By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
The West African Examination Council yesterday presented President Muhammadu Buhari with what it said was an “attestation” of his “lost” secondary school certificate. This should have settled the controversy that his consistent failure to authenticate his claim to have taken the West African School Certificate has ignited. But several questions still remain, which I will get to shortly.
But, first, I didn’t think it was even in the realm of possibility that Buhari would lie about his school certificate. A former secondary school classmate of Buhari’s, who wasn’t the president’s supporter, had told me in confidence that Buhari did take his school certificate exams in 1961. That was why when military authorities said in 2015 that Buhari did not submit a secondary school certificate— and the PDP impeached the credibility of the statement of result he presented from his secondary school in 2015—I defended him in my January 24, 2015 column in the Daily Trust on Saturday titled, “Between Obama’s ‘Birthers’ and Buhari’s ‘WASCers’.”
Now I’ve realized that I might have been misled. As I’ve noted in previous columns, it would have been infinitely cheaper, less burdensome, and certainly more fitting for Buhari to have simply produced his school certificate than for him to hire more than a dozen Senior Advocates of Nigeria to defend his right not to produce it. Only a person who has something to hide would opt for the expensive, cumbersome, and circuitous route Buhari had chosen until now.
In the heat of Buhari’s school certificate controversy in 2015, the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES), which administered the West African School Certificate exams in the early 1960s, said, “We can only confirm or verify results at the direct request of or with the permission of a candidate. This is in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.” Why didn’t Buhari take up this challenge since 2015?
If Buhari truly took his WASC and wants to settle doubts about this once and for all, he should write to the UCLES, which is now known as Cambridge Assessment, and request it to write to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to certify that he took the West African School Certificate exam. This is particularly important because the WAEC office in Ghana said in a 2015 memo that it had no record of a “Mohamed Buhari who attended school in Provincial Secondary School, Katsina in Nigeria.” Note that WASC results are searchable in every branch of WAEC.
Every Nigerian knows that WAEC in Nigeria is susceptible to compromise and manipulation. A university classmate of mine, who died in a car crash two years ago, once confided in me that he bribed WAEC officials in Lagos to issue him a certificate for an exam he did not sit for. WAEC’s well-known credibility problems and the over-zealousness its officials displayed in going to the Presidential Villa to present the president with an “attestation” of his certificate out of “respect” for him call the integrity of the attestation into question.
I have been informed by someone who should know that the statement of result issued by Buhari’s secondary school in 2015, which WAEC has now reproduced and validated, was the result of his mock exam, which was the basis for his principal’s recommendation to the Nigerian Army that reads as follows: “I recommend Mohamed Buhari for consideration as a potential officer. I consider that Mohamed Buhari will pass West African School Certificate, with credits in English, Maths and three other subjects.” This recommendation and Buhari’s handwritten application, apparently, are the only documents in Buhari’s personal file with the military.
Notice that the principal spelled Buhari’s first name as “Mohamed” rather than “Muhammadu,” Buhari’s preferred spelling of his first name. The statement of result Buhari’s school issued in 2015 was probably merely being faithful to the records in his mock exam. WAEC’s “attestation” of Buhari’s certificate is also faithful to this record—and spelling.
However, in his October 18, 1961 “Application to sit for RNA Qualifying Examination,” Buhari spelled his first name as “Muhammadu.” “I have the honour to apply for regular service in the Royal Nigeria Army. My name is Muhammadu Buhari and I am a Fulani. I am eighteen years old and I am in Form Six at the Provincial Secondary School Katsina,” he wrote.
Although it’s not unusual for Nigerian schools to ignore students’ preferred spellings of their names and insist on their own variants, it was (and still is) often the case that during registration for WAEC exams, schools would ask students to make known the preferred spellings and order of their names. It is curious that Buhari spelled his first name as “Muhammadu” in 1961, but his WASC from the same year has his principal’s spelling variant of his name. Was he denied the privilege of using his preferred spelling of his name?
Most importantly, though, if Buhari did take his WASC, why is there no record of it in his personal file? “It is a practice in the Nigerian Army that before candidates are shortlisted for commissioning into the officers’ cadre of the Service, the Selection Board verifies the original copies of credentials that are presented. However, there is no available record to show that this process was followed in the 1960s. Neither the original copy, Certified True Copy (CTC), nor statement of result of Major General M Buhari’s WASC result, is in his personal file,” the Nigerian Army spokesman said in 2015. Therefore, presidential spokesman Femi Adesina’s claim that the military had “lost” Buhari’s certificate is both ludicrous and fraudulent.
A retired high-ranking military officer who is Buhari’s contemporary told me a few days ago that no one in 1960s northern Nigeria who had the kind of WASC result Buhari claims to have would enlist in the army. He said such a person would most certainly enroll as an undergraduate in a university in Nigeria or abroad.
This issue is troubling for at least two reasons. One, if Buhari can’t get Cambridge Assessment to issue a statement certifying that he took WASC, it would be a prima facie case of perjury or, as it’s called in the (northern Nigerian) Penal Code, false evidence, which is punishable by imprisonment. Buhari swore under oath that he had a West African School Certificate.
People who repeat the canard that Buhari doesn’t need a school certificate to be president because he obtained postsecondary school credentials while in the military miss the real point at issue, which is that Buhari possibly perjured himself when he said under oath that he had a school certificate.
Nigeria’s new Electoral Act requires people running for office to submit proof of the authenticity of the credentials they claim to possess. Buhari did not obey this law in 2015, which should have caused him to be disqualified.
The second reason Buhari’s possible perjury is troubling is that it has eroded his moral authority. The president has been so crippled by the lumbering moral burden that this issue has imposed on him that he hasn’t been able to take action against people with questionable credentials in his government. It’s no wonder that he has the dubious honor of presiding over a government with the most certificate forgers, perjurers, NYSC dodgers, etc. than any government in recent memory. Like attracts like, after all.