Educational Qualifications and Leadership: The Nigerian Reality

Education, as often touted by many thought leaders and think tanks, is the bane of any modern society’s existence. Many countries’ ratings for development (or lack thereof) is its educational system and the effectiveness and efficiency of same; be it in terms of quality (standard and content) or quantity (the sheer number of its educated population).

Nigeria is considered a developing nation, because it’s now politically incorrect to say “underdeveloped”, and one of the reasons for that is the Nation’s over 10 million out-of-school children who should be enrolled in our primary and secondary education institutions. In stark contrast however, Africa’s most populous nation has about 365 tertiary institutions according to the National Universities Commission (NUC). Furthermore, whenever reforms are stipulated for the educational sector its almost always focused on these institutions of higher learning.


A cross-section of Nigerian University students during a matriculation ceremony

With such an emphasis placed in acquiring a tertiary institution and the constant clamor for the rehabilitation of our universities and other institutions of the same ilk, it is therefore a bit head scratching that the minimum educational requirement to run for public office, as stipulated by the Nigerian Constitution is not a tertiary educational certificate.

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

The Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila made this constitutional provision the main crux of his lecture on “Building Back Better: Creating a New Framework for Tertiary Education in Nigeria in the 21st Century” as the 52nd Convocation Lecturer at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka this past Monday.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila at speaking at the Convocation Lecture of the University of Lagos.  

Photo: Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila (Facebook)

“I also sincerely believe that 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,” he said.


He further went on to stress that “Experts cannot, on one hand, be talking about raising the standard of education in Nigeria and on the other hand requiring the barest minimum for those who will be governing us.”


One would be persuaded to agree with the Honorable Speaker especially when we realize that the aforementioned constitutional provision must be read along with Section 318(1) of the said Constitution, which is the interpretation Section. It becomes crystal clear, upon a careful reading of the said Interpretation Section, that even persons whose educational qualifications are below the Secondary School Leaving Certificate/level and its equivalent are still qualified to contest election, if they possess the Primary Six School Leaving Certificate or its equivalent along with the other requirements listed under the said definition Section (Section 318 (1)).

For more clarity, Section 318(1) provides: “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- (1) 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 (11) 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 (111) 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;”


We can deduce therefore that a Nigerian citizen without a formal secondary school education with a certification to show can run for the nation’s highest office.


Before we get shocked or perturbed by this reality, an in-depth look into developed democracies the world over and their requirements for public office shows similar provisions. In fact, the United States of America has no educational stipulation for aspiring to the White House (as seen below)


It then begs the question; Is formal education the benchmark to assess and adjudicate the qualifications of a potential presidential candidate and would increasing such requirements help us solve the leadership conundrum that plagues Nigeria and indeed Africa? Or should we focus on the content of an aspirant’s character, track records of developmental projects to help society and humanity, compassion and empathy to the plight of the common man and a vision for national growth and development.


If educational qualifications equaled leadership acumen, perhaps our educational institutions wouldn’t be in the sorry state that is their present reality and Nigeria won’t be experiencing the massive brain drain it does right now.

written by Emmanuel M. Effiong

Emmanuel M. Effiong is the Head of Media and Communications at ConstitutionLab.