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Scaling academic qualification for political office holders

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[FILE PHOTO] ASUU National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi


Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world, the late South African president, Nelson Mandela has said. If this assertion is true, why then does this matter less when it comes to academic qualification of political office holders in Nigeria, particularly the president and state governors? UJUNWA ATUEYI writes
A company recently announced vacancy for the position of director, corporate service. The academic requirement for such a position is a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in personnel management or public administration, business administration or any other related subject. This is just for an individual that will serve a specified purpose in a given company.

Unfortunately, in vying for the position of president or governor in Nigeria, the constitution stipulates that you must be educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent, apart from being a citizen of the country and above 35 years.This age-long trend has been the standard for political office holders in a country where academic qualification to any corporate position matters most, but matters less when it comes to occupying political offices.

While a school of thought sees no anomaly in the constitutionally set standard, another feels the time is long over due for a review of such standard, believing that it may bring a turn around in the country’s developmental quest.Though they acknowledged that possessing higher educational qualifications does not guarantee good governance and leadership, as character and integrity are paramount; notwithstanding, experts have argued that people of great intellect should be given a chance to govern.

They maintained that if higher educational qualification is needed to employ an individual that would take up a particular responsibility in a given organisation, then a double of such should be recommended for those that will be saddled with the responsibility of administering the states and the nation.

A non-governmental organisation, Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, is among those questioning the standard, as well as campaigning for upgrade of educational qualification of political office holders.

Irrespective of what the constitution says, the group said the time has come for all stakeholders to come together and brainstorm on upgrading the academic qualification of political office holders in the interest of the country.

Specifically, the group wants the National Assembly to look into the matter and act on it by way of constitutional amendment or enactment of a new law.According the chairman, board of trustees of the group, Mr. Emeka Umeagbalasi, there is an urgent need “to mandatorily, constitutionally and statutorily raise the qualification for the seats of the President, Governors and their deputies in Nigeria to master’s degree.

“It amounts to racing back to the cave from being the Africa’s cradle of knowledge for Nigeria’s seats of Presidential and gubernatorial powers to be cheaply occupied by persons without physically proven or certified educational certificates or qualifications.

“It is further insulting beyond quantification to the modern day knowledgeable world for the offices of the President and governor in Nigeria to be allowed to be occupied by persons with ordinary secondary school or primary school certificates-whereas in other social climes, such are occupied by professors and doctorate degree holders with unassailable charisma.”He continued: “Ignorance and stark illiteracy must never be allowed a space over knowledge and ideas in the country’s corridors of power. As a jurisprudential tradition in the world over, judicial blunders and disasters such as the instant case arising from apex and appellate decided cases are periodically remedied by ways of constitutional amendments or enactment of new laws to take care of such judicial blunders or disasters. We hereby call on the National Assembly of Nigeria to act on the above without further delays.”

But some stakeholders, who spoke with The Guardian on the issue raised by the group, affirmed that obtaining good academic qualification is a great idea, but not really the ultimate as character and integrity are essential ingredients of a good leader.President, Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, hinted that it is not a bad idea to raise the standard qualification for those aspiring to leadership position at national and state levels, but there must be a balance.

“That is what they do all over the world. Every country aspires to bring up their best and brightest to lead them. If you look at the Asian countries, the Asian tigers that we are talking about like Singapore, Malaysia and others, the history of their leaders, especially those who serve in key positions of government, you know they are always among the best. They look for people of ideas, people of high pedigree.

“But it appears that in Nigeria, we even shun the academia. We have phobia for those who have ideas that are different from ours. And that has given credence to the suspicion that we raise mediocrity above meritocracy. And any country that encourages mediocrity will remain stagnated along the path of progress. That actually has been the bane of our development.”He continued: “Nevertheless, it is also necessary to balance learning and character. We should not just talk about educational qualification; we should also talk about pedigrees. People’s past, integrity also counts. We can have a first class brain, who is also a fraudster, so it doesn’t tally. It doesn’t automatically apply that when you have higher academic qualification, it will give you the progress that you want. What we will vote for is a balance between learning and character. However, it should not encourage a situation that will undermine intellectual capacity.”

Pointing out that the standard might not necessarily be pegged at master’s degree level, the ASUU boss said: “Insisting on master’s degree may not actually be the issue. We can only set a benchmark for someone who has had this balanced education we are talking about. For instance, a first degree holder should have had rounded education and we expect that such a person will have a quotient of character and learning.”

Former President and vice chancellor, Babcock University, Prof. James Makinde, is also neutral about the subject.Though he affirmed that education is certainly the single most effective catalyst propelling to sufficiency, possessing a master’s degree or any other educational qualification does not guarantee good leadership.He said: “What empirical evidence was tendered to support the fact that a master’s degree holder in Yoruba, Efik, Igbo or Hausa would be better intellectually prepared for leadership than a lawyer with a bachelor’s degree, Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) or a degree in engineering? Or are you going to construct an exhaustive directory of acceptable qualifications to the exclusion of other social?

“What is the comparative value or market equivalence of a rigorously choreographed bachelor’s degree from a Nigerian university measured against a PhD., from some foreign universities, which countries of origin I will not mention for obvious reasons? Like when a blue chip company is recruiting its valued personnel, it is my firm belief that a solid bachelors degree from a reputable accredited university recognised by the Ministry of Education would be sufficient for this purpose without hairsplitting to load the systems.

“However, there needs to be a reconstruction of the requirement for senators, governors and others at that level, to require minimum of high school certification rather than mere attendance, because the generation that went to primary school yesterday seem to be a lot more knowledgeable, rational and productive than those produced by today’s high school system.”

Acknowledging that education is paramount, notwithstanding, Makinde said: “It is the lack of political willpower on the part of the elites that makes it difficult to elevate the educational requirements for public office because of the argument that it will disadvantaged certain sections of the country who are currently less educationally developed.

“By dropping down the requirements, however, mediocrity is being promoted to the level of piety in place of merit. The result is evident in the statistics for emigration demographics. The world being a global village, the most creative, qualified, competent and educated people will leave for more rewarding economies while the dummies will stay and rule. And the vicious cycle continues.” He added that ending impunity at all levels of governance and leadership is the way forward. He also said the society should keep an eye on performance-based and not ethnicity, religion or money-based assessment of political and administrative candidates.

For the Professor of Applied English Linguistics and English Sociolinguistics, Mountain Top University, Ogun State, Emmanuel Adedun, it is not how many certificates you acquire that makes you to be educated, rather, it is the right attitude.He said whether master’s degree or PhD, if the person doesn’t have the right attitude and mentality, the problem remains.

“It is not education that solves the problem, yes education is important, but definitely not accumulation of certificates. There are some first degree holders that are far better than even some PhD holders. There are people you can identify as exceptionally brilliant and they are doing well in their respective organisations even without master’s degree. I think it is the right attitude, mentality and mind that make the difference, not accumulation of certificates.

“There was a time in this country, when people were agitating that we have not had somebody who has a doctorate degree as a president. But when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan became the president of this nation, people were still not satisfied. Until the man left the place, they didn’t believe he was doing something meaningful. They even used the PhD to abuse him, saying even with a PhD he messed up the economy. That is the nature of the society in which we have found ourselves.

“There is a difference between real and paper education. That is the one that you are able to train your mind and wellbeing physically, mentally and spiritually, which lead to aggregation of right attitude in the society. And when we have this in our political office holders, then you can go to bed and be satisfied that there will be good governance,” Adedun said.Explaining the concept behind certification, Adedun expressed worry that the society, unfortunately, have deviated from the original aim of certification.

“The way certification was conceived was to say, okay this person has this level of knowledge or intelligence and this is the paper to certify that. But today it is no longer so in our society. A lot of people get this certification without going through the content of what the paper is saying. So even if you say that for one to be a political office holder, he/she must have a master’s degree, I bet you that a lot of people will produce that master’s degree in terms of paper qualification but the content will still not be there,” Adedun concluded.


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