The Politricks of a Certificate

There is nothing more damaging than self-indictment. This is what President Muhammadu Buhari has inflicted on himself with the needless certificate scandal he first created in 2014 when he ran for president and won at the fourth attempt.

Among the documents he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC was a sworn affidavit in which he claimed that his educational credentials, including his West Africa School Certificate, were with the Army Council. The army authority then debunked his claim, saying there was no copy of his school certificate in his file. That inevitably generated a heated debate about Buhari’s eligibility to contest the presidential election. But millions of his supporters, febrile with Buhari-mania, didn’t care one bit. Some of them said that, even if he presented a NEPA bill as his certificate, they would still vote for him. And they did, enabling him become president.

Four years later the controversy over his phantom school certificate has returned to haunt him, putting a huge question mark on his hackneyed claim to integrity. He seems to want to be literally taken by his words but he never makes any serious effort to walk his talk. And when Garba Shehu, his senior special assistant, media and publicity, says magisterially that the controversy over his certificate is a “dead issue”, he is only reflecting his boss’s attitude. Which is that, ‘what is the big deal about my certificate?’

Of course, there’s indeed a big deal about his certificate, or his claim to having one, which he couldn’t find. Until the West Africa Examinations Council, WAEC came to his rescue by issuing him what the officials dubbed “attestation letter” to validate his result in the examinations in 1961. Contrary to Shehu’s desultory dismissal of the latest controversy as a “dead issue”, the attestation letter hasn’t laid the matter to a rest. In fact, it has generated more questions than answers. And the presidency, ever so disorganised when confronted with unpleasant and very inconvenient situations, stoked the fire of the latest controversy by falsely claiming that the president didn’t apply to WAEC for its intervention. But WAEC’s officials insisted that there was a formal request from the president, without which the attestation letter wouldn’t have been sent.

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Exactly what point was the presidency trying to score by making that false claim? And why have they walked back the claim when WAEC refused to validate it by explaining the protocol involved in retrieval of results from it? Obviously, they had wanted to show that the president wasn’t really bothered by all the hoopla about his ‘missing certificate’ and didn’t need to contact WAEC for his results. So they created the narrative that WAEC acted out of concern for the president’s reputation, which was once more taking a serious beating over yet another affidavit making the same implausible claim, as he did four years ago, that “my certificate is with the Army Council”.

What is clearly indisputable is that Buhari didn’t need to swear to an affidavit then and now if, truly, he believed his certificate was with the army. All he needed to do was write to the Army Council formally requesting for a copy of it. He never did. That was why he himself couldn’t accuse the army of refusing to give him a copy of his certificate. He left that to other people who wrongly demonised President Goodluck Jonathan for allegedly leaning on the army not to co-operate with Buhari. The general, who unfortunately had to state the fact that the army had no record of Buhari’s certificate, was summarily retired after Buhari became president.

In a vindication of the army, Buhari, as president and commander-in-chief, again opted for an affidavit instead of requesting for a copy of his certificate from the army. Which shows, without a doubt, that he knew all along that his claim was false. And by swearing to an affidavit twice, he perjured himself by lying under an oath. Just as he chose to engage over 20 senior advocates to defend charges filed against him in court over the matter by some democracy activists. He got a reprieve from the embarrassment of having his lie exposed in court when the case was later dropped.

His poor handling of the certificate matter ab initio, is a self-inflicted injury for which he has only himself to blame. And by repeating the same mistake of resorting to an affidavit four years later, he shows that he’s being very badly served by his advisers, who most probably thought he could get away with it as he did before. Now he has cavalierly given his opponents a potent weapon to question his integrity and further deconstruct him.

Arguably, Buhari doesn’t need to present a secondary school certificate to qualify to run for president, given all the military training he got while he was in the army and his vast experience in public service: military governor; minister of petroleum resources; general officer commanding, GOC; and military head of state and commander-in-chief. Besides, the constitutional requirements regarding educational qualification to run for president and other elective offices are very liberal. Among them and most tellingly basic is primary school certificate with the ability to read and write English language, a minimum of 10 years working experience and evidence of some training on the job.

The fact is that he had a primary school education without which he couldn’t have entered secondary school from where he was recruited into the army. So even if he didn’t have a secondary school certificate, it wouldn’t, and shouldn’t, have mattered. But what really matters is his mendacity over the location of the certificate and his inability to appreciate the import of someone of his status and position failing a fundamental test of integrity – taking responsibility for his mistake and apologising for it. He rather prefers that his acolytes and political minders indulge in playing politrickson his certificate controversy.

The president’s refusal to take responsibility for anything enables him to blame others for his failures and mistakes.  This is why he continues to unfairly blame the previous administration for the country’s first major economic recession in more than 30 years. He refuses to see the nexus between his indefensible six-months delay in forming his cabinet and the absence of major fiscal policies and measures to prevent it at the time they were crucially needed.

So Buhari will always be Buhari, no matter the shape and colour of the clothes he’s dressed in for the coming campaigns and general elections.

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