A degree certificate President Bola Tinubu presented to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the presidential election did not come from Chicago State University, according to Peoples Gazette.
The paper reported that this was revealed at a deposition of school officials on Tuesday in Chicago.
Caleb Westberg, the registrar at Chicago State University, said Mr Tinubu’s certificate, dated June 22, 1979, and tendered to INEC on June 17, 2022, was not issued by the school and its administrators could, therefore, not be able to authenticate its source, The Gazette learnt.
Mr Westberg, CSU’s registrar since November 2020, also said, during the deposition that lasted about 5.5 hours, that Mr Tinubu did not apply for a replacement certificate, nor was he ever issued one.
The categorical statement capped a successful outcome for the monthslong legal strategy of Atiku Abubakar, Mr Tinubu’s main opponent, who approached the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago to ascertain the authenticity or otherwise of the document. Federal district judge Nancy Maldonado granted a final order for CSU administrators to turn over all documents relating to Mr Tinubu to the school and also sit down for deposition by an adversarial team of lawyers deployed by Mr Abubakar.
Mr Tinubu, sensing the intractable consequences of the proceeding, vigorously fought to thwart its successful outcome, with his lawyers warning the judge in a September 21 hearing that releasing the documents with deposition would inevitably inflict severe, irreparable harm against the Nigerian president.
The school had long insisted that Mr Tinubu was its student, entering in 1977 and graduating in 1979, but its inability to authenticate the certificate the Nigerian president submitted would ripple through Nigeria’s over 200 million population for the foreseeable future.
Previously in 1999, Mr Tinubu had lied under oath when he ran for governor of Lagos, claiming he obtained a degree from the prestigious University of Chicago. However, he managed to escape being held accountable for the breach because he had been elected before it was discovered, and he did not submit a certificate backing his claim, only an affidavit that was later found to be fiction, and the Nigerian Supreme Court said he could not be charged with crimes as a serving governor. He subsequently stopped claiming attendance at the University of Chicago, holding on instead to a claim that he attended Chicago State University, one of Illinois State University campuses traditionally popular among black people.
A spokesman for the president was not immediately available for reaction to the development on Tuesday night. But the president’s allies have suggested publicly that the evidence was inconsequential and propagated the Supreme Court’s readiness to throw it out.
The president’s allies are also banking on the muddled circumstances of the president’s certificate spiel, believing his Nigerian lawyers would be able to convince the Supreme Court to focus more on the school’s position that Mr Tinubu was a student rather than how he came about parading a forged certificate.
On Monday evening, shortly after the school dumped records into the electronic filing portal used by lawyers to all parties, Mr Tinubu’s team circulated a misrepresented account of the documents, successfully misleading some media outlets to run a claim that the school had authenticated Mr Tinubu’s certificate.
They also said a replacement was issued to Mr Tinubu on June 27, 1997, in what seemed to be a reference to the certificate the school had submitted following a 2022 subpoena obtained from a state court by Nigerian lawyer Mike Enahoro-Ebah.
Mr Enahoro-Ebah received the certificate, dated June 27, 1979, alongside all academic records of Mr Tinubu from CSU in August 2022. But the certificate was signed by Elnora Daniel and Niva Lubin, who were not at the school in 1979 and carried June 27, 1979, as its issuance date.
After comparing the certificate he was given by CSU to the certificate Mr Tinubu submitted to INEC, dated June 22, 1979, Mr Enahoro-Ebah promptly returned to Nigeria with the records and filed a criminal complaint against Mr Tinubu for forgery. But the case was stalled in an Abuja court for months before the election and has not been heard even months after the election.
Mr Atiku used the conflicting records to approach the federal court in Chicago for a subpoena as part of his ongoing case against Mr Tinubu in Nigeria, culminating in Tuesday’s deposition that established Mr Tinubu forged his certificate in violation of the Constitution.
Mr Tinubu was narrowly declared the winner of the February 25 presidential election, and he was only sworn in on May 29. But today’s development could all but mark a putative end to his presidency due to the constitutional proscription against the submission of a fake certificate to the electoral office.
Section 137 (1)(j) of the Nigerian Constitution (amended in 2010) specifically stated that no one would be legitimately elected president of Nigeria if the person “has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
The records obtained from the school, the deposition and other material collected through the U.S. legal system are now being prepared for onward submission to the Nigeria Supreme Court, where a final decision on the presidential election challenge would be made on or before December 6, 2023.
While the evidence may appear overwhelming to a plurality of Nigerians, its acceptance would still need to cross a formidable hurdle at the Supreme Court. This is because the court has conventionally rejected the introduction of new material at the top court level that was not previously argued during the initial trial.
Mr Abubakar himself admitted before two U.S. judges who heard his discovery application that it would be a daunting challenge to convince the Supreme Court to accept the files, yet not entirely improbable.
Mr Abubakar lost at the Court of Appeal, the initial court for presidential election disputes, when a panel of five judges on September 6 said his petition was too weak to overturn Mr Tinubu’s election.
Mr Tinubu’s lawyers, in the U.S., argued against granting Mr Abubakar’s application to extract their client’s records over an admissibility challenge. But Ms Maldonado, nonetheless, said in her September 30 judgement that the records should be released, and any questions about usefulness would be answered by the Nigerian Supreme Court.
Mr Abubakar filed the application to obtain Mr Tinubu’s CSU records and depose its officials on August 2, 2023, coming under Section 1782, the statute that allows the U.S. to turn over records “for use in a proceeding before a foreign tribunal.”