THE appointment of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Salisu Buhari, as a member of the University of Nigeria (UNN), Nsukka, Enugu State, Governing Council, has continued to dominate contemporary discourse. It will be recalled that at the inception of the Fourth Republic, members of the House of Representatives then elected a young man named Salisu Buhari as Speaker. Shortly afterwards, it was discovered that the young man contested and won election using a forged university degree certificate purportedly obtained from the University of Toronto, Canada, and had also lied about his age. His version of age falsification was curious; he had increased his age by seven years, claiming that he was 36 when he was actually 29.
It was The News magazine that broke the story of the certificate scandal, stating that Buhari never attended the University of Toronto as he had claimed. Initially as the controversy raged, the then Number Three man denied the allegation, while his lawyers threatened the magazine with multi-billion naira law suits. The News, however, stuck to its guns and stood by the report, daring him to go to court. At last, on July 23, 1999, Buhari admitted the allegations of forgery and perjury as he addressed his colleagues in tears, arguing that he was misled in error by his zeal to serve the nation. He apologised and asked the nation for forgiveness. He was, however, tried and convicted and sentenced to a jail term with an option of a fine, which he promptly paid. He was later to receive a presidential pardon.
Pundits have argued that for a man who was indicted for certificate forgery, an appointment into the governing council of a university would appear to be a reward for, and perpetuation of, evil. The Federal Government has been urged to remove the former Speaker from the Governing Council of UNN and publicize the removal as it did when he was appointed. Expectedly, the Presidency has reacted, defending the appointment. The Presidential spokesman, Dr Reuben Abati, said the former Speaker was suitable for the appointment as he had been pardoned by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo after apologising on the floor of the House of Representatives. Pardon, he argued, meant that the beneficiary could no longer be punished for whatever offence committed and that his rights had been restored and so he could legitimately again serve the society. He however, said the appointment could be reviewed in the event of a protest from the Academic Staff Union of University (ASUU) or the university concerned. Abati debunked insinuations that the appointments were mainly in favour of members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), saying all appointees were capable of contributing to the development of the universities.
The University of Nigeria (UNN)was founded by the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as Premier of the then Eastern Region with the motto: “TO RESTORE THE DIGNITY OF MAN.” Pundits have queried the propriety of Buhari retaining the appellation “Honourable” considering the circumstances in which he was impeached as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives on the return to civil rule in Nigeria in 1999. The criticism drew from the very embarrassing content of that development. People are miffed that in the entire university community and the country, the Federal Government could not identify more credible persons than a fellow who has been arrested, indicted, charged, tried and convicted for such a criminal offence like forgery and misconduct. The Alumni of UNN are kicking against the continued retention of Buhari as a member of the University Governing Council. According to them, the only way by which they can still pride themselves as alumni of that institution that parades distinctive a motto statement is to scrutinize the integrity of persons appointed into the Governing Council. The appointment, the Alumni argued, is condoning crime and rewarding it.
It has been reported that the former Speaker has not been attending meetings and perhaps he does not yet have the instrument of appointment following public outcry and condemnation by the alumni in particular. The fact of the appointment was communicated to the world through Federal Government advertisements in the newspapers. The government made an elaborate publicity of these appointments of the names of everybody that made the governing council of each of the Federal Universities.
In view of the foregoing, we are of the opinion that the Federal Government should have the humility to reverse itself on this issue. In this circumstance, this will serve the better memory of the Nigerian people and meet the demand for transparency and the quest for integrity in the process if the government will advance the reason why they have withdrawn his appointment, if that has actually happened.
The presidential pardon of Salisu by the Obasanjo government is not a sufficient reason. Even assuming that he was pardoned, that does not detract from the fact that he was convicted of such an offence like forgery. The question of forgery goes to the roots of one’s integrity and the dignity of that person. For one to have the integrity to superintend at the level of the Governing Council over an institution that promotes the dignity of man and integrity, he himself must be a man of integrity. The opposite is complete anathema and inimical to the principle and philosophy of the university.