Nigeria’s main opposition candidate on Wednesday rejected claims about his eligibility to run for president, accusing the ruling party of trying to divert attention from its own failings.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has raised doubts about whether President Goodluck Jonathan’s leading challenger in next month’s vote, Muhammadu Buhari, obtained his school-leaving qualification.
Under Nigerian law, presidential candidates must have the certificate as a minimum requirement to run for office.
But Buhari, a 72-year-old former army general who headed a military government for 20 months from December 1983, described the accusation as “sheer mischief”.
He told a news conference that he had asked his old school in the northern state of Katsina to provide a copy of the certificate and that it would be made public when it was available.
“I passed the exam… and although the ruling party may want to wish this away, the issue in this campaign can’t be my certificate, which I obtained 53 years ago,” he told reporters in the city of Kano.
“The issue is the scandalous level of unemployment of millions of our young people, the state of insecurity, the pervasive official corruption which has impoverished our people and the lack of concern of the government for anything other than the retention of power at all costs.”
The February 14 vote is expected to be close-run, with the possibility of the PDP being dumped out of power for the first time since Nigeria returned to civilian rule in 1999.
Buhari has run for president three times before, in 2003, 2007 and 2011, and said there were no questions then about his eligibility.
The Nigerian Army stepped into the row on Tuesday, saying that there was no record of his academic qualifications in his personnel file.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) accused the PDP of “dragging the military into politics” as part of an increasingly personal smear campaign that has focused on Buhari’s health and religious views.