Despite President Muhammadu Buhari’s spirited efforts to sweep his certificate scandal under the carpet, the issue resonated last week in court and may not go away anytime soon. Davidson Iriekpen writes

After much ado, a Federal High Court in Abuja last Thursday adjourned indefinitely, the suit filed by a legal practitioner, Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe, to challenge the educational qualification of President Muhammadu Buhari. Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe, in his suit contends that Buhari was not qualified to run for the office of the president because he did not possess the minimum qualification to run for the office.

He alleged that Buhari did not sit for the Cambridge West African School Certificate (WASC) Ordinary Level in 1961 as claimed. WASC O’Level is the minimum qualification required to contest for the office of the president.

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When the case came up last Thursday, the presiding judge, Justice Ademola Adeniyi adjourned further hearing on the matter to await the decision of the Court of Appeal on the appeal President Buhari lodged against the suit. Listed as defendants in the substantive action, which the plaintiff initiated before the 2015 presidential election are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Rather than tender his certificate and put an end to the controversy, President Buhari has engaged a consortium of lawyers, comprising 13 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, to defend him both at the high court and the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal.

On the legal team are Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Mr. Lateef O. Fagbemi (SAN), Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), Oluwarotimi O. Akeredolu (SAN), Kola Awodein (SAN), Prof. Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), Charles Edosomwan (SAN), Emeka Ngige (SAN), Femi Atoyebi (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), Funke Aboyade (SAN), H.O. Afolabi (SAN), Muiz Banire (SAN), and 10 other counsel.

Justice Ademola had on May 26, 2016 dismissed Buhari’s preliminary objection over mode of service. Being a candidate of the APC, Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe had served the court processes on the president at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja. But Buhari objected and filed a preliminary objection to challenge the mode of service, insisting that he ought to have been served at an address in Kaduna instead of by substituted means at the national secretariat of the APC in Abuja.

Justice Ademola, in his ruling, held that it was incompetent and upheld the service of the originating court processes on Buhari. The judge held that the service of the court’s processes on the president through the secretariat of the APC was proper. The court was satisfied that if it was served on a senior officer of the APC at the national headquarters, it would be brought to Buhari’s attention.

Dissatisfied with this ruling, Buhari filed a notice of appeal at the Court of Appeal, Abuja Judicial Division on seven grounds of appeal.

In the buildup to the 2015 presidential election, there was controversy over the academic credentials of Buhari. The president allegedly did not include his WASC certificate in the binder of documents he tendered to INEC as required for candidates in an election. He however wrote to INEC, saying his secondary school certificate was with the military board.

As the controversy intensified, the military in a well-publicised press conference, said it did not have the document in its possession. Rather than present the certificate, Buhari in his second defence, said: “I have always assumed that my credentials were with the military but now we are being told that they do not have my documents in their custody.”

Finally in his third defence, Buhari said his certificates were with INEC.
Like the certificate scandal that rocked Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State in the early 2000, the APC with its machinery rose in strong defence of the president. And soon, the party overwhelmed the cacophony of voices that rose against the president. At the end, they succeeded in intimidating every opposition against the certificate scandal into submission and the issue swept under the carpet.

Even those who initially went to court to challenge the action soon withdrew their suits on suspicious grounds and an opportunity was given to the president to run away with alleged infractions.

Undaunted, Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe refused to withdraw his case. In an originating summons he filed in February 2015, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, the legal practitioner prayed the court to among others declare that Buhari was unqualified to aspire to the position of president not having sat for the secondary school certificate and also deposing to a false affidavit about his educational qualifications contrary to the Electoral Act.

But Buhari and the APC instead of entering their defence on merits or present the certificates obtained by Buhari, for over a year, ignored the suit and failed to file any defence. Till date, a lot of Nigerians are surprised that over a year after the controversy broke, Buhari has still refused to produce his certificate and lay the issue to rest. Just like the Tinubu case, they are wondering if the president would be allowed to get away with the alleged infraction.

A cross-section of Nigerians, who spoke with THISDAY, wondered why it is difficult for the president to tender his credentials if he actually sat for the examination as he claimed. They submitted that with his standing in the society, even if the certificate was missing, getting another one would be the simplest thing to do.

While speaking with THISDAY last week, Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe provided an insight into how the president’s certificate scandal might have started. “As everyone now knows from available records at the disposal of the general public, Buhari registered for the Cambridge WASC, when he was in his final year in Provincial Secondary School, Katsina. He was given an examination number, but before he could sit for the examination, the Nigerian Army started recruiting with the minimum requirement being possession of a WASC or the equivalent at that time.

The recruitment was supposed to be for those who had already sat for their WASC and obtained a certificate, i.e. the High School graduates of the previous year and not for Buhari’s set, who would be qualified to apply the following year after sitting for their WASC. Since he did not have any WASC, having yet sat for the exam, Buhari got his Principal to issue him a recommendation letter in lieu of his WASC.

“All these are matters of public records and I am sure you also saw a bromide of that recommendation letter when it was published. Buhari was enlisted into the Nigerian Army with his Principal’s recommendation letter and not his WASC. Having been enlisted, Buhari reported at the Army Depot for training and commenced his military career. He never went back to sit for the WASC and that is why the Nigeria Army called a press conference at the height of the controversy and stated unequivocally that no WASC had ever been found in his file.

“You will recall that the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR) at their January 2015 press conference said as follows and I quote: ‘In his personal file in the Nigerian Army, he does not have his original copy of his WASC, nor the Nigerian Army have the certified true copy of his WASC results, neither do we have a photocopy. We don’t have that but we do have other documents to show how he was recruited into the Nigeria Army as was entered on Form 199A.”

“Needless to say, that ‘other documents’ which the Army has and which shows how Buhari was recruited is the principal’s recommendation letter. You may also recall that at the height of the controversy in early 2015, some Nigerians wrote to the University of Cambridge requesting the school to furnish them with details of the contents of Buhari’s file relating to the Cambridge WASC he registered for but the university responded that they can only act at the written request of the candidate himself.

“Buhari blatantly refused to request Cambridge to release those details so we could confirm conclusively if he ever sat for the exam he registered for and if any certificate was ever issued to him. Indeed, you may also recall that upon assuming and being sworn into the office of president, one of Buhari’s first official visits was to England, and the popular joke then which went viral on social media was that he would use the opportunity of that visit to go to Cambridge University and request them to release a copy of his certificate if it ever existed, but that never happened.”

Also speaking on the issue, a public affairs analyst, Samson Edegbai, said it was obvious that Buhari does not have the WASC certificate, wondering why it is difficult for him to tender same. He argued that if the president actually has the certificate, he would have long produced it.

“One of the greatest errors in the 2015 presidential election was allowing Buhari to contest. It is very unfortunate that man who did not have the basic qualification for an office was allowed to enter the race because he belongs to the party that makes the loudest noise and intimidates opponents more. I still cannot understand why a man, who should have been charged for perjury and forgery is getting away with it? This is a big shame to this country.

“We know that Buhari had contested the presidential elections three times in the past and got away with the perjury but the 2010 Electoral Act as amended seemed to have upped the cut off marks for the 2015 presidential election beyond his previous qualifications that he used in 2003, 2007 and even 2011. The law seems a bad law for him and his APC. But you see, the law is the law and must be applied.

“Just imagine this: In his affidavit submitted to INEC, Buhari said his documents were with the Military Secretary Board. When the military had come out to say they were never in possession of his certificates, Buhari in his second defence in his well publicised press conference, Buhari had this to say: ‘I have always assumed that my credentials were with the military but now we are being told that they do not have my documents in their custody.” Haba! 30 years after he left the service of the Nigerian Army, he still left your certificates with the Army, even the original certificates at that? What documents did he use to apply for the PTF job then?
“Buhari then said his former secondary school will release his certificate on his behalf. True to type, the Ministry of Education, Katsina State through one Government College, Katsina released a statement of result for one ‘Mohamed Buhari’ ostensibly on behalf of Muhammadu Buhari as his certificate. Surely the name Mohamed can never be the same with Muhammadu. Something is wrong somewhere and must be corrected.

“Finally, in his third defence, Buhari said his certificates are with INEC. From the above scenario, Buhari’s certificate is messier. It is obvious from the above that the man does not have any certificate and was not qualified to run for office ab initio. It is very sad that Nigerians allowed themselves to be fooled and cowed by the APC. This was the same way Tinubu escaped with certificate scandal in the early 2000. It was his party then, AD (Alliance for Democracy) which metamorphosed into APC that equally did it, pushing Nigerians to submission.

“It is really a great thing of interest to Nigerians and the international community to witness Buhari, who campaigned on the mantra of fighting corruption and is busy clamping people into detention telling lies about his certificates and qualifications. We expected Buhari to have stood on one defence on this his certificate issue. It is sad.”

From all that had transpired so far on the suit, it is clear that nothing good will come out of the case because of his capacity to muscle everything and everyone. But the stigma too will remain glued to him like a leach. Besides, it will go a long way to show that Buhari may not be what and who he feigns to be and might have been greatly overrated as evident in his handling of the country. This is why many analysts believe that Buhari going on appeal instead of producing his certificate is a ploy to dump the case there.

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From all that had transpired so far on the suit, it is clear that nothing good will come out of the case because of his capacity to muscle everything and everyone. But the stigma too will remain glued to him like a leach. Besides, it will go a long way to show that Buhari may not be what and who he feigns to be and might have been greatly overrated as evident in his handling of the country