Eligibility To Contest Election Into Elective Offices (2)

Continued from Tuesday

The provision of Section 318(1) was construed by the Court of Appeal in the case of BAYO v. NJIDDA (2004) 8 NWLR (Pt. 876) page 544 at 629H-630D, where Ogbuagu, J.C.A (as he then was) held:

“The above provisions, are conjunctive and they qualify or mean “school certificate or its equivalent.” So, if any one of them is not present/ available, then, the candidate is out. Therefore, even if (i), (ii), (iii) and (d) are acceptable by or satisfactory to INEC and therefore, cannot be questioned in a tribunal as being final, the absence of (c), also disqualifies the candidate.

I wish to point that unlike the provision in (b)-i.e.

“(b) education up to secondary school certificate level,” or, in (c), it must be the obtaining or possession of a primary six school leaving certificate or its equivalent. It could be observed that in (b) there is no “or its equivalent”.

In other words, as regards a secondary school certificate level, one does not have to pass the secondary school certificate examination. It is enough, in my view, that one attended a Secondary school and read up to secondary school certificate level i.e. without passing and obtaining the certificate.

But in the case of (c), one must have passed and obtained the primary six school leaving certificate. It could be seen that the draftsman of these provisions, carefully chose the words.”

Nzeako, J.C.A (as she then was) held at page 619 paras. G-H, in the above case, thus:

“In effect a person seeking to become a candidate for an election to the House of Assembly of any state in the Federal Republic of Nigeria must possess at least one of the qualifications set out in (a) or (b) or (c) (supra)

In the case of (c), he must in the first instance possess, primary six school leaving certificate or its equivalent, (in some states, there used to be primary 7 as the final class in Primary School), and in addition evidence of (i), (ii) and (iii) above all together.

It follows that a person who is not educated up to school certificate or its equivalent, may still qualify for election to the House of Assembly of a state if he has primary six school leaving certificate plus evidence or fulfilling every one of the conditions in (i), (ii) and (iii). If the person possesses primary six certificate but fails to provide evidence of any of the above (i), (ii) or (iii), he does not qualify.

In CHUKWU v. ICHEONWO (1999) 4 NWLR (Pt.600) page 587 at 596 paras. B-F, the Court of Appeal was faced with the interpretation of provisions of Section 99(1) of the Local Government (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provisions) Decree No. 36 of 1998 which contained a similar definition of school certificate or its equivalent. In answer to the question, whether a candidate must possess/produce school certificate, in order to satisfy the requirement of being educated to the minimum level of school certificate or its equivalent, the court held thus:

“it is erroneous to hold as learned counsel has argued that to satisfy the condition of educational qualification, the candidate must possess a Secondary School Certificate. The interpretation given by the tribunal on this issue of educational qualification is unassailable. I agree that since there is evidence that the 2nd Respondent sat for the School Certificate examinations in May/June 1975, this is sufficient to satisfy the requirement of Section 10(c) of the Decree. While acquisition of sound education may be desirable to enable one discharge the functions of Chairman of a Local Government Council, it is not absolutely necessary that such a person must possess a Certificate to enable him function effectively.”

The definition Section (Section 318(1)) also vests INEC with powers to determine a candidate’s literacy level. Under Paragraph (b), the capacity in which a candidate served in the private or public sector must be acceptable to INEC. The courses and training attended by a candidate must also be in Institutions acceptable to INEC. Finally, a candidate’s ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language must also be to the satisfaction of INEC.

The key words in the definition Section are “acceptable” to and “satisfaction” of INEC. These words are subjective in the sense that where INEC is satisfied with a candidate’s training and qualifications or where the qualifications of a candidate are acceptable to INEC, it is doubtful if the decision of INEC can be challenged successfully by a candidate’s opponent. The words “to the satisfaction of” and “acceptable to”, in their ordinary grammatical meanings, acknowledge subjectivity on the part of INEC. The word acceptable is synonymous with being in agreement with, approval, not very good but good enough, welcoming, pleasing, satisfactory, adequate or worth accepting. Satisfaction means a state of being satisfied, that which satisfies, content or pleasing.

From the angle of Law of Estoppel, where INEC has previously been satisfied with or accepted a candidate’s educational qualifications in previous elections, and allows such a candidate to contest election(s), the same INEC would be estopped from disqualifying the same candidate in future elections on the grounds of lack of educational qualification.

Estoppel prevents a person from blowing hot and cold, approbating and reprobating on an issue. Therefore, where a person makes a representation expecting it to be acted upon, and another person acts on that representation, the former is estopped from resiling from his/her representation. The above principles of Law have been judicially endorsed in the following authoritative legal decisions.

  1. Ude v Nwara (1993) 2 NWLR (Pt. 278) Pg. 638 at 662,Para.G –Per Nnaemeka-Agu J.S.C:

“By operation of the rule of estoppels, a man is not allowed to blow hot and cold, to affirm at one time and deny at the other, or, as it is said, to approbate and reprobate. He cannot be allowed to mislead another person into believing in a state of affairs and then turning round to say to that person’s disadvantage that the state of affairs which he had represented does not exist at all or as represented by him.”

  1. Jadesimi v Okotie-Eboh; In Re Lessey (1989) 4 NWLR Pt 113 Pg 113 at 125, Para. B – Per Akpata J.C.A.:

“A party cannot be heard to approbate or reprobate. He will not be allowed to base his action or defence, whether by pleadings or affidavit evidence, on a set of facts then depart from the set of facts on which issues had been joined to meet the case of the other side.”

It is evident from Section 131(d), read along with Section 318(1) of the constitution, that a candidate needs not produce a secondary school certificate or its equivalent certificate in order to be qualified to contest election into the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or any other elective post. Candidates who are educated up to secondary school certificate level are qualified to contest elections under the 1999 Constitution. Persons with Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent, provided they satisfy the other requirements listed under Paragraph (c)(i), (ii), and (iii) of the definition of “School Certificate or its equivalent” in Section 318(1), are also qualified to contest election into elective offices, including that of the President.

Finally, persons with “any other qualification acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission” are also qualified to contest election under Paragraph (d) of the definition section set out above.

The elasticity of the definition of “School Certificate or its equivalent” in Section 318(1) of the constitution may be questioned against the backdrop of providing a platform for candidates who lack sound educational background to aspire to elective offices, in a nation which prides itself with aspirants with sound educational qualifications. The said provision can also be questioned on the grounds of the enormous power vested in INEC with regard to being satisfied with a candidate’s educational qualification or the educational institutions/qualifications being acceptable to INEC.

Such a query, in my view, can only highlight the need for law reform. The query merely raises issues of the Law as it ought to be. However, from the viewpoint of the Law as it is, a candidate whose educational qualifications/institutions attended are acceptable to INEC and who is educated to a level which is satisfactory to INEC, is eligible to contest election to elective offices/posts in Nigeria in the upcoming February 2015 elections.

Concluded.

Prof. Taiwo Osipitan wrote this article for THE PUNCH Newspaper.

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