PRESIDENCY, QUALIFICATION, BOLA AHMED TINUBU AND MATTERS ARISING
Dr Uche Diala
In an attempt to raise the bar in view of the renewed discourse on academic qualification and certificates for running for Nigerian Presidency, this time regarding Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu; after we had gone a similar route in 2014/15 over President Buhari’s academic qualifications and certificates (which culminated in a judgement by the Supreme Court of Nigeria), I sought to intellectually, objectively and factually weigh in an attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff and address the issue in the wider context of eligibility and requirements to become a President.
In doing so, I delved into the case of the United States of America which practices a similar type of democracy and indeed has an almost photocopied Constitution with Nigeria.
Before going to the United States, let me first present what the Nigerian Constitution stipulates as constitutional qualifications for any individual seeking election to the office of the President of Nigeria.
Among other criteria not very relevant to this particular discourse, Chapter VI, Part I, Section 131 of the Nigerian Constitution stipulates that:
A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if –
(a) he is a citizen of Nigeria by birth;
(b) he has attained the age of forty years;
(c) he is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party; and
(d) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.
Take proper notice of sub section 131(d) which states: “he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
Note that it speaks of being “educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent”. It does not refer to certificates or certification or presentation of such. If a person has been educated (or attended) up to school certificate level (which is secondary school in our justification) with or without certification, that clearly suffices.
Any interested person may further read Sections 132 & 318(1) of the Nigerian Constitution for further education.
Actually this is a tiring debate because I thought we would have passed this stage since 2015 when it was thoroughly debated.
That clarified, a question may arise if one makes a claim of having acquired tertiary education with valid and verified proof of such without proof of primary or secondary education. That surely is a valid question to at least ask but it must be asked sincerely, intelligently and with an open mind.
In my humble view, it would be a different debate if one must need to have formally attended primary and secondary schools or has to present proof of such before gaining admission, attending or attaining tertiary education in all educational jurisdictions. That surely is the case in the Nigeria today and at least for a long time now; since our education system was formalised and properly organised.
That argument however would hold water if there were (are) no jurisdictions or instances where a person can attend or attain tertiary education without those primary and secondary school requirements; either by taking prescribed qualifying examinations or assessments or even by any kind of legal and acceptable waivers. Surely there are many such instances especially from way back.
Does that vitiate a person’s tertiary education or qualification(s) or disqualify such an individual as being sufficiently and acceptably uneducated to hold the office of President, in line with the Nigerian Constitution? I think not. Such an instance in my view neither vitiates nor nullifies the fact that such an individual has acquired a level of education valid and acceptable to the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
That in my objective view; having satisfactorily dealt with the preceding issues in 2015 in the Buhari case and above; is what any interested person in the current Bola Tinubu discourse may want to interrogate or litigate (if one so wishes); if that is indeed the case being presented; at least to enrich our legal jurisprudence.
All that clearly stated, permit me to return to and close with the case of the United States of America.
To serve as President of the United States of America; apart from having the nerves of steel, the charisma, the background and skill set, the fund-raising network, and the legions of loyal folks who agree with your stance on all the issues, the United States Constitution Article II, Section 1 imposes only three eligibility requirements on persons seeking to serve as president of the United States, based on the office holder’s age, time of residency in the United States of America and citizenship status.
The Section States Thus:
“No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.”
In summary; according to Whitehouse.gov: “The (US) Constitution lists only three qualifications for the Presidency viz:
▪︎ The President must be at least 35 years of age;
▪︎ Be a natural born citizen, and
▪︎ Must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.”
BREAKING IT DOWN FURTHER A BIT
▪︎ AGE LIMITS
In setting the minimum age of 35 for serving as President, compared to 30 for Senators and 25 for Representatives, the framers of the US Constitution implemented their belief that the person holding the nation’s highest elected office should be a person of maturity and experience.
As early Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story noted, the “character and talent” of a middle-aged person are “fully developed,” allowing them a greater opportunity to have experienced “public service” and to have served “in the public councils.”
Note that it did not prescribe an upper age limit and that is the case both on words and practice. The current US President Joe Biden (46th President) was 78 years old when he assumed office in 2020.
While a member of the US Congress need only be an “inhabitant” of the state he or she represents, the (US) President must have been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years.
In order to be eligible to serve as President, a person must either have been born on U.S. soil or (if born overseas) to at least one parent who is a citizen. The Framers clearly intended to exclude any chance of foreign influence from the highest administrative position in the federal government.
TAKING IT FURTHER
Having seen what matters most for the United States Presidency, I have been intrigued to no end, how we as Nigerians place so much emphasis on formal education and paper certification; not only in our politics but in almost every aspect of our national life. Essentially placing certification over competence, experience, character, skill sets etc. While that maybe okay in the academia, employment, civil service etc it surely cannot be glossed over in deciding on a position which while formal education can surely be a plus but definitely hands-on practical experience, competence and excellent leadership qualities are greater assets for a person to have and to hold.
This begs the curious question of; why the United States Constitution is silent and indeed the American society and politics are not so equally hyped on academic qualifications and certification. On the contrary; experience, political ideology, service to the nation and track records are held in high esteem. The reason a US Army veteran is always a toast in American politics; and not for his or her academic qualifications or exploits.
Could It Be That:
A) Americans believe that the average American is literate enough (without formal education) and that they (Americans) better understand what matters in leadership and governance; especially at the level of the Presidency?
B) That we Nigerians are still driven by a ‘colonial mentality’ which makes us feel for instance that we must be able to speak English and good English at that to be considered litrate or educated enough; a mentality that unconsciously but compulsively requires us to constantly seek to validate our ‘educated-ness’ by how many degrees and paper qualifications we aquire?
I strongly believe that while constitutional provisions for holding the office of the President and other offices (including education) must be met and adhered to, it is important to restate that other requirements which include competence, skill set, relevant experience, grasp of the issues, age (maturity), commitment, patriotism, track record of achievements as well as excellent leadership and people management qualities are even more important attributes needed for holding the office of the President; not only in Nigeria but also any where else in the world as exemplified by the United States.
All these duly considered, I submit; objectively, honestly, factually, dispassionately, devoid of sentiments and bias that Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu is unarguably qualified (including academically as per our Constitution) and capable to aspire to and to occupy the office of President of Nigeria. Surely a man that has once been elected to the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and twice as Governor of Lagos State and satisfactorily held that office for a combined maximum two terms of 8 years must have acquired the relevant attributes as enumerated above.
I wish my fellow Nigerian citizens would equally focus on other germane and critical issues with a view to electing the best candidate from the options available to us to lead Nigeria as President going forward from May 29th 2023. Ultimately it is the votes of the majority that would decide that and not the noise of a few; no matter how loud. I want that to be an objective and fact guided decision.