I have been following the drama and suspense Nigerians have been subjected to by General Muhammadu Buhari, a man who wants to be the president of this country with all its seemingly intractable challenges, and I must state that for a man who has “change” as his campaign mantra, Nigerians truly deserve a lot more from him.
It was William Shakespeare that wrote in one of his very famous books, Julius Ceasar: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen. The heavens themselves blaze forth the birth of princes.” As I reflect on this famous quote by one of the greatest writers that ever lived, it just appears to me as if he had Buhari in his mind that many years ago.
I say this because if it were one ordinary politician that is stammering about whether or not he sat for and earned a School Certificate or whatever is his equivalent, I would not be worried. But for man who wants to leave a country of over 170 million people out of political, economic, security and legions of other challenges, Buhari does not seem to present a great example.
Living off the resources of the country, Buhari was able to rise through the officer cadre of the Nigerian army to become a General. During this period, he received salaries and allowances, was sponsored to several training programmes at home and abroad and at a stage in his career, was appointed Minister for Communications. By the new year of 1983, he would become the Head of State of Nigeria.
Having travelled this far and long, General Buhari should have picked up some vital lessons in management and administration. Critical among these lessons, I assume he should know, is that there are minimum qualifications for anyone who is aspiring for any political office in Nigeria as in anywhere else.
Also important is transparency and honesty. General Buhari should have learnt that for someone aspiring to public office, there are certain things that should not be kept in the closet if you must win the trust of the people.
Perhaps his military background may have beclouded his memory and made it almost impossible to appreciate that the values of honest leadership begins with disclosing what qualifies you to even lead in the first place.
As a Nigerian from the north where, expectedly, he is under the rulership of an Emir, Buhari should know that there are fundamental qualifications for anyone who wants to be the Emir of Daura Emirate here he incidentally comes from. Even Buhari knows he cannot be an emir because he is nowhere in line to that very highly respected traditional stool.
Buhari denied Nigerians the opportunity to enter the New Year 2015 in peace following the revelation that he may never have had the requisite qualifications to even join the Nigerian armed forces, on which platform he rose to rule this country (and with iron fists!) as a military head of state.
When media reports began to suggest that he did not tender copies of his academic qualifications to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), most people thought it was one cloud that would clear in a matter of days. But days became weeks and weeks are fast speeding past and forward to election day with Buhari still unable to show Nigerians that he is qualified to be their president – a president that will make change happen, whatever that means.
My concern over this is in two folds. The first is as it relates to a potential dishonest general who may have been trained by Nigeria even when he was not qualified for that. Number two, and which worried me a lot more is how someone who is speaking of change has been taking the entire country for granted.
I will discuss these briefly below. You see, if, as the Nigerian army has stated, Buhari entered the army merely by a letter written by his school principal stating that he had obtained his school certificate, then we have so many issues t resolve.
In the first place, it is not a school that awards certificates. There are examinations bodies vested with that power and authority. As it affects Buhari, the West Africa Examinations Council or whichever body was responsible for the issuance of School Certificates at the time Buhari finished his post primary education should have been the ones we should be talking to. Anyone can write a “TO WHOM IT MAT CONCERN” letter and state whatever he or she liked. But an examinations body is the one that has the mandate to certify that someone sat for their examinations and passed same.
The festering scandal over General Buhari’s qualifications may have opened a a new and ugly file on what may have been happening in the Nigerian military over the years. Is it possible that there may have be many other Buharis who joined the officer cadre of the military merely by a letter written by a school principal? Are there people like that whose academic qualifications were not vetted and certified authentic before our ranks, pips and national honours were conferred on them? How could the army not have checked to confirm that the letter written by this mysterious principal presented a true picture of who the retired General was before he was decorated as an officer of the Nigerian army?
As a young student that was just admitted into the university, I was made to tender my academic qualifications, including my First School leaving Certificate and West African School Certificate as part of the admission procedures. I was not given this admission on the strength of a letter written by my principal.
And the university did not stop there. It went the needful extra mile to check with the records at WAEC to certify that my claims of having obtained at least five credits in WASC, including English Language and at least one science subject was true. It was only then that they considered me fit and proper to go ahead with my course of study and eventually awarded me a degree.
This did not stop there. When I began to look for jobs and eventually got one in one of Nigeria’s banks, I was put on probation for six months and had my appointment confirmed only after the bank certified that I actually sat for and obtained my WASC and Bachelor of Arts degree.
If Buhari has not been able to meet these standards, then something is wrong and he should consider himself unfit to aspire for public office. In fact, Nigerians should be demanding for refunds of all salaries, allowances, cost of training and other perks he got as a soldier and Head of State of the country if he cannot prove he has not been lying to us all these years.
Secondly, why is Buhari playing with the emotions of a people he wants to be their leader. I have seen the passion and fervor many Nigerians, especially those in the All Progressives Congress, have invested in the Buhari campaigns.
But these people are worried that they may just be working for a man who is not qualified, a man whose academic records are not straight. Does it not occur to Buhari that he owes these people and other Nigerians a proper explanation?
If Buhari has his certificates as he claims, there is only one thing to be done – show them to us. If he does not have them, as suggested in the effidavit he deposed to and submitted to INEC, it would not cost him so much to apply for the Certified True Copy of the certificate which I am sure WAEC or whichever examinations body supervised his examinations, would be too glad to send to the electoral body and them to Nigerians.
If he fails here, then he has ultimately failed the true test of the leader we need at this point in our journey to nationhood. The CHANGE we need from him now is a change from taking us for a ride; a change transparency; a change to the truth about the past.
When we finish dealing with this, we can then begin to look at the other CHANGE he is talking about. That is if we really need such from a man who has demonstrated he cannot change.
Rotimi Coker, a political commentator, lives in Lagos. [myad]