‘DEMOCRACY is all about freedom and any democracy without it is not democracy,” President Goodluck Jonathan said from the political podium last Wednesday in Dutse, Jigawa State as he sought to change the tune of the campaign after the certificate saga surrounding the man in hot pursuit for his job seemed to have cleared up.
The president’s words were apparently reflective of the fact that the credibility question which his campaign team had tried to stamp on Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC may have fallen flat.
Buhari and his close associates had derisively dismissed questions about his certificate after two newspapers had reported that he only submitted an affidavit in lieu of his secondary school certificate.
Jonathan’s foot soldiers, notably his campaign spokesman, Femi Fani-Kayode had led the charge against Buhari questioning the qualification of the APC candidate to stand for the polls.
Buhari’s decision to ignore the allegation that he did not possess a secondary school certificate and the defence put up by some of his handlers including a member of the APC presidential screening committee that the constitution only required proof of a secondary school education, only lured Jonathan’s handlers to draw for blood.
And they were swift in moving in on with their seeming prey.
“It is disingenuous for Buhari to say that he contested previous elections and that the issue of his qualifications did not arise,” Fani-Kayode said in a statement last Monday.
“The fact that he got away with it in 2003, 2007 and 2011 does not make it right. The minimum that Nigerians require from Buhari is the presentation of his secondary school certificate which enabled him to gain admission into the Nigerian Military College in 1962 and on which basis he became a commissioned officer of the Nigerian Army.
“As long as he cannot produce that secondary school certificate, we believe that he is not qualified to run for the Presidency of Nigeria,” Fani-Kayode pressed on.
The matter for Buhari was further exacerbated when the outgoing director of army public relations, Brigadier-General Olajide Laleye addressed a press conference where he claimed that in response to public concerns that the army had decided to release all details of the credentials as concerning Buhari.
He disclosed that there was no evidence that Buhari ever submitted a certificate in the course of his admission noting almost derisively that what Buhari had was a notice from his principal in 1961 that the candidate was of good character and was in position to pass his papers.
“Neither the original copy, Certified True Copy, CTC, nor statement of result of Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s WASC result is in his personal file. What I have said here is what is contained in his service records’ personal file. We have not added or subtracted anything,” the army spokesman said.
Remarkably, his action was without the prompting of the affected officer, that is, Buhari, a development that raised concern in the polity that the army may have taken a partisan support against the former head of state. The APC was swift in responding to the assertion by the army as it noted that the institution was being manipulated for political ends.
If blood was bleeding, the action of the army spokesman turned the cut into a gush.
The army’s revelation came on the day that Buhari had a very successful rally that practically grounded Kano. The revelation was almost turning the success in Kano into a sour.
Many who had been following the issue, however, did not know that a few days before the army’s claim, Buhari had himself made an application to his former school for the statement of his result and the application which ordinarily should have been honoured within a day, however, took days to be approved.
For what reason, no one could say especially as Buhari’s old school, Katsina Provincial College, now Government Secondary School, Katsina is under the control of a PDP government.
By Tuesday evening after much effort had been put to get the statement of result from the present school, word emerged that Buhari was to speak on the matter the following day.
And when he spoke, he cleared the air on the issue saying that it was for him something he would ordinarily have ignored given what he claimed as the more serious issues affecting the country.
He said: “I only consented to address you this morning because of the genuine concern expressed by many supporters and other well-meaning Nigerians that the issue be addressed. Otherwise, I would have dismissed it for what it is—sheer mischief— and would not have considered it an issue worth the nation’s while.”
“I had assumed all along that all my records were in the custody of the Military Secretary of the Nigerian Army. Much to my surprise, we are now told that although a record of the result is available, there are no copies of the certificates in my personal file. This is why I formally requested my old school, the Provincial Secondary School, Katsina (which is now known as Government College, Katsina) to make available the school’s copy of the result of the Cambridge/West African School Certificate. This will be made available to the press the moment this is available.
“And although the ruling party may want to wish this away, the issue in this campaign cannot be my certificate which I obtained 53 years ago. The issues are the scandalous level of unemployment of millions of our young people, the state of insecurity, the pervasive official corruption which has impoverished our people and the lack of concern of the government for anything other than the retention of power at all costs.”
It was thus remarkable that after producing his certificate that the president who also campaigned in Kano the same day that Buhari spoke to the press in Kano sought to direct the campaign towards the issue of liberty which he insinuated would be better protected under him than Buhari.
Fani-Kayode was, however, unrelenting even after Buhari had produced the result. In a statement following the Kano press conference, Jonathan’s spokesman asked Buhari to withdraw from the presidential contest on the basis of alleged perjury saying that Buhari lied on oath when he earlier claimed that his certificate was with the military board.
That assertion has been dismissed by Buhari’s associates who infer monkey business saying that it was surprising that Buhari who was a former military secretary would have known if his records were not complete.
Critics of the APC presidential candidate were also looking for ways to pummel the APC candidate as they examined every detail of the statement issued by the school. Among issues being raised by these critics are that the first name in the result sheet is Mohammed and not Muhammadu as the presidential candidate is widely known as.
But Buhari and his associates were themselves dismissive of such as they urged the president and his campaign team to go back to what they referred to as the core issues of the campaign.