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The non-issue about Buhari’s qualification

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Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Mahmood Yakubu (L) presents to Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari his certificate of election after he was re-elected on February 27, 2019, in Abuja. – Muhammadu Buhari was on February 27 re-elected Nigeria’s president after a delayed poll that angered voters and raised political temperatures. (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

Over the last month, the news media, including the various social network platforms, have been inundated by the controversy over whether or not the presidential candidate of the opposition party, retired General Buhari possesses the minimum educational qualification to run for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the impending February 2015 Elections. The controversy reached its crescendo over this past weekend when a top member of the governing party’s campaign organisation and himself a legal practitioner called a world press conference to publicise the matter about this alleged “certificate scandal.” Ordinarily, as a thoroughbred academic, and not given to intervening in patently partisan political debates, this writer would have kept quiet and allowed the political process, including waiting for the Supreme Court ultimately, to pronounce on the matter. But the obligation one feels one owes to the Nigerian public as a whole makes it incumbent upon one to share one’s knowledge and expertise regarding the matter. I submit that the so-called non-possession of educational qualification up to “School Certificate level or its equivalent” alleged against retired General Buhari is a non-issue for the 2015 Elections, as the allegation is incorrect, not sufficiently constitutionally informed, and therefore irrelevant to the campaign for the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2015 Elections. The reasons for asserting this are as follows.

Firstly, whereas retired General Buhari might not have possessed a Second School Certificate but obtained OCS Mons qualifications from England before being commissioned into the Nigerian Army officer corps, and whereas all Nigerian Army officers of his generation and those before him who had attended Mons Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, were also most unlikely to possess Secondary School Certificate (and in sharp contrast to their counterparts who having gone to Sandhurst were in all likelihood to have had Secondary School Certificate), this does not mean that, through attendance at courses and training in other recognized institutions in the course of their professional career, such officers had not subsequently added other educational qualifications that placed them way beyond the level of the Primary Six School Leaving Certificate holder.

Secondly, Buhari’s entry into the Nigerian Army officer corps (combatant) coincided with the time of introduction of the quota system of selection (May 1961) which was intended among other things for accommodating some of the lesser-qualified candidates from the North, rather than have the officer corps dominated wholly by candidates from the South. Before 1961, Nigeria had maintained considerably high educational standards for selection into the Army officer corps. Up to that year, for example, a potential officer was required to possess the minimum academic qualifications of Credits in four subjects, including English Language, at the West African School Certificate level, or for their equivalent four Ordinary Passes at General Certificate of Education (GCE, London). It was also during that period that were recruited for “combatant commissions” the five university graduates to be recruited into the officer corps, namely Chuckwumeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Victor Banjo, Olufemi Olutoye, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Oluwole Rotimi, and Adewale Adegboyega.  After May 1961, however, and with the introduction of the quota system, the alternative qualification of Teachers’ Grade II Certificate, or the Royal Society of Arts (R.S.A.), Stage II Certificate, was stipulated, obviously to accommodate some of the lower-qualified Northern candidates; although, as it turned out, candidates from the South also benefitted from the considerable lowering of standards that resulted from operation of the quota system. Thirdly, by the end of the year of independence in 1960, the Nigerian Army had as many as 17 members of the emergent national officer corps possessing Mons OCS qualification or its equivalent. Among the senior officers (combatant) of retired General Buhari’s generation or the generation a little before who, like him, had had Mons qualifications or their equivalent were Olusegun Obasanjo, Olu Bajowa, Joseph Garba, Ibrahim Babangida, George Innih, David Mark, Mohammed Sani Sami, and Sani Abacha. Among the Army senior officers (combatant) of retired General Buhari’s generation or the generation a little before him, who had gone and passed through the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst (RMAS) type of training or the equivalent, were Chuckwuma Nzeogwu, Yakubu Gowon, Illiya Bissala, Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Murtala Mohammed and Alani Akinrinade. There were those recruited from other professions and commissioned into the various technical arms and support services including Henry Adefope and Adeniyi Austen-Peters.

But it would be disingenuous to claim that any of these categories of officers, particularly those with OCS Mons qualification or its equivalent, did not have educational qualification that went beyond the Primary School Leaving Certificate level, especially if they had spent more than 20 years in service and risen through the ranks from the first and second lieutenant grade through captain and major to colonel and brigadier and ultimately to general. This is best illustrated by the most celebrated case of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, an initial ex-Mons graduate, retired general since 1979, and subsequent holder of a number of higher degree certificates including one Diploma and a Masters from the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) and currently registered as PhD candidate at the country’s premier University of Ibadan.

Fourthly, while in service, Buhari had added to his vita other educational and professional qualifications, through attendance of numerous training courses. He had also written a number of promotion examinations to earn his advancement from lower-officer cadre (beginning from cadet, second and first lieutenant) through the middle ranks (captain, major) up to the rank of colonel. Besides, in the Nigerian case, since by the time Buhari reached the rank of colonel, most issues about promotion as well as retirement within the Army especially after level of colonel tended to be regulated by mostly political considerations. Since retirement from the force, Buhari has had many honours, distinctions and awards conferred upon him for various meritorious services.

To be continued tomorrow

Adekanye is Emeritus Professor of Political Science & Civil-Military Relations; and Fellow of Social Science Academy of Nigeria.

This article first published by The Guardian, on January 19, 2015 has been reproduced because of its prescience as demonstrated by the tribunal’s ruling last Wednesday on the presidential election.


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