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Legislators in Nigeria are against a draft that would require college education for candidates running for governor and president.

February 13, 2024

After two hours of debate on the floor of the House, the bill was stepped down by Mrs Onanuga after members vehemently opposed the content of the bill.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday debated a bill seeking to raise the academic qualifications for positions of president, governors, and National Assembly members to a minimum of a bachelor’s degree.

However, the bill faced a temporary setback amid hostile opposition from some members of the House.

The bill, sponsored by Oriyomi Onanuga (APC, Ogun), seeks to amend sections 65, 106, 131, and 171 of the 1999 Constitution.

After two hours of debate on the floor of the House, the bill was stepped down by Mrs Onanuga after members vehemently opposed the content of the bill.

Education Qualification in the 1999 Constitution

Sections 65, 106, 131, and 171 of the 1999 Constitution provide a school certificate or equivalent as the minimum qualification for elective positions in Nigeria.

“A person shall be qualified for election under subsection (1) of this section if:

“(a) he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent,” section 65 of the 1999 constitution reads.

Section 318 interpreted the school certificate as follows.

“School Certificate or its equivalent” means (a) a Secondary School Certificate or its equivalent, or Grade II Teacher’s Certificate, the City and Guilds Certificate; or (b) education up to Secondary School Certificate level; or (c) Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent and –

(i) 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

(ii) attendance at courses and training in such institutions as may be acceptable to the Independent National Electoral Commission for periods totalling up to a minimum of one year, and

(iii) the ability to read, write, understand and communicate in the English language to the satisfaction of the Independent National Electoral Commission, and

(d) any other qualification acceptable by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

The proposed amendment seeks to delete section 65(2a) and replace it with “he has been educated up to at least School Certificate level or its equivalent.”

Section 131 provides the basic qualification for a candidate to run for the office of the President.

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.

Mrs Onanuga sponsored the same bill in 2022; however, the bill languished in the House until the end of that Assembly.

The Debate…

Leading the discussion on the bill, Mrs Onanuga said the bill would raise the education qualifications to contest elections in Nigeria to a minimum of a university degree and its equivalent.

She urged her colleagues to support the bill, noting that the action is long overdue.

Also speaking in favour of the bill, the Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers), said the constitution must conform with the current realities in the country.

“What we are discussing is whether elected officials should have wisdom and knowledge. 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 holder get a job in private establishments? We must say that education is important. We should do the proper thing,” he said.

Several other members also spoke in support of the bill; however, it was not sufficient to convince those opposed to the bill.

Speaking against the bill, Aliyu Madaki (NNPP, Kano), said the bill could create an elitist society where only a group of people is allowed to participate in politics.

Mr Madaki said the bill would not affect him or his children, but laws should be made in the interest of the greater majority.

“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.

“As a person, I hold an MBA, but it is not about the individual. It is about the collective. I believe we should allow that section of the constitution to stay,” he said.

Several other lawmakers also spoke against the bill, citing exclusion as the reason for their positions against the bill.

Some of the lawmakers who spoke against the bill include Kabir Maipalace (PDP, Zamfara), Ahmed Jaha (APC, Borno), Bello Kumo (APC, Gombe), and others.

Amidst the opposition, Mrs Onanuga bowed to the pressure and requested to step down the motion for further consultation.

The bill was subsequently stepped down by the presiding officer, Deputy Speaker Ben Kalu.

 

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