PRESIDENCY IN NIGERIA AND THE ‘SSCE REQUIREMENT’
The executive power of a state is, without mincing words and without underplaying the powers of other organs of government, the foremost governmental power in all sovereign states of the world. In Nigeria, it the most strived for; in fact we only recently began to move past the ‘do-or-die’ era in some regions of the federation while other regions still record embarrassingly mischievous political tactics, violent electioneering and the death of a winning candidate in manner not pre-empted by constitutional provisions.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, taking its cue from a fusion of global federal and presidential trends, provides in section 5(1) that “…the executive powers of the federation shall be vested in the president…” By virtue of Section 5(1) which is summarily stated above, a president should at all times exist in a country as the executive head of state and government.
Further sections of the constitution then iterate that before a person can qualify to participate in an election for the presidency, such person must satisfy some requirements. These requirements are enumerated in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Nigeria 1999, which provides in section 131 that “a person shall be qualified for an election to the office of the president if (a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth (b) he has attained the age of 40 (c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party (d) he has been educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
MUHAMMADU BUHARI AND THE SSCE SCANDAL
The controversy that began seemingly as a ploy to disqualify Muhammed Buhari from contesting for The Office seems still to linger more than a year after his assumption of the much contested role of President. The bone of contention: his apparent lack of evidence of school certification as required, by the constitution, of anyone seeking to become the first citizen of the state, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and other appellations that come with occupying the office where he now sits.
Taking a careful evaluation of the provision of section 131(d) of the Constitution in order to apply it to a polity which has gone through ineffective reforms of the hierarchy of levels in the educational system, the first step would be to consider the meaning of the phrase ‘School Certificate or it equivalent’. The meaning of this phrase has been outlined by the constitution, in an apparent effort to pre-empt controversies that may arise as to a candidate satisfying this requirement, in Section 318 (which itself is an ambiguous interpretation section and a topic for another article) to mean:
(a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teachers Certificate, the City and Guilds certificate; or
(b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or
(c) primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent; and
(i) service in the public or private sector in 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 totally up to a minimum of one year, and
(iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission; and
(d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
THE CONSTITUTION REALLY IS NOT PARTICULAR ABOUT THE SSCE CERTIFICATE
A cursory look at the provisions of Section 318 would, apparently, avail the following interpretation:
the requirement of ‘School Certificate level or its equivalent’ would be satisfied, in totality, by either Provision A OR Provision B OR Provision C above.
Special attention should be paid to the fact that the provisions above are merely optional requirements given by the constitution of which only one needs to be met. This would then be in addition to Provision D as set by the Independent National Electoral Commission.
It can be construed therefore that even if President Muhammed Buhari cannot provide evidence of satisfying the ‘SSCE requirement’, if he has undergone a primary school education and possesses certification of such, he is quite constitutionally qualified to be the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by virtue of Provision C.
Provision C merely requires primary school certification from the candidate while it gives the Independent National Electoral Commission the discretion to determine if the candidate satisfies the attendant requirements in Sub-provisions (i), (ii), (iii) and also a discretion in Provision D to determine whatever extra qualification to set as long as he possesses a primary school certification.
Therefore, if anything at all the Independent National Electoral Commission should be the institution to determine his qualification. If he has then been declared to be satisfactorily qualified by independent National Electoral Commission, he then remains as the president till 2019. As such, commentaries on this issue are just an academic exercise.
In order to keep this article one step short of the irony of being an academic exercise, we shall consider an aspect that has not received enough attention; where the real issue lies.
WHERE THE REAL ISSUE LIES: AN OUTDATED REQUIREMENT FOR A DYNAMIC POSITION?
The title of this section gives away its intention all too soon but there is no use being mild or diplomatic about it. It is trite that the educational qualification of the executive head of any sovereign state who is to be constant interaction with other states can no longer remain as currently contained in our constitution.
Long overdue, the amendment of this provision has been ostensibly ignored because it has been thought that no one without a tertiary education would seek to contest for such a position. Even now that this issue has been brought to light, we realise that ours is a society addicted to the game of politics with not even the littlest interest in social engineering through politicking, law and lobbying. There seem to be this thrill in power play that blind our representatives in legislature and government from the actual reason they hold the positions. As such the focus of this controversy has wrongly been placed on removing the president instead of fixing the essential problem.
On a comic note, it has been argued in some quarters that a university education does not guarantee good leadership and such quarter have have been rather hasty to cite the case example of the former president Goodluck Jonathan. More comical however is the situational irony of the economy and of national security at this point that seem to negate the argument against the doctorate degree holder. This is not intended to suggest that educational qualification is the reason for these trying times.
It has also been argued that a person to lead this country need not be university educated as he is merely an overseer; he has technical personnel spread across all possible sectors of the nation and ambassadors at all possible international relationship scene. This argument is unfortunately flawed: the president, exercising his authority as an overseer that simultaneously possesses the power of appointment and removal, gives directives to which these educated personnel must comply. It would therefore take onerous convincing and courageous defiance to dissuade an inadequately educated and poorly informed head of state from insisting on backward foreign policies.
Matters of international relations revolve around a basic understanding of international politicking and even if a university graduate does not study International Relations or International Law and Diplomacy, he is exposed to interactions that would mould his mindset. Again, it is not to suggest that a person without university education would not be exposed to such discussions or events, the concern here is the concentration of persons with such exposure within that cadre where the highest certification is a an SSCE certificate .
Subjective arguments have also been made to appeal to the emotion. The ad misericordia is, simply put: fingers are not equal and this should not stop anyone from being the best he can be. To this argument, much cannot be said. However, access to education has improved and with will and determination one can get one’s self a tertiary education. The nation needs to move forward.
After a perusal of the arguments for and against an amendment of the current constitutional requirements, it is suggested that the minimum educational requirement should be the Ordinary National Diploma or its equivalent as this certification is obtainable across all tertiary institutions of the federation from polytechnics to colleges of education to the universities. Beyond the presidential level, this requirement should extend to the state level for governorship election. Either this or we might as well abolish a minimum formal education certification and leave the requirement merely to be ability to communicate in English language, how this ability is obtained should not matter. A person willing to take on such formal role should be ready to acquire such education.
As for the local government however, there can be an exception as the aim of the local government beyond administrative convenience for the federal state is to bring government closer to the people. However with the serious politicking going on at the local level, it would sooner than later become imperative to set a minimum educational requirement.
The educational qualification for the legislature is also debatable but far more factors need to be considered to determine the influence of education on law making. This cannot be done here as our focal is the executive.
In conclusion, our law makers must sit up to amend this shortcoming and other fundamental updates be made to our grundnorm. This is for a better polity, for a better Nigeria.