Eligibility To Contest Election Into Elective Offices (1)

As the nation prepares for the February 2015 elections, the educational qualifications of candidates contesting the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has generated endless controversies. Two schools of thought are locked in the controversy.

The dominant school of thought has asserted loudly and clearly that a person is not eligible to contest election to the office of the President unless he/she produces a Secondary School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent. It has been and it is still being contended that candidates must possess/produce educational qualification of at least Secondary School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent in order to be eligible to contest the on coming elections. Section 131 (d)of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) has been cited in support of the contention by proponents of that view to support their position. The said Section provides: “131. A person shall be qualified for election to the office of President if- (d)he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent.”

Candidates contesting election to other elective positions must also possess a similar qualification. This is in view of the prescription in other provisions of the constitution that candidates to elective posts must have been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent. Section 177 (d) prescribes that candidates contesting election into the office of State Governor must have been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent. By virtue of Section 142(2) and 187(2), the provisions on educational qualification of the President and State Governors apply to the Vice-president and Deputy Governors respectively. Section 65(2) (a) and 106(c) of the constitution prescribes that candidates contesting elections as National Assembly and state House of Assembly members respectively must also have been educated to at least School Certificate Level.

It is against the backdrop of Section 131 (d) of the constitution that the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) has been and is still being invited, to disqualify Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) the All Progressives Congress, APC’s presidential candidate from contesting the forthcoming presidential election. It is likely that more requests will be made to INEC to disqualify other candidates, on the same grounds of lack of educational qualification of “school certificate or its equivalent”.

This article seeks to place adequate information at the disposal of all concerned. It educates further all concerned on the requirements of educational qualifications of persons contesting election to the office of the President and other elective posts in the coming elections. This article demonstrates that under the 1999 Constitution, production of secondary school certificate or its equivalent is not a mandatory requirement of being eligible to contest election into an elective post.

Undoubtedly, Section 131(d) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) prescribes Secondary School Leaving Certificate as the minimum educational qualification of candidates contesting election to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It stipulates that candidates must be “educated up to at least School Leaving Certificate Level or its equivalent.”

When the above provision is construed in its ordinary grammatical meaning, persons who do not possess the Secondary School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent are not qualified to contest election to the office of President. In other words, upon a cursory reading of the provision of Section 131(d), it is easy to come off with the impression that unless a person possesses the Secondary School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent (Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate), he or she is ordinarily not eligible to contest election to the office of the President of Nigeria. A similar interpretation will be given to other provisions on qualification of candidates in respect of other elective posts/offices.

The above provision must however be read along with Section 318(1) of the said constitution, which is the interpretation Section. It becomes crystal clear, upon a careful reading of the said Interpretation Section, that even persons whose educational qualifications are below the Secondary School Leaving Certificate/level and its equivalent are still qualified to contest election, if they possess the Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent along with the other requirements listed under the said definition Section (Section 318(1)).

For the avoidance of doubt, Section 318(1) provides: “School Certificate or its equivalent” means – (a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b)      education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and- (i) 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 (ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, and (iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission; and (d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

There is the need to acknowledge the trite rule of interpretation of Statutes which is to the effect that a Section of a Statute should not be construed in isolation. All sections in a Statute must be interpreted conjunctively, especially where the Statute has a definition Section, as it is the case with the 1999 Constitution (as amended).Section 131(d) must therefore be construed in conjunction with Section 318(1) of the constitution which defines the words “School Certificate or its equivalent.”

It is evident from the above definition Section of the Constitution (Section 318(1)), that the meaning of “School Certificate or its equivalent”, for the purpose of Section 131(d) of the Constitution, is very liberal and accommodating. The provision accommodates persons with the Primary School Leaving Certificate coupled with private or public sector experience and who have attended courses and training for periods totaling up to a minimum of one year. Such primary school certificate holders must also demonstrate ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of INEC. The definition of “School Certificate or its equivalent” also includes candidates who are educated up to the Secondary School Certificate level. These candidates need not produce certificates evidencing that they passed secondary school examination.

What they must produce is evidence of being educated up to the secondary school level. This is unlike the other requirement of Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent or Grade II Teachers Certificate, or City and Guilds Certificate under Paragraphs(a) of the definition. The difference between (a) and (b)above is that under (a), production of a Certificate is mandatory. In (b), what is required is evidence of “education up to Secondary School Certificate level”.

While it may well be that production of a Certificate is evidence which proves(b), it is not the only mode of proving(b). Testimonials, Reference Letters and Affidavits are legitimate vehicles of proof that a candidate has been “educated up to Secondary School Certificate level. “As a matter of fact, the (d)part of the above definition is much more elastic and accommodating. It recognises “any other qualification acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission”as a qualification to contest election to the office of President and other elective posts.It suffices to state that a candidate who relies on (c) must also produce his/her primary school leaving certificate.

Prof. Taiwo Osipitan wrote this article for The Punch Newspaper.

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