Why Buhari’s Certificate Palaver Wont Go Away
LATE in 1979 I was a fresher at St. John Vianney Seminary, Barakin Ladi, in the Jos Plateau. On a particular afternoon when we were observing siesta the deafening drone of a military helicopter flying at treetop threw us out of our narrow beds. From the sky dropped the Langtang-born Joe Garba, a general and Commandant of the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA. He was on his way home, but decided to complete his journey by road to talk to our graduating form five students.
Within seconds of his arrival, military trucks spilled hundreds of cadet officers who took combat position in the football field. The heavy craft roared off again in a swirl of red dust and flying stones. Lithe, extremely tall with a commanding presence, Garba stood with both hands behind his back watching his men like any of us. We knew his calmness was deceptive because he saw nothing wrong in his instructors kicking and punching the cadets for the slightest mistake. Then he turned and began to pace up and down.
Garba told the graduating students to come to him at Kaduna for enrollment into NDA. The army needed them. What were the qualifications? Come with your WAEC results. Five credits? Five credits or their equivalent, he said. To the best of my knowledge our form five students, including Victor (Caesar) Walbe (We mourned when the lovable Caesar was killed shortly in a car crash), whose father William Walbe was among the northern troops that abducted and murdered JTU Aguiyi-Ironsi and Francis Fajuyi on July 29th 1966, avoided Garba like a plague. None wanted to be kicked on the buttocks in the name of NDA, ka ji?
The point is that the north implemented a militarization programme from 1960 to 2011. “Its equivalent” was the destructive weapon it used to decapitate other Nigerians in recruitment. While you struggled to make your five credits to enter NDA, an Aminu, crouching on a prayer mat plotted for a signed Koranic school certificate from the Mallam next door as his five credits equivalent. Times changed and holders of these cheap papers are ashamed of tendering them for public scrutiny. Never in their wildest nightmare did they foresee a Nigeria where they’d be subjected to the same rigorous scrutiny like other ‘lesser’ Nigerians born to be ruled. That is why Muhammadu Buhari, who was a beneficiary of this programme cannot bring himself to show Nigerians the credentials he used in joining the army and rising to the rank of a general and Head of State.
Our 1999 constitution is lenient stipulating the possession of secondary school certificate, or its equivalent, as minimum academic requirement for anyone vying for public office, including the president of Nigeria. In the opinion of Felix D. Biiragbara Esq., Section (318), Sub-Section (1) interprets this provision to cover (1) an aspirant who possesses a senior secondary school certificate, including West African Examination Council, WAEC, National Examination Council, NECO, or General Certificate of Education, GCE, (2) an aspirant who could not acquire this certificate for one reason or the other though is educated to senior secondary school level but could not write the actual examination, or wrote without getting his certificate (3) an aspirant who has acquired or possessed the said certificate, and in addition must have either worked in the Nigerian public service for certain duration or has the ability to speak and write English to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and (on omnibus ground for mainly candidates from the Islamic North) (4) an aspirant who possesses any other equivalent qualifications obtained from unconventional institutions like Koranic school, acceptable to INEC.
Buhari’s response to this provision was to declare that “All my academic qualification documents as filled in my presidential form, President APC/001/2015, are currently with Secretary of Military Board as at the time of this affidavit,” he solemnly swore in a 24th November 2014 affidavit he took out from an Abuja High Court. The burden is on you to locate who, among the numerous military secretaries over the years, has his certificates. Give Buhari till the end of time my bet remains he won’t produce his certificates, as none exists.
Against known cases, Buhari’s affidavit raises more questions than answers. Yakubu Gowon has his certificates, which enabled him to enroll for postgraduates in British schools. Ibrahim Babangida also has his academic certificates to toy with the idea of coming out once more to rule Nigeria, or hasn’t he? Why must Buhari’s documents be the only ones the military deemed fit to withhold? Assuming that the military confiscated his certificates out of malice, did the same wicked military also disband the schools that awarded them? Let him tell Nigerians the names of the awarding institutions. Good enough, in a rebuttal the military denied Buhari’s claims.
No authority in Nigeria has the power to withhold the original copies of legitimately awarded certificates. Only commercial banks store original documents for safe custody strictly at the discretion of the document owners. It appears Buhari has no school certificates, only their equivalents. Let him have the courage to show us these equivalents. The office he’s eyeing is too sensitive for hearsay. For his own sake Buhari must disperse this ominous cloud hanging over his credibility. The angst is that if he can’t come clean in simple things like ordinary school record, why do you think he’d keep faith with you in Exclusive List if elected?
Buhari had easy ride in a military dominated by the North. This was a military where recruitment and promotion went by preferment. He was recruited into the army 1962 in the heat of intense rivalries between the ethnic nationalities. Qualification was secondary consideration then. The North emerged victorious after the Biafran/Nigerian war determined to control the military. Any northern youth with a semblance of secondary education was enrolled into NDA and that explained Garba’s visit to our school – a recruitment drive. So we have a problem here. The Buhari debacle is only a tip of the northberg likely to collide with the ship of state.
To avoid a collision the North must upgrade. Whether in politics or religion northern Nigeria must recalibrate for competent hands to come to the fore. This will require radical changes in how public office seekers are recruited and promoted, which depends on the enthronement of a level playing field, which is most improbable given the hostility of the northern power structure to change. The North that contributes a disproportionate number of our political and military leaders is silted and in need of deliverance. If competent hands are not given the chance to effect change, unfit elements will do it badly.
The insurgency in the North is all about managing change by incompetent hands whose learning was limited to Islamic exegeses. So when they stumbled upon opposing arguments from non-Islamic scholars like Charles Darwin, John Mbiti, Wole Soyinka, etc., they simply went berserk. This would have been avoided were Islamic preachers made to read extensively as trainees. Poorly educated preachers were allowed to handle complex ideas well beyond their training and thousands paid for this oversight with their lives. Does responsibility not go with ability?
By contrast look at Mathew Kuka, a Christian preacher from the same North. The reason why Kuka is courted world over is because he is an all-round authority. He knows what to take from his own faith and what to reject. When he rejects, he does so without threats and violence. The Catholic Church made him read the Koran, Bible and African Traditional Religion, ATR, while being trained in the major seminary as a priest. Kuka can talk to you about his African ancestors and their indigenous religious practices without fearing blasphemy, all because in character and learning he is well groomed to handle complex and conflicting ideas without cracking. To appreciate purity you must be knowledgeable enough to detect impurity.
I propose an extension of the electoral timetable to enable Buhari produce his original academic documents, whether certificates or their equivalents. As matters stand now his image has taken a battering before voters; this for a presidential aspirant whose manifesto is to kill corruption and impunity. Unless these documents are found and tendered before the 14th February poll, he’s likely to fare badly. More worrisome, an election won by him today can still be nullified by the court on ground of perjury, given that the claims made in his 24th of November 2014 affidavit are false. Is Buhari a man to take defeat in the poll or nullification by the court lying down?
Declaring that his certificates were with the Military Board only for the same military to contradict him is enough reason why (1) INEC should disqualify him, (2) Buhari himself as a man of honour should withdraw from the presidential race, and (3) the All Progressives Congress, APC, should substitute Buhari with Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso as its presidential flag bearer. None of these has happened and Nigeria is galloping to a presidential election and to a promised violence if the will of voters were allowed to prevail.
So head or tail a massive hiccup looms unless INEC does its job without fears. The man it is breaking its back to accommodate will cast the first stone when the dice is cast. Before now, Buhari has threatened violence if 2015 was rigged like in 2011. His utterances have primed the North for explosion in the event of a defeat. These utterances are retrievable from the publications of that can be tendered as evidence if challenged. Not only that, his utterances are inciting, but are also calculated to dehumanize and diminish Nigerians to make violence against them justifiable.
When he told northern youths to jealousy guard their votes else they’d become slaves for forty years, was he being patriotic? So I ask Buhari, “Who are the slaves these past forty years of northern misrule?” Buhari openly called citizens “dogs and baboons” worthy of being killed. I now ask him, “The seven Ogonis shot and wounded on their way to your rally at Port Harcourt (I whole heartedly condemn this attack), are those Ogonis humans or dogs and baboons?”
Does Buhari see me, an Igbo man, as a slave to be ruled or equal citizen worthy of ruling after forty-eight years of political and economic exclusion? Does Buhari recognize the Igbo man as an entity endowed by the same God he constantly invokes with human attributes or a feral animal to be killed at will? I therefore put him on strong notice: After Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ends 2019 it is the Igbo man’s turn to rule Nigeria, take it or leave it.
Buhari is consumed by an inordinate desire to equal the record set by his military peers. That is the real problem and not that he has anything useful or innovative to offer. For him, ruling Nigeria the second time would boost his miserable record of twenty months. Gowon ruled for nine years. Murtala Mohammed could have clocked four years but for Buka Suka Dimka’s bullets. Even Olusegun Obasanjo lasted eleven years. Babangida had seven years under his belt and Sani Abacha five. So he goes about swimming against the tides of history in his ego quest. But how far can he go?