The bill seeking to amend sections 65 (2) (a), 131 (d) and section 106 (c) and section 177 (d) on minimum education qualification for those seeking political offices in Nigeria, has on Thursday, scaled second reading in the Senate.
The amendment bill which prescribes Higher National Diploma or its equivalent as the educational qualification requirement for anyone contesting for the office of the president or governor was sponsored by Senator Isfifanus Gyang, (PDP) Plateau State.
The bill also stipulated National Diploma for or its equivalent for those contesting for a seat in the state and federal legislature.
According to Punch, each of the sections of the constitution on education qualification for the major public offices in Nigeria was reviewed. The section 65 (2) (a) which is about the education qualification of federal lawmakers reads thus: “A person shall be qualified for election under subsection (1) of this section if he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
The bill seeking to amend it reads: “If he has been educated to at least a National Diploma level or its equivalent.”
For the office of the governor, the bill is seeking to amend the current qualification requirement of School Certificate level or its equivalent. Section 131 (d) now reads as rephrased: “He has been educated up to at least HND level or its equivalent.” The current phrase reads: “He must have been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”
For the education qualification requirement for those seeking to join the National Assembly or State Assembly, section 106 (6) of the constitution was reviewed. The current law states that anyone who wishes to become a member of the House of Assembly must have a School Certificate level or its equivalent.
But the bill has altered the section to prescribe National Diploma as a requirement. The rephrase now reads: “If he has been educated up to National Diploma or its equivalent.”
The same education qualification applies to the office of the governor. Section 177 (d) states that whoever is running for the office of the governor must possess at least School Certificate level or its equivalent. The bill is seeking to amend it to: “If he has been educated up to at least Higher National Diploma Level or its equivalent.”
Upon scaling this reading, the bill has been passed to the Committee of Constitution Review by the Senate President Ahmad Lawan.
In 2019, the Supreme Court of Nigeria ruled that the President does not need a certificate to hold office.
The Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar has taken the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari to court for lacking the qualification to contest for the office of the president due to his lack of certificate. The ruling of the Apex court therefore exposed what critics described as “vacuum in the constitution” and “mockery of public offices in Nigeria.”
Buhari had contested the presidential election using a senior school certificate, which compared to other countries was said to be far below par. However, the Supreme Court reached its verdict based on what Nigeria’s constitution says.
“The law is well settled and the case-law is crystalized on the point that the 2nd respondent (Buhari) cannot go beyond provisions of sections 131 and 131 (8) of the 1999 constitution.
The case-law is replete with decisions of this court on the subject. We cannot amend the constitution. We need to make it clear at this point that the constitution and laws of the land do not expect any certificate to be tendered or attached,” Buhari’s legal counsel Wole Olanipekun said during the judgment.
The Supreme Court has ruled that aspirants to the position of president need only to have primary or secondary schools education and should have been in the public service for 10 years and attended training, has the ability to read and write in English language. It was based on this interpretation that the certificate saga was laid to rest.
But then, it became a cause for concern to Nigerians, especially opposition political parties. The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) said the Supreme Court judgment returned Nigeria and the electoral process to the dark ages.
“Our nation’s democracy and the electoral process have been set back to the dark ages… indeed; the court has held that seeking the highest office in the land requires the least possible qualification in the land. How absurd”?
The disappointment and heavy backlash that stemmed from the Apex court’s ruling propelled the lawmakers to seek the amendment of the sections of the constitution that enabled political office aspirants to contest with the least educational qualification.
However, Nigerians are worried that President Buhari will likely decline to assent to the bill.