President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s legal team has been putting up a valiant fight to keep him from disclosing his true status and identity at Chicago State University (CSU). People are typically proud to show off their diplomas and degrees as evidence of their academic accomplishments. However, in this case, the president and his legal advisors feel that his academic achievements are his own and should not be made accessible for public assessment.
But by making his CSU degree his only academic qualification to run for president, he willingly waived this privilege. For starters, INEC required that candidates for president submit documentation proving they have completed up to secondary school. President Tinubu chose not to affix his secondary school certificate to the INEC paperwork, which is the minimum criterion for academic eligibility for presidential candidates.
Tinubu’s CSU credential might not be as much of a problem as it is if he did not rely on it as his sole educational entry qualification. The President voluntarily decided to attach his CSU diploma as his only academic credential to run thus making it a public document. He then spun around and argued that it was a private document and shouldn’t be examined. His legal team is making an odd argument, but they should know better and be able to advise the president properly.
The CSU certificate of Tinubu is riddled with problems. The President and his handlers started playing the card too close to their chest, covering the citizens’ eyes for no apparent reason, which raised the threshold of suspicion.
To begin with, the seemingly duplicitous certificate is linked to two dates, two distinct signatures, and two dates of birth. And it does seem like identity theft is now the main problem—or, as we say locally, the “Koko of the matter”—in this situation. How? They now claim that the admission through which the president joined the CSU was never actually his and may have belonged to someone else—worse still, a girl.
One may recall that during the intense campaigning for the 2023 presidential election, many claimed that Tinubu was, among other things, one Amoda Ogunlere from Olagbiji in the state of Osun. The identity of a candidate has never been so cloaked in secrecy and controversy in Nigerian history. Yet, informed citizens are in a tizzy, supporting it and intimidating others who dared to voice concerns.
Perhaps Atiku Abubakar had to seek help from the American Judiciary because Nigeria’s legal system and moral compass were unable to provide the president provide the needed information on his educational background. If so, the Nigerian judiciary, which has not found any wrongdoing in the entire embarrassing case, is being indicted by this.
Atiku went to a magistrate court in Chicago United States under a District Judge, Nancy Maldonado, who decided that the former vice president had a right to be given access to the information he requested. Tinubu’s legal team appealed twice.
To obfuscate this request further, Tinubu’s legal team petitioned that Atiku should only be given the certificate, not the entire academic record of the President. Atiku wants more. Tinubu’s attendance at CSU seems to be established. He did. But who was accepted into the institution? Was that the Tinubu that Nigerians are all familiar with or another Tinubu who might even be a woman?
But of what significance is this information sought by Atiku, assuming it is what is alleged, and what ‘irreparable damage’ Tinubu’s lawyers talked about? Here is the answer: The Supreme Court of Nigeria has the final say in the outcome of the presidential election. The PEPT’s decision to acknowledge Bola Ahmed Tinubu as lawfully elected and returned by INEC has been challenged by Atiku Abubakar/PDP and Peter Obi/Labour Party and can be upturned under some circumstances.
Normally, the appeal court (in the presidential election petitions, the Supreme Court of Nigeria) merely reconsiders the decision of the lower court and the reasons for the decision. This means that no new evidence should be considered in an appeal. The key point in Atiku’s plea is that this isn’t always the case. There are some circumstances in which the Supreme Court may admit the information provided by the CSU, and if that occurs, then what?
The Supreme Court held in a landmark decision in 2011 that courts might admit evidence that cannot be produced during the trial. The Supreme Court ruled on the court’s discretion to provide leave to adduce new evidence, fresh evidence, or extra evidence thus: “The discretion of the court to grant leave to adduce new evidence, fresh evidence, or additional evidence is properly exercised if it is for the furtherance of evidence on appeal.”
The Supreme Court of Nigeria further ruled that: “The principles guiding the courts in the exercise of discretion to grant or refuse applications for leave to present or adduce fresh or additional evidence on appeal are:
(a) the evidence sought to be adduced must be such as could not have been with reasonable diligence obtained for use at the trial;
(b) the evidence should be such as if admitted would have an important, not necessarily crucial, effect on the whole case; and
(c) the evidence must be such that it is credible in the case that it is capable of being believed and it need not be incontrovertible.”
The appellant’s affidavit evidence in the extant election appeal petition under reference, where the Supreme Court of Nigeria rendered this landmark decision, demonstrated that the appellant was unable to present the evidence during the trial due to events beyond his control, particularly time constraints imposed by the evidence supplier’s end. The Supreme Court accepted the evidence in that election petition appeal trial based on these criteria and rendered a decision in favour of the appellant based on the lately filed evidence.
So, those who argue that Atiku’s case is at best a moral one can see that there are extraordinary moments when the Supreme Court can become an evidence court and this CSU saga appears to be one.
The names of the Supreme Court judges who sat in the said decision were: Bode Rhodes-Vivour, SCJ (who authored and read the majority opinion), Suileman Galadima, SCJ, John Afolabi Fabiyi, SCJ, and Walter Samuel Nkunu Onnoghen, JSC (who presided).
The judgment day: Friday, 20th May, 2011.
The lawyers, who defended the appellant, interestingly were Chief Wole Olanipekun, SAN, and Chief Chris Uche, SAN. Both men are now seated on opposing sides, with Wole Olanipekun heading President Bola Tinubu’s legal team and Chris Uche heading Atiku Abubakar’s.
It will be fascinating to watch what the two eminent lawyers have to say to the Supreme Court this time. But no matter what, the Federal Republic of Nigeria will suffer irreparable harm in the eyes of the international community if what Atiku Abubakar is stating turns out to be true. It speaks volumes about the country’s justice system, democracy, and integrity of the nation and it may take decades to undo the damage.
Yes, if Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president who has consistently battled for democracy, proves the identity theft charge against the Nigerian president, it will have very dire consequences. On a positive note, the nation’s democracy would be defended for the third time by the former vice president.
The first would be his understated role in bringing about the current democratic dispensation, which led to his nomination by Olusegun Obasanjo as vice president after the latter had become the flagbearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and eventually President. One of the few civilians that the military turned to bring about the current democratic governance and ultimately the Obasanjo Presidency was Atiku.
The second was resisting Obasanjo’s third term scheme, a ruse intended to transform him into a life president of Nigeria. Now, against all odds, the same Atiku is close to revealing the identity of and solving the puzzle of the man who has wriggled into the position of President of Nigeria against all the odds.
Nigeria and the world wait with bated breath.
*Dr. Mefor, an Abuja-based forensic and social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.