Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tinubu blames university clerk for invalid graduation date, signature, logo, other anomalies on Chicago certificate

The Nigerian president is fighting off a suit that Atiku Abubakar brought under a U.S. statute that allows local documents to be subpoenaed for use as evidence in a foreign court.

• August 24, 2023
Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar
Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar

President Bola Tinubu has implicated a clerk at Chicago State University as responsible for blatant irregularities that characterised a certificate the school reprinted in his name, according to new court filings seen by Peoples Gazette.

The Nigerian president said the unnamed clerk “unfortunately” made the errors as to the dates the school stated on his recently-issued certificate and when he actually graduated, thereby creating “the appearance of differences.”

Mr Tinubu’s statement was filed on August 23 by his counsel as part of his argument before the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. Judge Jeffrey Gilbert had given the Nigerian politician until August 23 to explain why his academic records at CSU should not be released to his political opponent Atiku Abubakar.

Mr Abubakar, earlier this month, requested court approval to subpoena Mr Tinubu’s files domiciled with CSU because he believed the documents would clarify glaring inconsistencies in Mr Tinubu’s background, including publicly-available documents that suggested the CSU in the 1970s admitted a female student bearing Bola Tinubu who was born on March 29, 1954. 

Chicago State University (Credit : volant)
Chicago State University (Credit: volant)

The Nigerian president said he was born on March 29, 1952, although he had also, at different times, listed 1954 as his birth year in the past. He also recently expunged his primary and secondary education from his records after it was discovered that the schools he listed under oath in his 1999 run for Lagos governor did not exist anywhere in Nigeria. Mr Abubakar believed the requested records would show which early and high papers Mr Tinubu submitted to CSU before he was admitted to study accounting there.

Mr Abubakar had sued to obtain Mr Tinubu’s school records under a U.S. statute that allows documents available in the U.S. to be subpoenaed for use as evidence in a foreign court. 

Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar

Mr Abubakar argued that Mr Tinubu had presented contradictory claims in Nigeria and the CSU, in responding to a previous subpoena, had issued documents that contradicted what Mr Tinubu had entered under oath in Nigeria. 

Mr Tinubu’s lawyers, led by Oluwole Afolabi and Christopher Carmichael, argued that the August 2022 subpoena that was issued following a request by a Nigerian lawyer Mike Enahoro-Ebah was “illegal” because he had no valid grounds to seek the documents, especially under education privacy rights. The lawyers, nonetheless, admitted the documents indeed emanated from the CSU, but an unnamed clerk had mistakenly typed the graduation date. 

“Unfortunately, in responding to the illegal and invalid subpoena, CSU made several errors,” Mr Tinubu’s attorneys said. “CSU issued a new diploma for Bola A. Tinubu, but incorrectly wrote the date of graduation as June 27, 1979.”

Nigerian election petitions tribunal
Nigerian Election Petitions tribunal

The lawyers also said changes in school-authorised signatories and logos, alongside other anomalies like the fonts of the certificate, all combined to generate an appearance of wrongdoing.

“The correct date was June 22, 1979, but that scrivener’s error – along with a change in the CSU logo, the font on the diploma, and leadership at CSU who signed the diploma created the appearance of differences between an earlier issued diploma and the one issued in response to the 2022 subpoena,” the lawyers said.

Mr Abubakar said he filed the suit because he wanted to get the school to certify all documents relating to Mr Tinubu, some of which had been filed by the Nigerian president’s lawyers in Nigerian court as part of the ongoing election petitions proceeding. 

Chicago State University, Bola Tinubu
Chicago State University and Bola Tinubu

But Mr Tinubu argued further that Mr Abubakar should be requesting the documents because Mr Tinubu’s academic records were not part of the initial litigation over the Nigerian elections. They said the opposition leader’s argument had been focused entirely on cheating and other irregularities around the conduct of the election. 

They also argued that the Nigerian court hearing the election petitions had already concluded hearing on arguments, and a judgment is now being anticipated. The court is expected to deliver judgment on or before September 21, in line with the Nigerian electoral law that mandates the conclusion of a petition within 180 days after the election. The presidential election was held on February 25, and Mr Tinubu was sworn in as president on May 29. 

Mr Tinubu’s argument appeared to mirror the position of the CSU authorities on the lawsuit, and the school had said it would defer compliance decision to its former student on the matter. 

Mr Abubakar’s legal team, led by Chicago-based attorney Angela Marie Liu, is expected to file a response to Mr Tinubu’s argument that the documents should not be sought because they were not part of the Nigerian proceeding and would be inadmissible due to the current stage of the case. 

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