President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Wednesday, told a United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division that the “errors” in his certificate that had become a subject of litigation, were made by the Chicago State University (CSU), which issued two certificates at different occasions.
Tinubu, however, insisted that the discovery application filed by the presidential candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, was not relevant and, therefore, not admissible in court.
At the same time, the authorities of the Chicago State University said one of the reasons they could not release the academic record of the president to Atiku was because they could not establish any bearing the release of such record would have on the election petition currently at the tribunal.
Tinubu’s academic records had been enmeshed in controversy since 1999, after he became the governor of Lagos State.
While his primary and secondary education history had been shrouded in secrecy, the dust raised by his university certificate submitted in aid of his qualification for the 2023 presidential election, which he won, had refused to settle.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on March 1 declared Tinubu, the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), winner of the February 25 presidential election, saying he won majority of lawful votes cast in the election.
But the candidate of PDP, Atiku, and his counterpart in the Labour Party (LP), Mr Peter Obi, as well as the Allied People’s Movement (APM), challenged the declaration of Tinubu as winner and asked the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal to nullify the election and sack Tinubu as president.
Beside their claims that the electoral umpire manipulated the process to favour Tinubu and also did not comply with the electoral laws, the petitioners contended that Tinubu ought not to be on the ballot on account of alleged perjury, forgery, and dual citizenship, among others.
In arguing his own petition, Atiku called 27 witnesses, including one Mike Enahoro-Ebah, who tendered documents he said he obtained through his lawyer in the US, alleging that the Chicago State University (CSU) certificate Tinubu submitted to INEC was forged.
The self-proclaimed Nigerian “public interest litigator” had in 2022 approached a magistrate court in Nigeria to disqualify Tinubu from participating in the presidential poll on his claim that Tinubu forged his university certificate submitted to INEC.
According to the lawyers, Enahoro-Ebah had “utilized a Chicago law firm to unilaterally (without court approval) issue a subpoena to Chicago State University ‘to test the truth and veracity of Mr. Tinubu’s assertions . . . that he attended various educational institutions located in the Chicagoland Area’.”
Aside from the discrepancies in the dates, logo and signature on the two certificates, Enahoro-Ebah had told the tribunal during his testimony that other documents relating to Tinubu’s admission into the Chicago university showed differences in age and gender. While one certificate showed Tinubu as male and born on March 29, 1952, the other showed female with date of birth as March 29, 1954.
Consequently, Atiku, a few weeks ago, brought an Application for an Order Directing Discovery from the Chicago State University, before the Illinois court.
The application, which was brought pursuant to 28 United States Constitution 1782, asked the court to order the university to release information in the United States for usage in a court in Nigeria.
In the case marked: 1:23-cv-05099 and filed by Angela Liu, Atiku disclosed that the application was necessitated by his inability, including the use of subpoena, to get the university to confirm or deny the issuance of two diploma certificates with different dates to Tinubu.
While Nigerians still await the judgement of the five-member panel, likely to be delivered not later than next month, a new twist emerged in the certificate saga, with Tinubu in a fresh suit admitting that the Chicago certificate he paraded and the one presented by Enahoro-Ebah to the presidential tribunal were both issued by the same institution. He said the discrepancies were due to the “scrivener’s error” caused by the institution.
Tinubu’s explanation was contained in his response to an order by Magistrate Gilbert to show cause why Atiku’s request for the release of his academic records with the Chicago State University should not be obliged to prosecute his petition in Nigeria.
In the reply dated August 23 and filed by his lawyers, Oluwole Afolabi and Christopher Carmichael, the president noted that the anomaly occurred in the institution’s bid to respond to an alleged illegal subpoena by Enahoro-Ebah.
The documents read in part, “Chicago State University then purportedly provided documents in response. Those documents have apparently been utilised by the public interest litigator and bloggers to attack President Tinubu’s character.
“Unfortunately, in responding to the illegal and invalid subpoena, CSU made several errors. CSU issued a new diploma for Bola A. Tinubu, but incorrectly wrote the date of graduation as June 27, 1979.
“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.
“CSU confirmed that Bola A. Tinubu attended and graduated from Chicago State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.”
The lawyers pointed out that regardless of the purpose of the application, the affidavit confirming Tinubu’s degree from Chicago State University should end Atiku’s quest to delve into his political opponent’s academic records. They argued that Atiku’s application was not relevant to the petitions pending before the tribunal and as such the court should not grant it.
Tinubu urged the court to disregard the application on the grounds that it did not seek information relevant to or admissible in the pending election proceedings cited and referenced in the application.
Carmichael submitted, “The foreign proceeding that Mr. Abubakar filed in Nigeria is an election challenge, alleging improprieties with the operation of the election and the counting of ballots. President Tinubu’s educational background is not part of the electoral challenge.”
Faulting the application further, Carmichael argued that Tinubu’s educational background appeared to be part of different proceedings that Atiku was not party to, adding that Section 1782 upon which the application was predicated did not authorise fishing expeditions to satisfy Abubakar’s curiosity.
Carmichael said, “Rather, Section 1782 permits interested persons to obtain testimony or documents for use in a foreign proceeding. Here, the information sought is not part of the election proceedings that Atiku’s Case: 1:23-cv-05099 was filed. Under the circumstances and the applicable standards, the application should be denied.”
The US lawyer affirmed that the problem over Tinubu’s CSU certificate started when the institution, following a purported subpoena obtained by counsel to Enahoro-Ebah, “issued a new diploma for Bola A. Tinubu, but incorrectly wrote the date of graduation as June 27, 1979. (Exhibit 3, CSU Registrar Affidavit, ¶ 5.)
“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.”
He stated further that the university confirmed that Bola A. Tinubu attended and graduated from Chicago State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.
According to Carmichael, “The information sought is not ‘for use’ in the electoral ballot counting challenge filed by the applicant, and the applicant is not an ‘interested person’ in the other proceedings where the material could potentially be relevant.
“The discretionary factors weigh against allowing the discovery because the interested parties here are also parties in the foreign proceeding, and there is no indication that the electoral court would accept information unconnected to the ballot counting challenge.
“Lastly, the subpoenas are intrusive and overbroad and unnecessary considering the affidavit provided by Chicago State University’s registrar, which clearly and conclusively establishes that Bola A. Tinubu graduated with a degree from CSU in June 1979. The application should be denied.”
Meanwhile, the CSU, in its response to the court’s order of August 9, explained, “The University Defers to Intervenor Tinubu Concerning Privacy and Relevancy Issues.”
According to the institution’s lawyer, Michael Hayes, the information about Tinubu’s academic record that Atiku was seeking from the university through two separate subpoenas were personal to Tinubu and could not be released without his consent.
“But since Tinubu has intervened to oppose this discovery, the university defers to Tinubu on the privacy issues implicated by Abubakar’s application,” Hayes submitted.
The institution told the court that it also deferred to Tinubu on whether any of the discovery information sought was appropriate under section 28 of the United States Constitution 1782, including whether it was relevant to the pending Nigerian proceeding.
The university further queried the relationship of Tinubu’s academic record in its custody with the petition before the tribunal in Nigeria.
The counsel said, “The University struggles to understand how – given that Tinubu did in fact graduate from the university in 1979 – Tinubu’s grades and other student records from the 1970s and date and signatory information on subsequently issued ceremonial diplomas could possibly have any bearing on a 2023 election challenge in a foreign country.
“But the university is admittedly not familiar with the issues in the Nigerian proceeding or the evidentiary and other legal principles applicable therein. Accordingly, the university defers to Tinubu – who obviously is familiar with these issues and directly involved in that foreign proceeding – to advance procedural and relevancy objections to the Application.”
Hayes subsequently urged the court in ruling on the application to “scrutinise both the actual status of the Nigerian proceeding and the likelihood that any discovery information provided by the university would in fact be considered in the Nigerian proceeding”.
While observing its rights to object to the scope of the discovery sought by Atiku, the lawyer urged, “In the event the court determines to allow any discovery to proceed here, the university urges the court to direct only limited, targeted discovery on the university.
“As leave to issue any discovery has not yet been granted, and the court’s views on what if any discovery is appropriate here under 28 U.S.C. §1782 are not yet known, it is premature for the university to raise objections to the scope of the documents and information sought in Abubakar’s two subpoenas.
“But without limiting further objections, which the university expressly reserves, the university notes that the scope and relevancy of Abubakar’s requests are clearly inappropriate. For example, Abubakar’s document subpoena Request No. 5 seeks information on diplomas issued by the university for a 44-year period (1979 to the present), and Abubakar’s deposition subpoena Topic No. 7 seeks information on the employment status and reasons for departure of a former employee in the university’s General Counsel’s Office.
“Following this court’s ruling on the application, should any discovery be permitted, the university will meet and confer promptly and in good faith with Abubakar’s counsel to attempt to address all the university’s concerns.”