Senior Advocates and a Certificate

What is the second largest movie industry in the world? Nollywood! The Nigerian counterpart of America’s blockbuster industry is an undisputable ambassador of Nigerian-ness. If literature truly mirrors life, then Nollywood dramas can be said to mirror the Nigerian life. For Nollywood, apologies to Kunle Afolayan and similar divergents, movies are dramas in multiple parts. This multi-section drama culture is playing out in Nigerian politics, the latest part being Buhari’s school certificate saga.

In the run-up to the 2015 General Elections, Muhammadu Buhari faced a series of roadblocks designed to keep him from contesting for the country’s top job. From negative adverts to questions about his health, including a bizarre advert that mimicked an obituary announcement, Buhari had more than enough on his plate. The most challenging roadblock was the question about the existence/inexistence of his secondary school certificate. In the midst of chants for a certificate, he informed Nigerians that being a former military officer, his credentials were with the Nigerian Army. When a spokesman for the army declared that Buhari’s certificate could not be found, he tendered a statement of results signed by the principal of the school where he “sat” for the 1961 Cambridge West African School Certificate exam.

The tendered document, dated 21 January 2015, was accepted by Nigerians eager to witness a change of government. Although the released document featured a F9 in mathematics, which ought to have prevented Buhari from joining the officers’ corps, it was explained that the army accepted him based on the recommendation of his school principal. This explanation was accepted by people so fed up with the Jonathan administration that they were willing to vote for Buhari “even if he presents a NEPA bill”. Several suits were filed against Buhari as a final roadblock on his path to the presidency. However, nothing came out of the cases, Buhari was elected President, and everything went silent—until now.

Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court Abuja struck out a motion challenging the competency of a suit filed concerning Buhari’s certificate. Out of the blues, the judge’s decision to hear the subsisting suit awoke Nigerians to the fact that the forces against Buhari have not relented. President Buhari has now filed a motion at the Court of Appeal, seeking to truncate the certificate trial on the basis of a claim that the court papers were wrongly served at the APC national secretariat instead of his residence in Kaduna. The spectacular thing about this appeal is that it has the signature of THIRTEEN Senior Advocates of Nigeria, in addition to about ten other lawyers.

Thirteen SANs to represent Buhari? If this number is not extreme for a case that ordinarily should not exist, then “extreme” needs a redefinition. When the embattled Senate President, Bukola Saraki, showed up with about 90 SANs, Nigerians screamed that he was trying to intimidate the tribunal. His defence by that unbelievable number of senior lawyers was interpreted as implying guilt. Thirteen is far less than ninety, but a parallel can be drawn between both cases. Although it is clear that the plaintiff in Buhari’s certificate case is being sponsored by hidden “principalities and powers”, most likely in the PDP, the delay/evasion tactics being used by the Buhari camp makes one wonder if he actually has a certificate.

In case the potential consequences of this lawsuit are not understood, here is a pessimistic view of the outcome. The plaintiff, Nnamdi Nwokocha-Ahaaiwe, has asked the court to nullify Buhari’s election, and compel INEC to withdraw the certificate of return, and issue same to the runner-up, Goodluck Jonathan. If it happens that the Buhari camp drags the case all the way to the Supreme Court, they may buy enough time to complete the official four-year tenure of his administration. While this strategy may work, it would perpetually cast doubts on the sincerity of Buhari’s fight against corruption. Assuming, without conceding, that Buhari did not sit for the said exam, as claimed by the plaintiff, it would be hypocritical to be at the vanguard of the anti-corruption fight while living a life built on lies. Lying, just like stealing, is a form of corruption.

Conversely, should any of the approached courts rule that Buhari’s election is invalid, and should that judgement be upheld, chaos lies at the horizon. The bulk of the north would not accept such a judgement, and would interpret it as a ploy to take power out of their hands. Jonathan’s concession of defeat shows that he has no more interest in the presidency. Coupling his concession with the present state of the economy, Jonathan would likely hide from another shot at the presidency (except pushed by the usual suspects). Even if he were to accept, chaos may come from those Nigerians who do not care about paper qualifications. Whichever way this goes; Nigeria would enter uncharted territory that even the doctrine of necessity may be helpless for navigation.

This chaos, potential chaos, and confusion have a simple solution. As President Obama did with the birther doubters, President Buhari should publish his original certificate, or if missing, get Cambridge University (or WAEC) to write a covering letter for him. Immediately after the elections, the army announced that Buhari’s school certificate had been found. This copy can also be published to end the uncertainty. I believe, and want to keep believing that he has a school certificate. He does not need to waste money on thirteen expensive SANs. The distraction is unhelpful at this time of economic turmoil (except it is intentional). If his handlers do not care about the feelings of Nigerians, they should at least consider Nigeria’s image. We cannot have foreign media carrying headlines about our president being dragged through the courts over an ordinary school certificate. I believe that Buhari wrote his final exam in 1961, regardless of whatever grades he may have earned. If against all hope, it is true that Buhari has no certificate, then we can simply give up because corruption has won.

PS. I am not a lawyer, so I refuse to enter into the debate on whether the “School Certificate” in Section 131(d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) refers to the primary school leaving certificate or the senior school certificate.

Image Credit: ichilly.com

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