Presidential candidate without high school qualification ineligible – legal expert

8 Nov
The Electoral Commission is not on record to have ever rejected a presidential candidate on the basis of educational qualification. Until this year, there has never been any discourse on the educational requirement of any candidate vying to be president in the country. Photo Credit: Omar Wally

The Electoral Commission is not on record to have ever rejected a presidential candidate on the basis of educational qualification. Until this year, there has never been any discourse on the educational requirement of any candidate vying to be president in the country. Photo Credit: Omar Wally

By Lamin Jahateh

Based on the Constitution of The Gambia, any candidate who does not have evidence of completing a minimum of senior secondary school education is deemed ineligible to be president, said a legal expert.

Malick H.B. Jallow, legal practitioner and senior law lecturer at the University of The Gambia, said the rationale for minimum education requirement stipulated in the constitution for president is to ensure that presidential candidates have a sufficient amount of exposure to formal education that will enable them deal effectively with the role of president.

The Point newspaper recently had an exclusive interview with Lawyer Jallow on the legal interpretation of Section 62 of the Constitution, which outlines the minimum requirement to be president.

Section 62 (1) states that for any person to be eligible to contest for president in The Gambia, the person must be a citizen of The Gambia by birth or descent, attained the minimum age of thirty years but not more than sixty-five years.

The person must also be ordinarily resident in The Gambia for the five years immediately preceding the election; completed senior secondary school education; and be qualified to be elected as a member of the National Assembly. 

“These provisions are interpreted conjunctively, therefore all the listed requirements must be fulfilled for one to be qualified as a presidential candidate and failure to meet any of them renders you ineligible as candidate for the presidency” Lawyer Jallow said

The nomination for presidential candidates begins today, Monday, but the educational qualification of certain presidential candidates remains a subject of public discourse.

For example, the discussion on the educational qualification of the leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress, Mamma Kandeh, continues to gather more steam.

For now, his highest known educational level is the attainment of Secondary fourth certificate from Crab Island Secondary School.

Education experts have explained that Secondary fourth certificate is not equivalent to completion of senior secondary education.

But after graduating from Crab Island, Kandeh is said to have attended a six-month accounting course at the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI), a tertiary institution that provides technical and vocational post-secondary education.

According to Lawyer Jallow, Section 62(1d) is quite clear and conclusive; it states that a person must, as a bare minimum, have completed senior secondary school education to be eligible for the presidency.

He said:  “The question now is how about in a scenario where a candidate has a higher qualification than a senior secondary school certificate but did not complete senior secondary school?

“In such a scenario, I will opt for the purposive approach to statutory interpretation which again brings us to the rationale for section 62(1d) as the idea is to have a minimum threshold of formal education for candidates.  If a candidate therefore has a higher qualification than senior secondary school but did not complete senior secondary school itself, then this should not be seen to be in conflict with section 62(1d). I highly doubt that a 6month vocational training falls under this category. A university degree would certainly suffice.”

Mr. Kandeh, who drew support from militants he said are former ruling party supporters, submitted his nomination papers to the Electoral Commission in Kanifing on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. photo Credit: Alhagie Jobe/Facebook

Mr. Kandeh, who drew support from militants he said are former ruling party supporters, submitted his nomination papers to the Electoral Commission in Kanifing on Monday, Nov. 7, 2016. photo Credit: Alhagie Jobe/Facebook

The law lecturer said to pass the education requirement eligibility test, one must produce a valid certificate as conclusive proof of successful completion of a minimum of senior secondary school education.

Barrister Jallow said section 62 (1d) also excludes, for example, an individual who has attended senior secondary school but failed the final exams.

He explained: “The section says you must have completed senior secondary school education and that means successful completion. You can study up to grade 12, go through the whole academic cycle at that level but then fail to pass your final exams. Such an individual cannot be a presidential candidate based on section 62(1d).”

Not uncommon

Setting a minimum of education requirement of presidents is not uncommon in democracies around the world.

For instance, in Nigeria for one to the eligible to run for president, you have to be educated up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent.  In Kenya, you must have a degree from a recognised university to be elected president or vice president.

In Uganda, presidential candidates must have a minimum formal education of A-level or its equivalent. 

Mr Jallow said it is quite a norm in all “progressive democratic dispensations” that as part of the requirements for eligibility to run for the office of president, one has to attain a certain level of formal education.

“For the purposes of The Gambian constitution, I think this particular provision on education is quite a reasonable requirement.  If you want to be president, it is only logical that you must have completed at least senior secondary school education,” he affirmed.

“Indeed it can be strongly argued that the threshold should be higher than senior secondary school education and angling towards a university degree.”

Never before

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is not on record to have ever rejected any candidate aspiring to be president in The Gambia based on educational qualification.

But before now, there has never been any discourse on the educational requirement of any candidate vying to be president in the country, for all who had ever applied had at least a minimum of senior secondary education.

In countries like Sierra Leone and Tanzania, there is no minimum educational requirement for president but in all such countries, hardly a candidate is elected president without a minimum of senior secondary school qualification.

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