Party supporters raise flags in support of Nigerian President and Presidential candidate of the ruling People's Democratic Party Goodluck Jonathan and Vice President Namadi Sambo during a rally in Lagos on January 8, 2015. Nigeria's President Goodluc ~ PIUS UTOMI EKPEI
Abuja - Nigeria's military on Tuesday stepped into a political row about the legitimacy of the main opposition candidate to run for president, in a fresh twist to an issue gripping the campaign.
The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has raised doubts about whether President Goodluck Jonathan's main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, obtained his school-leaving qualification.
Under Nigerian law presidential candidates have to have the certificate as a minimum requirement to run for office.
The former army general, who headed a military government for 20 months from December 1983 after seizing power in a coup, has dismissed the claims as "desperation".
But the Nigerian army has now denied the 72-year-old's assertion that copies of his academic credentials were held by them.
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"It is a practice in the Nigerian Army that before candidates are shortlisted for commissioning into the officers' cadre of the Service, the Selection Board verifies the original copies of credentials that are presented," said spokesman Olajide Laleye.
"However, there is no available record to show that this process was followed in the 1960s."
He added: "Neither the original copy (of his senior school certificate), certified true copy, nor statement of result... is in his personnel file."
The only records available were his application to join the military on October 18, 1961 and a report from his school principal recommending him as suitable for service, he added.
Buhari has come under increasingly personal attacks from the PDP about his health and religious views in what some analysts see as a smear campaign designed to derail his campaign.
Next month's vote is expected to be closely fought and the opposition has been seen as having its best chance of seizing power for the first time since the return to civilian rule in 1999.
Buhari has said that he was allowed to run for president on three previous occasions (in 2003, 2007 and 2011) and the electoral body found nothing untoward.
"Really this desperation of disinformation that is being passed around will do nobody any good because our minds are being taken away from the serial issues of corruption and incompetence by the PDP," he said.