A bill to increase the academic qualification for the position of President, governors, and National Assembly members to a minimum of bachelor’s degree have been introduced to the House of Representatives.
The Constitution alteration bill, sponsored by Adewunmi Onanuga (APC, Ogun), and read the first time on Tuesday, seeks to amend sections 65, 106, 131, and 171 of the 1999 Constitution.
Section 65 of the 1999 Constitution provides a school certificate or equivalent as the minimum qualification for election into the National Assembly.
65(2) “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 318 interpreted school certificate as follow.
“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 totaling 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.
The amendment by Ms Onanuga provides that the candidate must be educated up to at least a university degree or equivalent.
A similar amendment is proposed for governors and by extension Ministers. Because section 147(5) provides that “No person shall be appointed as a Minister of the Government of the Federation unless he is qualified for election as a member of the House of Representatives.”
Last week, the Chairperson of the House Committee on Constitution Review Committee, Idris Wase (APC, Plateau), disclosed that the alteration bill will be introduced to raise the bar on minimum qualification for offices.
Ms Onanuga, while speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, said the bill is in response to the yearning of Nigerians for educated people to be in charge of running the affairs of the country.
She stated that the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, made attempts to introduce the bill, but could not get enough support as a minority leader to propel the bill. According to her, the bill was shut down.
“I know that Mr. Speaker like two or three Assembly ago, had said to me that he tried to pass this kind of bill. I guess it was shut down. I think then, he was in opposition, so he did not have the majority. He was probably a minority leader then,” she said.
On the bill scaling the numerous hurdles, she said “I think it is important if we show how enlightened we are as people. So, I am going to try my utmost. I am not knocking it down. I am very hopeful that it stands a good chance. There are a lot of people who have been rooting for it,
“I want to believe the people are in support because they have been clamoring for it. A lot of people are upset. They know that we are a nation of educated people. They get disgusted and say “how can people that are not as learned to get to speak to us about laws.’
“I know it is going to gain momentum like the not too young to run bill. I want to believe that a lot of people in state Houses of Assembly will understand that they will get more respect when people know that those sitting at the chairs are learned. If it gets to the states Houses of Assembly and they try to shut it down, the young people in those states will know that their assemblies need to be watched,” he said.
Hurdles before the bill
The bill will have to scale the hurdle of the debate on its general principles, also known as second reading.
A constitution amendment bill has to be passed by both Houses (Reps and Senate) with a minimum of 2/3rd of the entire members of the House.
The exception to the rule is state creation and boundary adjustment, which requires 4/5th of the members of each house to pass. The copies of the bill passed must be harmonised (The wordings, the structure must be the same.)
The harmonised bills passed by the two chambers will then be sent to the state Houses of Assembly. If 2/3rd of the Assemblies (24 states out of the 36 states) pass it, the copies will be returned to the National Assembly, which will then send it to the president for assent.
The president has two options: sign or decline.