What is the Educational Qualification for the Office of the President of Nigeria?

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By Prince Uzeme, Esq.

Section 130 of the Nigerian Constitution provides for the office of the President of the Nigerian federation. But is there any objective educational qualification a person to that hallowed office needs to possess before aspiring to the office?

Without mincing words, the answer is NO. Read in totality, there is no unprejudiced or unbiased educational requirement for the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Among other non-educational qualifications, Section 131 of the Constitution provides educationally as follows:

“A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if –

  • ……
  • …….
  • …….
  • he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.” (emphasis mine).

The need to possess an education up to the level of school certificate is repeated for various offices throughout the Constitution. For example, Minister (Section  147), Governor (Section 177), Commissioner (Section 192), etc.

So what exactly is this School Certificate that the Constitution has stated to be the minimum educational qualification into so many offices? To the reasonable bystander, School certificate refers to the certificate obtained when a student writes the WAEC, SSCE, GCE or equivalent examinations.

But are these examinations what the Constitution recognises as School certificates? Yes, the Constitution recognises the secondary leaving certificates as school certificates. Unfortunately, the same Constitution then lowered the bar to also recognise a mere Primary 6 certificate as equivalent to the school certificate required to aspire for the office of President.  The question then arises as to why in a society where there is an abundance of secondary school certificates, the drafters of the Constitution deemed it fit to go as low as including primary school as one of the educational qualifications for president.

The Constitution under Section 318(c) defines School Certificate with a number of options. The constant there is the Primary 6 certificate which taken with any of the other stated options amounts to a school certificate. These, in effect, means that once an aspirant adds any of the options mentioned to a mere Primary 6 certificate, he possesses the required School Certificate.

The Constitution states that “School Certificate or its equivalent” means

  • ……
  • ……
  • Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and –
  • 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
  • attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totaling up to a minimum of one year; and
  • the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and
  • any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission;

What the above means in essence is that with a mere primary six certificate and the other subjective additions, a person becomes eminently qualified to occupy the exalted office of President of Nigeria. Let us be reminded that one of these additives is INEC’s satisfaction that the aspirant can read and write English.

What is the measurable standard of this INEC satisfaction? No standard. Whatever appears to the mind of INEC as ability to read and write English cannot be questioned. The subjectivity of the INEC satisfaction is absolute and enquiry-proof, and akin to the power of nolle prosequi possessed by the Attorney-General.

It all leads to the factual confusion whether the Constitution is addressing qualification to the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the assistant secretary of some bike riders association. The constitution indeed left a lot to be desired with the minimal height of this educational bar.

It is this writer’s strong opinion that this portion of the Constitution needs to be amended urgently before the next elections to bestow some respectability on the qualifications for the office of the President and other high offices. The inclusion of primary six certificate and its accoutrements should be deleted from the Constitution.

 

A Glance at developed democracies regarding educational qualification for the office of President or Head of Government

Curiously, there seems to be no educational requirement for a person aspiring to be the Head of Government of most developed democracies. A look at the United States and the United Kingdom buttresses this point.

  1. United States: There is no educational qualification for the office of the President of the United States. Article II of the United States Constitution only requires a natural born citizen, a US Citizen, or a person at least 35 years old and must have been a US resident for at least 14 years.
  2. United Kingdom: There is also no educational qualification. The Queen appoints as Prime Minister the person most likely to command the confidence of the House of Commons.

So should we excise completely the educational requirement in the Nigerian Constitution?

Should we permit every person irrespective of education to be able to run for office?

Is there a reason why there is no educational requirement in developed democracies?

It is this writer’s opinion that Nigeria is not yet educationally advanced enough to assume that every person aspiring to office in the land is sufficiently educated. So the educational requirement should not only be left in the Constitution for now, but be firmed up to make it as objective as possible. Its current state especially with regard to subsection (c) is too subjective and open to bias. Ability to speak and write English to the satisfaction of INEC as a qualification for the highest office in the land is just too idiosyncratic.

 

May 2021


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