By Kenneth Ikonne Esq
Let us understand the argument first!
There is no doubt that on the basis of the provisions of sections131 and 138 of the Constitution, President Buhari is eminently qualified to contest the 2019 Presidential election. Even if he has only the Primary School Leaving Certificate, he would still be qualified to contest, having served in the Army for more than ten years, rising to the rank of Major General. That is the purport of section 138 of the Constitution interpreting what is meant by the equivalent of “at least a school certificate”, as used in section 131 of the Constitution.
But that is not the point. The argument is that despite being qualified on the basis of the foregoing, the President may still be disqualified from contesting the election on the basis of of section 31(6) of the Electoral Act 2014 (as amended). A candidate contesting an election is required by the generality of section 31 of the Electoral Act to complete and submit a nomination form to INEC, stating that he has fulfilled all the constitutional requirements, and giving such personal details as age, and educational qualifications. These are then verified on oath via an accompanying affidavit. The problem is that some candidates, despite obviously meeting the basic educational or age qualifications, go on to state extraneous educational qualifications that they do not possess, or to claim a false age. If any of these is later found to be false, the law, as contained in sections 31(5) & (6) of the Electoral Act, is that that candidate stands disqualified. In 1999, those sections caught up with the young and charismatic Salisu Buhari, first Speaker of the House of Representatives. At the time of his election to the House of Representatives in 1999, he was just 29, and therefore one year short of the constitutionally stipulated qualifying age of 30. Tragically, on his INEC nomination form, he had claimed to be 30, and proceeded to verify the false age in the affidavit accompanying the nomination form.
In PMB’s case, despite being obviously qualified even without the West African School certificate, he however claimed same in both his nomination form and the verifying affidavit as one of his credentials. His traducers are now saying that the claim is false, and that he does not possess the WASC. If this allegation is true, the consequences would be disastrous. That is because by virtue of section 31(5) of the Electoral Act –
“Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that any information given by a candidate in the affidavit…..is false may file a suit at the Federal High Court… against such person seeking a declaration against such person that the information contained in the affidavit is false.”
Once the court makes that determination, the following consequences ensue by virtue of section 31(6) of the same Electoral Act –
“If the court determines that any of the information contained in the affidavit…submitted by the candidate is false, the court shall issue an ORDER DISQUALIFYING THE CANDIDATE FROM CONTESTING THE ELECTION.”
In PMB’s case, the burden of establishing the falsity of the information pertaining to his WAEC result would be on the plaintiff. But it will be a burden that can be discharged if a witness from WAEC comes to give evidence, stating that PMB did not sit for WASC in 1961, contrary to the information in his affidavit, or if evidence was to come from the Army Board stating that it was not in possession of the WASC, contrary to the information supplied in the affidavit accompanying PMB’s INEC nomination form!
In a nutshell, this is the gravamen of the allegation against PMB. It is important for us to understand it before rushing to take sides.