

  Except that, in the typically Nigerian way, the agitation is overshadowed largely by politics, and is not focusing on the issue, so vital to the national interest, as to the qualification or qualities appropriate in a person to govern our affairs and our lives for four years, using “qualification” in the sense defined in the dictionary to mean “that which qualifies or fits a person for any use or purpose, as for an office, or employment.” 

  So defined, it includes a person’s background, antecedents, character, etc.

  Among well-informed Nigerians, it seems to be generally agreed that a primal reason for the lack of good governance in the country is bad leadership owing, in the main, to poor and inadequate qualification and background prescribed by our Constitution for the presidency.

Need for, indeed the imperativeness of, a good education and background required for presidential leadership 

  The type and quality of presidential leadership called for must be of the kind that enabled the United States to achieve the goals and purposes of decolonisation at a corresponding period of its history.   

  The American Revolution was able to transform American government, society, ethic, values and culture in part because of the quality of the men who led it, the revolutionary leaders, otherwise called the Founding Fathers; men like George Washington, first president, John Adams, second president, Thomas Jefferson, third president, James Madison, fourth president, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, to name only the better known among them. 

  Except George Washington, all three Presidents immediately after him were brilliant lawyers and outstanding intellectuals. (Thomas Jefferson, one of the finest minds of his time, read books in Greek and Latin and grappled with Euclidean problems in Mathematics in his teens. His home in Virginia, his bedroom, the bed on which he slept, the clothes he wore are still preserved up till now. I drew so much inspiration from being taken round that home during my visit in 1987 to deliver a Lecture at the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.)

  The American revolutionary leaders have been described as “civic-minded philosopher statesmen,” an extraordinary galaxy of men of good character, good education, integrity, honesty and sincerity, with deep concern for the public good and a scorn for self-enrichment. 

  They were able to implant in American society an enlightened ethic, ethos and values through the “brilliance of their thought, the creativity of their politics” and their extraordinary ability to combine “ideas and power, intellectualism and politics” without getting alienated from the people and without becoming obsessed with votes. 

  Because they “saw themselves as part of an organic social community linked through strong personal connection to those below them,” they were also able to maintain with the people an intimate relationship devoid of any feelings of alienation.

  They set themselves up in the role of educators of the people, “models or guides for citizens’ behaviour.” Through their prodigious literary output — in pamphlets, broadside, articles in periodicals and newspapers, letters and speeches — they tried to mould standards of opinions and behaviour. 

  In contrast to the intellectualism and high educational qualification of the American Founding Fathers, which enabled them to provide the kind of leadership the country needed to create a new society in place of the old colonial society, the leadership in charge of the management of affairs at the federal level in Nigeria was characterised by intellectual poverty and educational inadequacy. 

  Before the advent of Dr. Alex Ekwueme as Vice-President in October 1979, no Head of Government or his vice at the federal level from Independence in October 1960 to 2007 has a university degree (discounting the interim arrangement under which Chief Ernest Shonekan, a graduate, ruled for a short period of some months in 1993.) 

  None had therefore been exposed to the mental orientation, intellectual insights and academic influence of a university degree programme. Unlike their American counterparts at the corresponding period of their country’s history, the Heads of Government and their vice at the federal level in Nigeria lacked the intellectual capacity, the educational qualification, the acuity of mind and the creativity of thought to combine “ideas and power, intellectualism and politics” demanded by the challenges of decolonisation after independence from colonial rule. They had little or no idea of the role, which their leadership required of them.

  Eight of the Heads of State/Heads of Government in the period between January 1966 and May 1999 were military officers trained in good military schools or academies — Generals Aguiyi-Ironsi, Yakubu Gowon, Murtala Muhammed, Olusegun Obasanjo, Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar. 

  But whilst training or education in military schools or academies is certainly adequate for the management of military affairs and relations among members of the military, it does not impart or inculcate the kind of knowledge, ideas, insights, orientation and perceptions needed for the government of society as a whole. 

  Our experience of rule by military men or retired military men, especially General Obasanjo’s rule as Head of the Federal Military Government (FMG) for four years (1976-79) and as civilian President for eight years (1999-2007) bears out indisputably that their military training, career and life spent in military barracks do not equip them with the kind of vision, orientation, intellectualism, the sense of fairness, justice and impartiality needed for the government of society under a system of constitutional democracy. 

  Moreover, the military’s regimented system of the giving of orders and unquestioning obedience of such orders inclines and acclimatizes them to absolutism and autocracy in government even under a constitution as supreme law that limits governmental powers, as again borne out by the autocratic personal rule of Obasanjo as civilian President, otherwise described as “constitutional dictatiorship,” a seeming contradiction in terms. Obasanjo simply aborted Nigeria’s transition to constitutional democracy.

  Besides the dictatorial actions of Obasanjo as civilian President by which he aborted the country’s transition to constitutional democracy, other retired military men have also, by their activities, retarded or undermined Nigeria’s experimentation with constitutional democracy. 

  For example, retired General Muhammadu Buhari, former Head of the FMG, has been running for the presidency at four consecutive presidential elections in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015; David Mark, retired military officer and former minister in the military government, now president of the Senate successively for the past eight years or so; retired General T.Y. Danjuma, as minister of defence for some years under the civilian government of President Olusegun Obasanjo. 

  Other high-ranking retired military officers formerly in government during the period of the military regime continue, after the 1999 democratic transition, to influence government policies and to exercise influence in other areas of government. 

  Indeed, it is they, together with other reactionary oligarchic elements opposed to democratic rule, notably the Caliphate in Northern Nigeria and its agents, who manipulate governmental affairs, unseen, from behind the scene; the group constitutes what is known as the “invisible government” of Nigeria.   

  Nigeria must be one of the few democracies in the world, outside Africa, where retired military officers, with oligarchic outlook and interest, wield such great influence in government as well as in the political process after transition to democratic rule. This clearly augurs ill for democracy in the country. 

  The country deserves to be left alone to pursue its experimentation with constitutional democracy without the retarding influence of retired military men.

  Interestingly, one of our former military rulers, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, on his ouster from power in 1975 after a nine-year rule, in order to widen his insights and deepen his intellectuality, enrolled as a political science student at the University of Warwick, England, bagging a Ph.D at the end of it. 

  Another one of them, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, after eight years in office as civilian President (discounting his previous four years as military Head of State and Government) enrolled in the Open University for a diploma course (not degree course), not a course in Law, Political Science or Economics, but in Theology of all courses. 

  The whole thing is made all the more an irrelevancy, a triviality, by the fact that the Open University is a university existing in the open air with no walls and without the university atmosphere and environment that shapes ideas and perceptions and attitudes, and without the interaction among students and with staff that provides that atmosphere and environment. 

  Nor do our military rulers have the intellectual power to understand the nature and processes of the sophisticated organism, the modern state, transplanted to Africa by European colonialism. 

  The modern state is a foreign organism lodged by colonialism in the body of Africa. It is foreign, not just in the sense that it was the creation of alien powers, but more so because, not having existed before colonisation (Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia excepted), it has no root in the life, culture, traditions, habits and experience of the African peoples. 

  It was forcibly imposed upon backward peoples lacking the necessary foundations of civilisation, and unacquainted with its ideological or philosophical foundation and its ways, its organising principles, institutions, procedures, its traditions of government administration, the habits of order, discipline, obedience to law, patriotism, and loyalty, the attitude of the responsibility and accountability of rulers to the whole mass of the people. 

  In the nature and extent of its powers, in particular, the power to make law by legislation, the state transplanted to Africa by colonialism has nothing remotely corresponding to it in pre-colonial days.

  There was nothing in the pre-colonial polity remotely like the alien-type state’s strong, formidable organisation of force, its enormous power, the array of patronages at its disposal, its vast business interests and pervasive control over the economy, its status as a subject of international law, entitled by virtue thereof to all the rights and powers bestowed by that law on states, and the way people are subjected, in many aspects of their lives and affairs, to coercion or compulsion by means of regulations of a legislative nature, judicial orders or decrees enforced by the organised coercive force of the state, and executive orders, all backed by an overwhelming force at once intimidating, irresistible and awesome in the form of a standing or full time army and police with all their weapons of violence, as well as other law enforcement apparatuses like prisons and prison warders, concentration camps, detention centres, security agents, road marshals, tax collectors, customs officers, forest guards and so on, a force made all the more awesome still because it is in the exclusive monopoly of the state.

  It is not only that the modern state is totally different from the pre-colonial African polity in the nature of its power and force; the forms, institutions and principles involved in its administration were also unknown and without any basis in the pre-colonial African polity. 

  Save only monarchy, which has become discredited in most part of the world anyway, neither the democratic, representative form of government, with its institutions of free and fair elections based on universal adult suffrage and political parties, nor constitutional democracy, with its institution of a written constitution as supreme law enshrining a guarantee of human rights, separation of powers, the Rule of Law, nor the socialist form of state, with its institutions and principles of socialist ownership of the means of production and exchange, total rule (totalitarianism), socialist legality and democratic centralism has any real basis in pre-colonial African political experience and culture.

  Thus, the African rulers (more especially military rulers), who took over the mantle of leadership from the departing colonisers, came to their new roles with hardly anything from Africa’s past to prepare and guide them in those roles. Exceptional intellectualism and a solid educational qualification are therefore necessary credentials for effective performance in such roles. 

  Leadership in the circumstances of Nigeria and other African countries faced with the challenges of decolonisation is not something for a presidential leader inadequately equipped intellectually, educationally and character-wise.

Intellectual poverty and educational inadequacy of the qualifications prescribed by the Constitution (1999) for the President  

  The political process in Nigeria does not entirely account for the intellectual poverty and educational inadequacy of presidential leadership. Part of the blame lies with the Constitution, section 131 of which provides:

  “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 level or its equivalent.”

  As if school certificate prescribed in section 131(d) is not inadequate already, “school certificate or its equivalent” is defined in section 318(1) to mean:

“(a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or

(b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level (i.e. without the certificate); or 

(c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and –

(i) service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years, and

(ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totaling up to a minimum of one year; and 

(iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission; and 

(d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

  The provision says nothing about the person’s background, antecedents, experience, character, including qualities like integrity (the third Schedule, for example, provides that a person to be appointed a member of the Independent National Electoral Commission shall be of “unquestionable integrity”), sense of fairness, justice and impartiality, and of loyalty to the Constitution in terms of the Oaths in The Seventh Schedule, and his psychological or mental state.

  In these days of widespread “expo”, certificate faking and general degeneration in the standards of education in our schools and colleges, primary six school leaving certificate is really next door to illiteracy. A semi-literate President is what the prescription in sections 131(d) and 318(1) tantamount to. 

  What little literacy is acquired from the education system at the primary school level is soon lost owing to the lack of a reading culture that pervades our society, caused to a considerable extent by the enthronement of wealth as the determinant of social standing and the consequent inordinate pursuit of it and of other mundane, non-intellectual pursuits. 

  No one with this kind of thoroughly inadequate educational background can be expected to read, with understanding, the Constitution of Nigeria, laden, as it is, with difficult and perplexing concepts, or the books on constitutional law, political science and sociology where the knowledge of these concepts can be found. And knowing that he cannot understand them, he would have no inclination or disposition to buy the books or to read them.

  The desire to accommodate educationally backward areas, which no doubt is the reason underlying the provision, is no justification for prescribing such low level of educational qualification for election to the office of President or the National Assembly. There is no state in the country today that does not have a fair number of university graduates. 

  The effect of these provisions is, lamentably, to entrench in the Constitution the intellectual poverty and educational inadequacy, which has characterised leadership at the level of the presidency since Independence in 1960 right up to the election of President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007 (the first university graduate to hold the office of President (discounting the interim arrangement under which Chief Ernest Shonekan, a graduate, ruled for some months) and the accession to the presidential office by the Vice-President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan on 5 May, 2010 after the death of Umaru Yar’Adua. 

  In my view, the Constitution should prescribe a university degree or its equivalent as the minimum educational qualification for election to the offices of President and Vice-President.

Whatever happened to the amendments to sections 131(d) and 318(1) passed by the National Assembly in 2010 at the early stage of the amendment process 

  The amendment deletes the words “school certificate level or its equivalent” in section 131(d), and substitutes therefor “tertiary level and obtained the relevant certificates” (italicized to emphasise that the certificate is thereby made a constitutional requirement, thus changing the Supreme Court decision in Suswam’s Case.) 

  It then goes on to define in section 318(1), as amended, the term to mean: 

 “(a) Ordinary National Diploma or its equivalent; or

(b)Nigerian Certificate in Education or its equivalent; or

(c)Higher School Certificate or its equivalent; or

(d)Advanced School Certificate or its equivalent; or 

(e) Higher National Diploma or its equivalent.”

  Each of the five qualifications is prescribed as an alternative minimum qualification on its own, e.g. higher school certificate or advanced school certificate, and is not made any the less acceptable because of the inclusion of higher qualifications in (a), (b) or (e) above. 

  For this reason, although the higher national diploma is now generally regarded as equivalent to a university degree, the amendment falls short of prescribing a university degree as minimum educational qualification.

  Significantly, however, the deletion of section 131(d) has the effect of also deleting the definition of “School Certificate or its equivalent” in section 318(1).

  I have not been able to find out how the amendment was lost at some stage in the amendment process, and never became law. This is, indeed, regrettable, since the country needs it.

• Professor Nwabueze, a constitutional lawyer and former education minister, is President of The Patriots.




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