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Chicago varsity record: After US expedition, Presidential poll battle returns to Supreme Court

As Chicago State University confirms that President Bola Tinubu graduated from the school, STEPHEN ANGBULU reviews the ongoing legal battle between the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party in the February poll, Atiku Abubakar, and the former Lagos State governor

Chicago State University’s release of President Bola Tinubu’s academic records to the People Democratic Party presidential candidate in the February poll, Atiku Abubakar, has marked a milestone in the ongoing legal battle between the two astute politicians.

On Tuesday, October 3, 2023, CSU’s Registrar, Caleb Westberg, testified in court, confirming that the Bola Tinubu who attended Southwest College is the same person who attended and graduated from the 156-year-old institution in 1979 and also the same person sitting in the Aso Rock Villa.

When Westberg assumed his current role in November 2020, he probably had no hint that he would one day stand in court to affirm the scholarship of a student who graduated from CSU probably before he was born.

Nonetheless, his testimony was crucial because the then-student is a sitting President whose election is under serious legal contests

The registrar’s testimonies are contained in a deposition he made in the Office of Angela Liu, Dechert LLP, on 35 West Wacker Drive, Suite 3400, Chicago, IL 60601, United States.

Days earlier, Liu, a counsel to Atiku got an Illinois court to compel the CSU to release President Tinubu’s academic records to him.

Westberg said the admission letter the CSU issued to Tinubu showed that the student who schooled there from 1977 to 1979 was a male.

Michael Hayes represented the CSU as five other lawyers from Liu’s firm joined by Zoom, while Victor Henderson and Oluwole Afolabi appeared for Tinubu.

Abubakar’s hunt for Tinubu’s educational records may not be farfetched from events which unfolded at the start of the Fourth Republic when both men were elected as Vice President and Governor of Lagos State, respectively.

Nigeria’s checkered history has seen electoral disputes stretch to lengths where political opponents and concerned citizens seek to verify the educational backgrounds of public office holders.

The case of Salisu Buhari from 1999 is a compelling illustration that one may luckily strike gold when nosing through a public officer’s academic history.

Salisu Buhari

Buhari, a charismatic young Nigerian, became Nigeria’s first Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1999.

He stepped into the limelight when he secured a seat in the House of Representatives to represent Nasarawa Local Government, Kano State, on the platform of the PDP.

It was 1999 and the PDP had zoned the speakership to the North-West, Buhari’s region of origin. Sensing the opportunity, the youthful politician threw himself into the race, and amassed the majority of the votes of the PDP-dominated House.

His emergence, dubbed a fresh glimmer of hope for the youth, soon became a catastrophe as his age and (lack of) credentials disqualified him for the job.

Buhari’s troubles started on February 16, 1999, when The News magazine published an investigative report detailing that he never got admitted into Ahmadu Bello University Zaria when the school discovered his credentials were forged.

Consequently, he never participated in the one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corp in Standard Construction in Kano, as he claimed. Neither the NYSC nor SC found his records.

Also, he was born in 1970 as opposed to 1963, which he had claimed in order to get a fighting chance in the race. Being 29 years old disqualified him from the House membership and the speakership race because Section 65(1) of the constitution states that anyone below the age of 30 is disqualified from being a member of the House of Representatives.

Perhaps the biggest saga was the bursting of Buhari’s claim to have attended the University of Toronto and graduated from there.

The News Magazine had written to the University of Toronto to confirm Buhari’s claim, but the university denied any record of his attendance.

On July 23, 1999, 49 days after the report, Buhari, now cornered, resigned from the House, apologised to the nation and his fellow members and was charged with forgery, amongst others.

Atiku’s run for Presidency

The length Atiku has gone so far to disqualify Tinubu’s electoral victory—as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission and upheld by the Presidential Election Petition Court—is understandable for several reasons.

Key among those factors is perhaps his slim chances of running for the country’s highest office in 2027, after trying for several political cycles spanning about 30 years.

Abubakar ran for the Presidency in 1993 under the Social Democratic Party but lost to Moshood Abiola in the primary. However, Abiola’s mandate was truncated when the military dictator, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), annulled the 1993 elections, popularly termed Nigeria’s freest and fairest election to date.

Due to protests that followed the cancellation, Babangida hurriedly handed over power to Ernest Shonekan as the head of an Interim National Government. However, the ING was sacked by General Sani Abacha, ending the Third Republic. Abacha’s five-year dictatorship meant that no political structure could rear its head, and therefore, Atiku and many politicians went underground.

However, Abacha’s sudden death in 1998 and the eventual return to civilian rule tossed Atiku back into national politics. He joined the Peoples Democratic Party and was selected as the running mate to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who won the Presidency in the 1999 and 2003 elections.

Although he retained his seat throughout Obasanjo’s eight years in office, from 1999 to 2007, their relationship was fraught with tension and conflict during the second term. About two decades later, the former President would describe the choice of Atiku as his vice as a “mistake.”

Meanwhile, before his selection as Obasanjo’s running mate, Atiku had won the governorship election in Adamawa State but had to give up the seat before inauguration to join Obasanjo at the federal level. Eventually, their relationship went sour close to the end of their tenure.

Consequently, Atiku, who wanted to succeed Obasanjo, could not secure the latter’s endorsement under the PDP during the run up to the 2007 elections. Obasanjo, however, opted for Umaru Yar’Adua, who is now late. However, in September 2007, Atiku looked elsewhere to realise his ambition; he clinched the Action Congress presidential ticket months after he defected to the party.

Still, he was defeated by the PDP’s candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua. Although Atiku challenged the result of the 2007 election in court, the Supreme Court eventually dismissed his case. Yar’Adua had also reportedly admitted that the election that brought him into office was flawed, but the apex court upheld his election.

In 2009, Atiku returned to the PDP and contested for the party’s presidential ticket in 2011 but lost to Goodluck Jonathan, who went on to win the Presidency.

Not one to give up, in 2014, he dumped the PDP and joined the All Progressives Congress, a party that had newly emerged from the fusion of the Action Congress of Nigeria, All Nigeria Peoples Party, Congress for Progressive Change, and an arm of the All Progressives Grand Alliance.

He contested the party’s presidential ticket in 2015 but was defeated by former President Muhammadu Buhari.

The Wazirin Adamawa returned to the PDP, his former political base, in 2018 and contested the party’s presidential ticket in 2019. This time, he emerged as the party’s candidate. However, despite the endorsement by Obasanjo, who had serially opposed his ambition, Atiku lost again to then-incumbent President Buhari.

Atiku contested against the Tinubu of the APC in 2023 and lost again.

According to the INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Abubakar polled 6,984,520 votes behind Tinubu’s 8,794,726. Labour Party’s Peter Obi came third with 6,101,533 votes.

Atiku’s last battle?

Atiku challenged the results in court, praying the court to nullify Tinubu’s election on several grounds, including alleged electoral fraud. He lost.

On September 6, 2023, the Presidential Election Petition Court faulted his allegations, saying it lacked substance and, therefore, could not stand.

The former VP rejected the Appeal Court’s judgment, vowing to proceed to the Supreme Court.

On September 19, 2023, he filed an appeal at the Supreme Court, seeking nullification of the PEPC’s judgment, which upheld President Tinubu’s declaration as the winner of the 2023 presidential poll.

In the notice of appeal predicated on 35 grounds, Atiku insisted that the tribunal committed a grave error and miscarried justice in its findings and conclusion in its petition challenging the INEC’s declaration of Tinubu as President.

He then requested documents to back his allegation of forgery of the CSU certificate against Tinubu and possibly include them in his appeal at the apex court. The goal is to challenge Tinubu’s qualification to contest the February polls. The PEPC had dismissed the allegation of forgery Atiku filed to challenge Tinubu’s election.

On Saturday, September 30, a US court ordered the university to release the records within 48 hours. CSU, on Monday, presented to Atiku’s legal team a cache of documents connected to Tinubu’s education at the institution and copies of certificates with redacted names issued to other persons about the same time the Nigerian leader finished from the school in 1979.

This was despite Tinubu’s opposing argument that “the Nigerian election proceedings and the Nigerian courts” had explicitly rejected the documents Atiku sought to obtain and tender in his case.

Tinubu had also argued that Atiku’s request “is unduly intrusive because it allows Applicant (Atiku) to conduct a fishing expedition into Intervenor’s private, confidential, and protected educational records.”

Nonetheless, CSU released files containing the President’s admission records and a letter dated June 27, 2022, confirming that he attended the university from August 1977 to June 1979 as an Accounting major. The letter said Tinubu was awarded Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with Honours on June 22, 1979.

CSU’s release of the documents confirmed that Tinubu graduated from the school in 1979. However, observers say the documents raised other questions, such as the unconfirmed reports claiming a female gender was attributed to Tinubu, who is a male.

To this, the school’s Registrar, Westberg, said, “There were materials in Mr. Tinubu’s records that show that he was a male. I see the application to CSU. Mr. Tinubu identified himself as a male. His letter of admission identified him as a male. It says: ‘Dear Mr. Tinubu’.”

On the President’s date of birth, Westberg declared under oath, “We know Mr. Tinubu’s Social Security number. It’s contained in his records. I see the entry on APC’s website wherein President Bola Tinubu was said to have been born in Lagos on March 29, 1952. I don’t have a copy of the Diploma that was submitted to INEC, so I can’t comment on it.

“I am not aware of the fact that in the form that he submitted to INEC, he claimed a different nationality or date of birth.

“Yes, our records show that he was born on March 29. One has ‘1954’ while the other shows ‘1952.’ From time to time, people do make mistakes when making such entries.”

Stakeholders react

Meanwhile, observers have suggested that Atiku’s resilience in court could be linked to his age.

They argued that the former VP, who turns 80 in 2027, might not be the choice candidate for many Nigerians.

Perhaps no one holds this view more strongly than Nwabueze Anyanwu, a political analyst who told our correspondent that Atiku had made mistakes in his legal battle that might turn the odds against him.

He said, “The legal team of Atiku Abubakar made a very big take. If they had presented a plethora of evidence ab initio to the court of first instance, he would have made some headway with his case.

“I doubt if the Supreme Court will take this evidence. I don’t see the court accepting more evidence from him. I think they are coming very late.

“Atiku has been running for President in Nigeria for 30 years. By 2027, he will be over 80 years old. I think he has run enough. He should relax and pave the way for the younger ones.”

Although the Nigerian Constitution does not stipulate a maximum age for presidential aspirants, Jide Ojo, a public affairs analyst, believes he may have become too old to toss his hat into the ring by 2027.

He said, “I’m not sure he would want to return at 80 to be President of Nigeria. He is already 76 years old, and at 76, he is even considered an ancestor by some sections of the Nigerian citizenry.

“So this is his last bus stop, politically speaking. That’s why he will throw everything into this mandate retrieval that he is doing now, going to the Supreme Court to see the possibility of convincing the court that he won.”

Presidency

Meanwhile, the Presidency has said the Nigerian leader does not need to forge education records he has.

On Wednesday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Temitope Ajayi, wrote on his X handle, “We should be clear. In the deposition made by the Chicago State University, there was nowhere the University said the certificate presented to INEC by President Tinubu was fake.

“The University insisted under oath that President Tinubu graduated with honours and even at that, replacements for lost certificates are done by vendors, not the University.

“The claim that President Tinubu submitted a fake certificate to INEC does not make sense. A man cannot forge the academic records he possesses. You can only forge what you don’t have.”

However, Atiku has vowed to continue the fight until the Supreme Court pronounces its verdict on the matter.

On Thursday, the ex-VP filed the evidence obtained from the Chicago State University, United States to strengthen his appeal in the Supreme Court against President Bola Tinubu.

However, lawyers are divided as to whether the Supreme Court can still accept fresh evidence on such matter.  Coming months will tell if the ex-VP has a case or not.

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