Court orders release of Nigerian president’s academic records

Chicago State University (CSU) in the United States on 2 October released information related to the academic qualification of Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Tinubu’s academic record forms part of an ongoing challenge to undo the outcome of his election as president in February.

In further court proceedings on 4 October, CSU indicated it did not release the qualification to Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). However, before the election copies were submitted to INEC, raising concerns about their authenticity.

On 2 October CSU released information that shows that the university issued a bachelor of science qualification in business and administration to Tinubu in 1979. The university, however, covered the part of the certificate containing Tinubu’s name, citing “privacy reasons”.

According to the university, which released the record in compliance with an order on 30 September from the District Court of Northern Illinois, Eastern Division, it could not find the original copy of the document it issued in 1979 to Tinubu.

It did, however, issue redacted copies of diploma certificates issued to other students at the time.

According to CSU, it does not keep records of ‘diplomas’ and “after a diligent search” could not trace Tinubu’s, reported the Daily Post.

Former vice president and 2023 presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar, who was a candidate in the election, requested Tinubu’s CSU records so that he could compare them with what Tinubu submitted to the INEC.

Legal experts say that any discrepancies in the academic records submitted by candidates, for instance in terms of the name or gender on documentation, could mean the INEC was misled, that the candidate was not supposed to participate in the election and should be disqualified.

Why do the records matter?

Atiku and Tinubu were two of the three major candidates who vied for the presidency. While Atiku ran under the People’s Democratic Party, Tinubu contested on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress. Peter Obi of the Labour Party was the third major contender.

On 1 March, the INEC, Nigeria’s electoral umpire, declared Tinubu the winner and he was sworn in on 29 May.

The two runners-up rejected the results and sought redress at the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal (PEPT).

Atiku requested Tinubu’s CSU records so that he could compare them with what Tinubu submitted to the INEC.

Atiku and his party alleged that Tinubu failed to disclose details of his academic qualifications in form EC9 – an – affidavit in support of particulars of persons seeking elective positions.

Tinubu, who was a two-term governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, had said he was awarded a BSc in business administration from CSU, but claimed that his academic certificates were stolen during a raid on his house when he was in self-exile, Daily Trust reported.

Unlike in his previous submissions to the INEC as a governorship aspirant, Tinubu did not disclose any information about his primary and secondary school education in the presidential declaration form he submitted to the INEC.

Among other specifications, a secondary school certificate is the minimum constitutional requirement for any Nigerian citizen seeking to become president.

At the PEPT hearing, Atiku and his party presented certified true copies of Tinubu’s CSU records, through a witness, Mike Enahoro Ebah, who testified that Tinubu forged his academic records.

He told the court the transcript marked the gender of the Tinubu who attended Chicago State University as female, according to reports.

But, in its ruling on 26 September, the tribunal, led by Justice Haruna Tsammani, struck out the petitions filed by Atiku and Obi and upheld Tinubu’s victory.

The two candidates appealed the ruling at the Supreme Court in a last-ditch effort to get Tinubu disqualified and have until 5 October to file all their evidence, including Tinubu’s academic records, which were released and can be compared with what he submitted.

How will this affect the tribunal?

Reacting to the ruling, an attorney to Tinubu, Oluwole Afolabi, was quoted by PM News as saying: “The Electoral Act does not allow for the introduction of new evidence on appeal [at the Supreme Court].”

But a senior advocate, Clement Onwuewunor, faulted Afolabi’s argument, saying evidence not tendered at the Presidential Elections Petitions Tribunal can be introduced at the Supreme Court if such evidence had not been available at the time the tribunal decided on the case.

“If the beneficiary [Atiku Abubakar] can prove that the evidence is vital and would fundamentally help in deciding his case, the Supreme Court will accept it. One of the grounds of the petition [by Atiku] is that he [Tinubu] was not qualified to contest. Under Section 182 of the constitution, if it can be established that those academic records were falsified, it means he presented a false certificate to the INEC and the implication is automatic disqualification,” Onwuewunor told University World News.

Adesina Ogunlana, a former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, said the claim that the Supreme Court would not entertain fresh evidence betrays the principle of social justice, citing the position of a British jurist, Edward Denny, well known as The Lord Denny.

“The Lord Denny, in one of his cases, said: ‘the mere fact that something has not been done before does not mean it cannot be done and if there is no precedence for it, we the court will set the precedence’. The principle of law says that, even at the Supreme Court, just before judgment, you can raise the issue of jurisdiction.

“If the university reveals the result and there are serious discrepancies pointing that the name or gender is different from the person who has been parading himself as a graduate of CSU, it is novel. It means the INEC was misled and the election was a sham. He was not supposed to be in the race in the first instance. What should happen at the Supreme Court is that he should be disqualified,” he said.