Nigeria: The Decline of Meritocracy

opinion

Most Nigerians would argue that they believe in meritocracy (at least in principle) but in practice they are wide off the mark and it would seem that they don't believe in it at all.

How else can one explain the rise and exaltation of the rather scrappy yet exhilarant and exuberant so called "dancing Senator" from Osun West Senatorial District in the person of Ademola Nurudeen Adeleke?

Senator Adeleke may indeed have a rather enticing charm offensive brought about by his dancing steps but should that be enough to catapult him into the exalted position of becoming Governor of a State if on the face of it his academic credentials reveal him to be a dunderhead? One of the biggest challenges facing the electoral process in Nigeria today is the inability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to properly screen candidates who have presented themselves for election on the platform of various political parties registered across the country.

The most glaring example of this failure is the case of Senator Adeleke who against all odds became the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the September 2018 gubernatorial election in Osun State.

Aggrieved at his candidature a series of legal suits have been instituted against him. Senator Adeleke is of the opinion that the various Court actions brought against him following his nomination, as the PDP flag bearer in the Osun State gubernatorial election is unfair and should be seen as no more than a campaign of calumny against him.

However, the recent decision of Honourable Justice Oathman Musa of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Bwari Abuja disqualifying his nomination as the candidate of the PDP in the September 2018 gubernatorial election in Osun State raises significant and profound questions which Senator Ademola Adeleke and his legal team would do well not to ignore or wave away.

Facts

Two chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Wahab Raheem and Adam Habeeb, had in 2018, a few days to the governorship election, taken Senator Adeleke to Court.

Both of them had accused him of not possessing the requisite educational qualification (a Secondary School Certificate) to contest for the office of Governor. They consequently prayed the Court for an order disqualifying Senator Adeleke from participating in the September 22 governorship election in the State on the grounds that he does not have the required educational qualifications.

Delivering judgment in the suit, Justice Musa annulled Adeleke's nomination on the grounds that he violated Section 177(d) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The Section stipulates that candidates for the position of Governor must be educated up to School Certificate Level.

According to Justice Musa, while the Court's findings showed that Senator Adeleke entered Secondary School in 1976, there was no record indicating that he actually graduated since his name was no longer seen in the School's Register from 1980.

Justice Musa further held that the result Senator Adeleke attached to his form CF001, which he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was fake, as it was found to be different from the one presented to the Court by the Principal of Ede Muslim High School, Ede, Osun State.

This statement by the Judge raises a fresh hurdle for Senator Adeleke and his legal team to cross in that Section 182(1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution as amended states that: " No person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission."

Although Senator Adeleke and his legal team are of the view that a subsequent ruling of the Court of Appeal sitting in Akure had affirmed the Senator's eligibility to be the governorship candidate of the PDP in the last governorship election in Osun State, the Court of Appeal in actual fact sat in judgment over a decision of an Osogbo High Court and not that of the FCT High Court Bwari, Abuja.

Furthermore the judgment was based solely on technicalities as to (i) jurisdiction, (ii) locus standi and (iii) time periods and never in fact addressed the controversy of Senator Adeleke's Secondary School qualifications.

So (a) has Senator Adeleke satisfied the threshold of Section 177(d) of the 1999 Constitution as amended in the sense that he has been educated up to School Certificate level or its equivalent and (b) has Senator Adeleke violated Section 182 (1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution as amended by presenting a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission?

Has Senator Adeleke satisfied the threshold of Section 177(d) of the 1999 Constitution as amended in the sense that he has been education up to School Certificate level or its equivalent?

Section 177 (d) of the 1999 Constitution must be read in conjunction with Section 318(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended under (Part iv) of the said Constitution that deals with Interpretation, Citation and Commencement.

Under that Section School Certificate or its equivalent means a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent or Grade II Teacher's Certificate, the City and Guild's Certificate; or education up to Secondary School Certificate Level; or Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and Service in the public or private sector in the Federation in any capacity acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for a minimum of ten years, and Attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for period totaling up to a minimum of one year, and the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission and Any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Senator Adeleke has predicated his qualification to be Governor on (a) and (b) above.

In KAKIH v. PDP & ORS. (2014) LPELR - 23277 (SC) ELECTORAL MATTERS - ELECTION TO THE OFFICE OF GOVERNOR. The Supreme Court determined whether it was necessary for a candidate to present a certificate to qualify for election into the office of Governor of a State. SULEIMAN GALADIMA, J.S.C. (Pp. 56-57, para. C) stated as follows: "In any case it is not a requirement of S. 177(d) of the Constitution for the candidate to necessarily present the certificate to qualify for election to the office of Governor of a State. By the provision of S. 177(d) of the Constitution a person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if: (a)... .(b)... ..(c)... .(d) He has been educated up to at least School Certificate Level or its equivalent. By Section 318(1) "School Certificate or its equivalent" means: (a)... .(b) Educated up to Secondary School Certificate Level. BAYO v. NJIDDA (2004) 8 NWLR 544 at 630;(2004) FWLR (pt. 192) 10 at 78, the Court of Appeal then the Apex and final Court on Election petitions from National Assembly/ Governorship and Legislative Houses Election Tribunals had this to say on the point: "In other words as regards a Secondary School Certificate Examination; it is enough, in my view that one attended School Certificate Level i.e. without passing and obtaining the Certificate. "By the combined reading of SS. 177(d), AND 318(b) of the Constitution it is not the only requirement or basis of qualification, but whether the candidate has been educated up to Secondary School Certificate Level."

In the case at the FCT High Court Bwari, Abuja, Justice Musa held that the Court's findings showed that Adeleke was admitted into Ede Muslim High School, Ede, Osun State in 1976 but there was no record showing that he graduated as his name was not seen in the School's Register from 1980.

The implication of this statement by the Court is that Senator Adeleke may not have been educated up to Secondary School Certificate Level in the sense that he was not tutored by the school as from 1980. The only inference that can be drawn from this statement by the Judge is that by implication Senator Adeleke has not been educated up to the Secondary School Certificate Level.

This in itself is not fatal if Senator Adeleke can in the alternative show that he has a Secondary School Leaving Certificate. It is irrelevant whether he passed or failed his examination provided he has a Secondary School Leaving Certificate.

Senator Adeleke has contended that he sat for the May/June 1981 examinations of the West African Examination Council (WAEC). He reportedly registered for Mathematics, Literature in English, Islamic Knowledge, Geography, Economics, Biology and English Language. The result showed that he only sat for English Language and got F9 (failed).

At the time Senator Adeleke sat for his School Certificate Examination in 1981, it was compulsory you registered for at least 6 subjects and at the time you were awarded a School Certificate if you either obtained a Grade 1 (distinction), Grade 1, 2 or 3. If you failed and were unclassified as in the case of Senator Adeleke, you would be classed as SR meaning you would only be eligible for a Statement of Result. It is important to point out that a Statement of Result does not in any way prove either that you have been educated up to Secondary School level.

During the period Senator Adeleke sat for his School Certificate Examination, If a student was deemed particularly brilliant in a subject in those days, the school could register him for the School Certificate Examination in that subject just to assess the extent of his academic ability.

If for instance such a student obtained a credit in the exam in that particular subject this does not by any stretch of imagination mean that he has been educated up to School Certificate Level.

A student can only claim to be educated up to School Certificate Level if he was awarded a certificate by WAEC classing him or her as Grade 1 (distinction) Grade 1, 2, 3 or was tutored up to School Certificate Level.

Senator Adeleke therefore needed much more to prove that he had been educated up to School Certificate Level since he merely obtained a Statement of Result in one subject only in his attempt at the School Certificate Examination in 1981. A testimonial from his School or College would easily serve this purpose.

Unfortunately for Senator Adeleke the Principal of his old School in giving evidence before Honourable Justice Oathman Musa at the FCT High Court Bwari, Abuja stated that there was no record of him in the School's Register from 1980.

This statement by the Principal of Ede Muslim High School, Ede (which was Senator Adeleke's old School) made Justice Musa to declare in his judgment that:"... while the court's findings showed that Senator Adeleke entered secondary school in 1976, there was no record indicating that he actually graduated since his name was no longer seen in the school's register from 1980."

There is also the nagging question as to why Senator Adeleke only sat for English Language in the 1981 School Certificate Examination and failed to write the exams in the other subjects.

Could it be that he was barred from taking the other subjects he registered for because he had not followed a proper course of instruction? Could it be that he was allowed to sit for English Language in order to help facilitate his obtaining a visa to travel abroad? Who knows!

Whatever the case, the combined effect of the evidence given by the Principal of his old school and his failure to obtain a School Certificate means that in actual fact Senator Adeleke has not proven that he has a School Certificate or has been educated up to Secondary School level as stated in Bayo v. Njidda (Supra) and reasserted by Sulaiman Galadima JSC in Kakih v. PDP & Ors. (Supra).

Has Senator Adeleke violated Section 182 (1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution as amended by presenting a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission?

Justice Musa held that the result Senator Adeleke attached to his form CF001, which he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was fake, as it was found to be different from the one presented to the Court by the Principal of Ede Muslim High School, Ede, Osun State.

This in my opinion could be the most fatal blow in determining whether Senator Adeleke is qualified to become Governor of Osun State.

One particular theme kept re-occurring at the trial namely that Senator Adeleke sat for the West African Senior Secondary School Examination but curiously Nigeria had not even started sitting for the Senior Secondary School Examination in 1981.

The Senior Secondary School Examination started in November 1989 before then it was simply called the West African School Certificate Examination. What then was contained in the affidavit sworn to by an official of the WAEC, which was eventually discountenanced by the Judge? Did Senator Adeleke present a Senior Secondary School Certificate to INEC when we know that the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination had not started at the time? If indeed Senator Adeleke did present a Senior Secondary School Certificate to INEC then it can only in all honesty be a forgery and thereby disqualify him from contesting the Osun State gubernatorial election under Section 182(1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.

Another area of doubt is his School or College Testimonial. The Principal of his old School/College led evidence to the effect that although he entered the school in 1976, there was no record of him in the School's Register as from 1980.

Could Senator Adeleke have provided INEC with a Testimonial suggesting that he was a student at the Muslim High School Ede from 1976 to 1981 when in actual fact there is no record of him in the School after 1980? If this was indeed the case then it is at variance with the evidence of the Principal of Senator Adeleke's old School given in Court and would once again be deemed a forgery.

If any of the two possibilities outlined above happen to be true then Senator Adeleke would stand disqualified by virtue of Section 182(1)(j) of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The significance of Section 182(1)(j) is that if Senator Adeleke is disqualified under this Section then it means that he was not eligible to contest the Governorship of Osun State in the first place and neither was he eligible to have a running mate.

Some commentators have argued that in such a situation, his running mate would step into the saddle. This argument in my opinion is highly flawed. If you are not eligible to run then the party that presented you must be sanctioned for fielding an ineligible candidate.

Let's look at the logic; if the party is not sanctioned then a party can always field an ineligible candidate to win an election knowing full well that when he is disqualified a less popular candidate can take over.

The PDP liked the popularity of Senator Adeleke that is why they fielded him. They knew in reality that he wasn't qualified. They took advantage of the crest wave of his popularity. They cannot now benefit from that calculated and unlawful decision. It's inequitable and Senator Adeleke, his running mate and the party would stand disqualified.

Conclusion

There is a need for us as a country to acknowledge and recognize meritocracy. If an individual with no qualifications stands little or no chance of being employed in the private sector why on earth should he/she be able to govern a State, which in itself imposes regulations on the private sector? This to me is highly contradictory and makes little or no sense.

The requirement as laid out in the Constitution to become a Governor of a State sets the bar very low. Should we in all honesty lower the bar even further merely to accommodate drop-outs? Our democracy should encourage meritocracy by encouraging our youths and pointing out to them that they will always get a lot further by working a lot harder and by being a lot smarter. Let's build a proper democracy instead of turning it into a fake-it-ocracy.

Kola-Balogun is a Lagos based Legal Practitioner, Lagos.

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