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Revive, act on bill to upgrade educational qualification for elections

The president and his office are the highest decision-making office in the country. He heads the Executive branch of the government which directs the affairs…

The president and his office are the highest decision-making office in the country. He heads the Executive branch of the government which directs the affairs of the country and he/she is the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic. Any decision taken in that office affects each and every one in the country be it economic, social, diplomatic and even political. With these enormous powers, the person, be it male or female, to hold this office should be one with relatively sound education to perform creditably the functions required of that office.

The same goes for all elected officeholders. They should all be well-educated. Therefore, it was surprising that the lawmakers stepped down a “Bill for an Act to Alter the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) to change the Educational Qualification for Elections into Certain Political Offices and for Related Matters”.  The bill, which seeks to make higher education compulsory for presidential, and governorship candidates, among others, was stepped down at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.

The bill, sponsored by Hon. Adewumi Onanuga (APC, Oyo), specifically, seeks to amend sections 65, 106, 131 and 171 of the 1999 Constitution, which recognise school certificate or equivalent as the minimum qualification for elective positions in Nigeria, including the office of the president. The female lawmaker, while leading discussions on the bill, said when passed into law, it will raise the educational qualifications to contest elections in Nigeria to a minimum of a university degree and its equivalent.

Some lawmakers, including the House Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), spoke in favour of the bill. “Are you telling me that a school certificate holder in 1960 is the same thing as today? In the past, primary school students were drafted to be teachers. Can a primary school certificate holder today get a job in private establishments? We must say that education is important. We should do the proper thing,” Rep Chinda argued.

Other lawmakers, including Rep Aliyu Madaki (NNPP, Kano), rejected the bill. While arguing against it, Rep Madaki said the bill, if passed, could create an elitist society where only a group of people will be allowed to participate in politics. “Your leadership quality is not determined by education. I have three grown-up children; they are all in universities. What we are trying to do is about all Nigerians. The level of education is not in the constitutions of some states. In the case of INEC, what we saw the professors do is terrible,” he argued.

Eventually, Rep Onanuga, who had sponsored the same bill unsuccessfully in 2022, stepped down the motion for further consultation with her colleagues.

Her decision to further consult with other lawmakers is a step in the right direction. But, we urge her to remain steadfast in this laudable quest. The bill should be represented, debated and passed for the good of the country.

Like former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, captured in a paper titled ‘Building Back Better: Creating a New Framework for Tertiary Education in Nigeria in the 21st Century’, which he delivered at the 52nd Convocation of the University of Lagos in 2022, we certainly need to upgrade the qualification of political office holders, especially that of a would-be president of Nigeria. According to him, “The National Assembly needs to look into Section 131 (d) of the 1999 Constitution with a view to increasing the minimum educational qualification for persons aspiring to be future presidents of Nigeria and other top offices, including the National Assembly as against the current minimum requirement of a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent.

“As we have reduced the age for eligibility to contest those offices so also, we should increase the minimum educational requirement. It will be another step in reforming our electoral system and providing strong leadership for the country.”

We will be doing a serious disservice to the country if we allow school certificate to be the minimum requirement for those who aspire to lead us, especially when we are battling with a rising army of out-of-school children. We must not allow the barely educated to find refuge in politics, to think that they don’t need a sound background in knowledge to be able to become our leaders. Every office should upgrade its minimum requirement as standards have risen in all sectors.

It must be made clear that times have changed and we must change with it. We cannot continue to accept school certificate as the qualification needed to hold offices, especially with the falling standard of education in Nigeria. For our leaders to compete with their peers and present quality arguments in meetings all over the world, there must be an upgrade in their education/qualifications. We, therefore, call on lawmakers who are opposed to this bill to have a rethink. No matter the argument, we cannot compare the educated with the uneducated. It must also be stated that when school certificate was made the minimum requirement for political office holders, our education system was very good and the number of higher institutions was limited. Indeed things have changed and we must reflect that change in all sectors.

 

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