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Chicago academic record: Tinubu, Atiku resume legal battle in US Monday

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Friday, September 22nd, 2023
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The legal teams of President Bola Tinubu and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, will resume a legal battle over the President’s Chicago academic records in a United States court on Monday.

A US District Judge, Nancy Maldonado, had on Thursday agreed to stay an order directing Chicago State University to make Tinubu’s academic document available to Atiku’s legal team.

The hearing came up late Thursday night after the President’s lawyers filed an emergency motion seeking a delay in the implementation of the self-effectuating order directing the CSU to comply with Atiku’s subpoenas till Monday.

Atiku is currently challenging the victory of the former Lagos State governor at the 2023 presidential poll and his recent affirmation by an election petition court in Nigeria.

Earlier, a magistrate, Jeffrey Gilbert, had on Tuesday ordered Tinubu’s alma mater to provide all relevant and non-privileged documents to the applicant, Atiku, within two days.

Documents sought by the PDP candidate, through his counsel, Angela Liu, include the record of admission and acceptance at the university, dates of attendance including degrees, awards, and honours attained by the former governor of Lagos State at the university, among others.

But as the deadline given by Gilbert drew nearer on Thursday, Tinubu’s lawyers approached Maldonado, arguing that the earlier decision by Gilbert needed to be reviewed by a district judge.

The request for a review and delay of the order till Monday was granted by the US district judge.

In the emergency hearing, Maldonado disclosed that mindful of legal deadlines in Nigeria, she would rule on the matter as quickly as possible.

“I will have a busy weekend. The issue is of process and rules. I’m a rule person. That’s why I’m a judge. This case is quite involved. I am aware of the stakes. It’s more important to me to get this right,” she said.

No hiding place

Ahead of the resumption of the case on Monday, however, Atiku’s media adviser, Paul Ibe, told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that the President should not be hiding anything and that the camp would wait for the court process while whatever is being hidden will be unfolded.

Ibe said “What is in that file if it is released that would bring harm that is irreparable to him (Tinubu)? It has become important for Bola Tinubu to let Nigerians know what he is hiding in his academic record at Chicago University.

“We cannot mortgage the destiny of over 200 million people for the interest of one individual. He is bringing embarrassment to Nigeria, it is shameful and it is a tragedy to have something as simple as releasing your records to be subject to public scrutiny.

“Nigerians should begin to take an interest in this matter. Nigerians should be asking questions about what is going on. Why should the President of Nigeria not be a product of due process, transparency and accountability? It has never reached this low and it is unfortunate. We will get him.

 “We will await the court process, they can only stall but finally whatever it is that is being hidden will be released.”

Tinubu’s camp ready

When Saturday PUNCH contacted the Coordinator of Tinubu Presidential Legal Team, Babatunde Ogala, on the team’s preparation ahead of Monday, he said the team members were ready for Atiku’s next move.

He said whatever may be the former vice president’s next plan, members of the President’s team were also not sleeping.

Ogala, who is currently in the US as part of the legal team said, “We submitted our application and the order has been suspended. We are starting all over again.

 “If they like, let them do a Plan C. We are not sleeping either. We will meet them there.

“Instead of recommending to the judge, the magistrate was ruling which he has no power to do. We told the judge and he agreed. So the whole process of what he has done was set aside.”

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria, however, did not speak on whether the President is hiding something from Nigerians and the nature of the “non-privileged” details contained in the academic record in the custody of his alma mater when he was asked.

“There is nothing new to say beyond what you have. We will wait till next week,” he said.

Efforts made to reach the PDP legal team and spokesman for the opposition party, Debo Ologunagba, were unsuccessful as of press time.

NNPP intervenes

Meanwhile, the New Nigeria Peoples Party has called on the President to assent to the release of his academic credentials to douse the growing tension and suspicion of his critics.

The party’s new National Publicity Secretary, Yakubu Shemdam, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, said if the situation was allowed to get out of hand, it might distract even the President.

Shemdam said, “As a party, we have been following the drama. But, of course, we are not part of the people who filed an application to demand his records from Chicago University.

“But we think that if he has nothing to hide, definitely he should do the needful by allowing the people who requested those records to have access to them, especially now that the US judiciary is already involved in the matter.

“The earlier they do this, the better so that the President can continue to focus on the developmental plans he has for Nigerians. This is because what is happening now is causing a lot of distraction in the country. Many people are beginning to agitate and question the motion being filed to stop the release of the documents. There is a saying that a clear conscience fears no accusation.”

Obi’s team speaks

In a related development, the campaign team of the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, said the President needed to present his academic records to prove his critics wrong.

In an interview with one of our correspondents, the Chief Spokesman of Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Yunusa Tanko, said Tinubu’s excuse for holding on to the result was unacceptable.

Tanko said “Can you imagine the President stating in the motion he filed that releasing the result could cause him irreparable harm? You begin to wonder what was that supposed to mean. It is very sad.

“If I am a graduate of Ahmadu Bello University who has my records intact and I know they are clean, why do I have to stop the university from releasing my result? It will assist me if ABU quickly issues it so that I can get out of this particular accusation. What this simply means is that the President has something to hide. The learned judge that they are attempting to blame acted according to his power.

“What the Chicago State University said was that it can only act on an order from the court to release the result. Why is the President not interested in having it published if truly he attended that particular school? This will further make the people more inquisitive to find out exactly what that result contains. If there is nothing to hide, they should publish it so that everybody can go and rest.”

Atiku and his Labour Party counterpart, Peter Obi, had challenged Tinubu’s electoral victory at the Supreme Court following the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal which upheld the President’s mandate on September 6.

Atiku approached the US court for an order compelling the CSU to release Tinubu’s academic record, questioning alleged gaps in the President’s academic history.

Tinubu’s credentials indicated that he graduated from CSU in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, Accounting and Management, but there have been allegations of discrepancies with his academic record.

But justifying his decision to obtain the President’s record, Atiku said unless a clarification was made, it would be difficult for Nigerians to understand the academic journey of the former Lagos State governor.

In response to an order by the court that he should make a formal filing on why his records should not be released, Tinubu claimed a clerical error was responsible for the discrepancies on the certificate issued to him by the university.

According to filings by Tinubu’s lawyers, Oluwole Afolabi and Christopher Carmichael, an unidentified clerk of the university made the error about the date the school stated on his recently-issued certificate, thereby creating “the appearance of differences.”

Regardless of his opposition to Atiku’s application, Magistrate Gilbert ordered the CSU to release all relevant academic records of the President to his political opponent.

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