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Legal OPINION: IS GOVERNOR OBASEKI QUALIFIED TO CONTEST GOVERNORSHIP OF EDO STATE?


By Prince Orji Nwafor-Orizu

The opinion expressed by me in respect of the above matter is not political but purely legal. I can say straight away for the guidance of any political party willing to sponsor Governor Obaseki that he is qualified under our Constitution to contest election as Governor of Edo State.
Qualification to contest election is a constitutional matter. It is a law of strict liability. Nothing is to be removed or added. Section 177(a)(b)(c)(d) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 provides that a person is qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if:
“ (a) He is a citizen of Nigeria by birth
(b) He has attained the age of thirty-five years
(c) He is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party
(d) He has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent. ’’
The above constitutional provision was well explained by the Supreme Court in AGI v. PDP (2016) LPELR 42578 (SC) per Ogunbiyi JSC as follows:
“ …………..a person who is qualified to contest an election by virtue of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) cannot be disqualified by the operation of other law in force in Nigeria. The Constitution takes precedence over all other laws. Therefore where there is a matter of alleged falsification of a document or rendering of a false statement as alleged in this case, it must relate to a qualifying or disqualifying factor by virtue of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The office of governor of a State was created by virtue of Section 177(1) of the 1999 Constitution and the qualification to hold that office was established by Section 177 thus:
“A person shall be qualified for election to the office of Governor of a State if :
(a) He is a citizen of Nigeria by birth
(b) He has attained the age of thirty-five years
(c) He is a member of a political party and is sponsored by that political party and
(d) He has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent’’ AGI v. PDP (supra) per Ogunbiyi JSC.
The meaning of the above holding of the Supreme Court is that a person can only be disqualified if he is not a Nigerian up to the age of 35 and not sponsored by a political party and not educated up to school certificate level and nothing more.
In the case of Governor Obaseki two issues are raised, to wit, educational qualification and discrepancy in NYSC certificate. Let us see what the law says.

EDUCATIONAL QUALIFICATION
It is not in controversy that Governor Obaseki attended Eghosa Grammar School and passed school certificate with three credits. That is enough qualification to contest for Governorship of Edo State as required by Section 177(c) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, 2011. Whether Governor Obaseki went to University of Ibadan, or elsewhere is a surplusage. A political party and Governor Obaseki should avoid controversy and stick to his school certificate. It is not infra dis of Obaseki’s academic qualification. We all know he is a University graduate.
I am aware that INEC and a political party are not admission office of the University of Ibadan, but it is safer to get out of controversy.
My reason for insisting on school certificate is that the constitution by section 318 states that school certificate or its equivalent to mean “(b) education up to secondary school certificate level.’’ See Atiku v. Buhari 2019 (S.C) .This approach will cut off the argument about 3 years at the University or 3 credits from Eghosa Grammar School. A good politician avoids legal controversy as long as he achieves his aim.

DISCREPANCY IN NYSC CERTIFICATE
Another issue raised is that “Obasek’’ appeared in the NYSC Certificate instead of “Obaseki’’. This may not be ignored. However, the NYSC Certificate is not one of the qualifications for contest to any elective position in Nigeria. The law is settled that NYSC Certificate may be required for employment or appointment but surely not required to contest election under our constitution. I can state authoritatively that no candidate has been disqualified by the Supreme Court for not attaching his NYSC Certificate as a qualifying document to contest election.
It is therefore safe to conclude that the question of discrepancy or any shortfall in the NYSC Certificate of Governor Obaseki is not relevant to his qualification to contest election.
Again, if the political party of Governor Obaseki accepts to use his school certificate result only, then the question of NYSC Certificate will not be necessary at all. It will be a smooth sail in INEC especially as INEC itself following Section 177 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, 2011, a few days ago formally set out qualification for a candidate to contest election for governorship. It did not include NYSC Certificate.
CONCLUSION
The approach of two popular Senators from the South East to a situation similar to the Obaseki saga is worth emulating. When there were unnecessary storm about their educational qualifications to contest for Senate, the sagacious politicians simply submitted only their school certificate result and the whole noise ended. Obaseki, think of this and move on.

Dated this 22nd day of June, 2020

Prince Orji Nwafor-Orizu

(Legal Practitioner)

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