ANALYSIS: How educated are Nigeria’s presidential candidates?

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The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Thursday published the list of candidates for the 2019 General Elections. ABDUSSALAM AMOO takes a look at the educational qualifications of the presidential candidates as published by the electoral umpire.


It is 29 days to Nigeria’s 2019 Presidential Elections. Based on the list just released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 73 of the nation’s 91 registered political parties are presenting candidates for the polls.

Each party has two candidates – a presidential and a vice-presidential candidate – presented as required in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

EduCeleb.com observed that the Social Democratic Party (SDP) is the only party without a candidate since it currently has a case on that pending in court.

Also, none of the presidential aspirants is a person with disability.

Our findings also show an increased level of women participation in political contests at that level.

Of all the 144 candidates listed, 28 are women. Six of them are Presidential Candidates of their respective parties. In an instance both the presidential and the vice-presidential candidates of a political party are women.

This represents a marginal increase from one each in 2003 and 2015. Sarah Jubril and Remi Sonaiya made attempts on the separate occasions respectively. Aside the two, no woman ever made it to the presidential polls in Nigeria’s history.

For the first time, 25 Nigerians between age 30 and 40 are in this national contest following the signing of the Not Too Young To Run Act by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018. The Act reduced the age of eligibility for presidential candidates from 40 to 30.

Beyond these details, the educational qualifications of candidates is a major requirement in the law.

Minimum education requirements

The 1999 Constitution (as amended) states in Section 131 (d) that “A person shall be qualified for election to the office of the President if-(d) he has been educated up to at least school certificate level or its equivalent”.

In Section 318(1), it describes the equivalent of the school certificate thus:

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“(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 (“INEC”) 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 a period totaling up to a minimum of one year, and

(iii) the ability to read, write 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;”

From the INEC published list all candidates have the minimum education requirements. We examine the distribution of the highest of these declared qualifications.

How educated are Nigeria’s presidential candidates?

Findings by EduCeleb.com show that most of the candidates presented qualifications above the minimum of the school certificate.

Of all, only 17 hold the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) qualification while two other candidates presented only the First School Leaving Certificate (FSLC).

Furthermore, the data shows that 50 candidates have a bachelor’s degree, 14 are with a Master’s degree and 17 with a PhD.

Three candidates’ qualifications was a postgraduate diploma. Five each hold a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE).

Nine candidates have an Ordinary National Diploma (OND) and twelve have an Higher National Diploma (HND).

In addition to these, EduCeleb.com found that five candidates have a diploma as their highest qualification while a candidate’s is a Master of Philosophy (M Phil).

Three other candidates each presented three other qualifications aside the FSLC or SSCE as their highest educational level.

Does educational qualifications of politicians matter?

Most holders of Nigeria’s highest political offices at the national level have been known to have basic educational qualifications.

This is in a country where the national literacy rate is 65.1%, based on the most recent data published in the Digest of Education Statistics of Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Education.

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Aside Alex Ekweme (Vice President, 1979-1983), Ernest Shonekan (Interim Head of State, 1993), Goodluck Jonathan (President, 2010-2015) and Oluyemi Osinbajo (Vice President, 2015-2019), no other leader had a degree whilst in office.

Stakeholders are largely divided on the role education plays in the performance of politicians. While some believe that it plays no role, others believe otherwise.

But empirical studies show how much the education level of leaders impact the led.

A study from the University of Pompeu found that the educational credentials of political leaders are important. It evaluated 1000 leaders who held public offices between 1875 and 2004 identified that “heterogeneity among leaders’ educational attainment is important and that growth is enhanced by having leaders who are more highly educated.”

A portion of it focusing on African leaders showed that a transition from a graduate leader to another graduate leader has no effect while a transition from a graduate to a non-graduate has a largely negative and significant effect.

Whereas, another research on Indian politics carried out by researchers at the University of Goettingen showed that education level had no impact on politicians’ performance while in power.

Researchers at the University of Ibadan found that while Nigerian political leaders cannot be versatile in all fields, their choice of whom they appoint to hold offices that implement Nigeria’s education policies are people who lack significant expertise or experience in education.

Immediate past president of the Nigerian Academy of Education (NAE), Professor Udogie Ivowi had in a past interview with EduCeleb.com alluded to the non-implementation of Nigeria’s education policies as a source of stagnancy in the sector.

He noted that Nigeria had good education policies but had always been be deviled with leaders who don’t implement them.

Corroborating that position, an education consultant and Executive Director of EduMark Consult, Yinka Ogunde believes only leaders that value education can reform the sector.

“Everything rises and falls on leadership. Any country that is going to be reformed educationally, it has to be from the top. It should be somebody who wants to make education an agenda,” she said.

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On his part, the Director of the Education Rights Campaign, Hassan Soweto said experience had shown that there is no correlation between educational qualifications and the performance of leaders.

Mr Soweto believes that beyond educational qualifications, the capitalist system under the civilian government wouldn’t make people feel government’s impact.

In his words, “I think going by our experience since the inception of civil rule, programmes alone are the most crucial requirements for political leadership.

“Former President Jonathan is a PhD holder but under his leadership, the working and toiling people experienced innumerable hardship on account of the capitalist anti-poor economic policies he implemented just the same way we are experiencing hardship under the scarcely educated and equally clueless President Muhammadu Buhari.”

“So for me, no matter the educational qualification, so far the economic programmes and policies are capitalistic, hardship and suffering would be the lot of the mass majority.

“Only a socialist programme under which the nation’s wealth is collectively owned, controlled and managed by the working people can ensure that Nigeria works for all.”

Whereas, the National Public Relations Officer of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Okereafor Opeyemi cautioned that irrespective of general opinions, election outcomes are determined mainly by those he described as illiterates.

“Examination is not a true test of knowledge. However, we need educated leaders in positions of authority so as to value education.

“Politically, all politics is local and no doubt, the illiterates have an intimidating number of eligible voters, even as the population of registered Nigerian students in the forthcoming elections remains second to none.”

He added that Nigerian students would prefer voting for candidates who would value education.

“We will passionately vote for he who will value education and completely kick against consistent strike actions.”

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