The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on Tuesday adjourned ruling on a subpoena application for Bola Tinubu’s records from Chicago State University (CSU) shortly after the institution denied knowledge of a certificate the Nigerian president submitted to the country’s electoral commission INEC to run for office.
Before Judge Jeffrey Gilbert in Chicago, CSU lawyer Michael Hayes categorically stated that the school was not in a position to authenticate Mr Tinubu’s certificate as either fake or genuine, a position that contradicts the school’s previous assertions that it issued a certificate to the Nigerian politician after he graduated in 1979.
“Is the diploma authentic or is it a forgery? My client can’t answer yes to either of those questions,” Mr Hayes said at the hearing in Chicago that began at about 1:30 p.m. (local) and lasted several hours in the lawsuit brought by Atiku Abubakar, Mr Tinubu’s main challenger during the February 25 presidential election.
The lawyer insisted that the school’s administrators — if asked under oath — won’t be able to certify Mr Tinubu’s certificate because they “just don’t know” where he obtained it or how.
Mr Hayes was responding to the judge’s inquiry into the school’s ability to confirm under oath that Mr Tinubu was issued the certificate he tendered to Nigeria’s electoral office as part of his final eligibility paperwork in June 2022.
It is against the Nigerian Constitution to submit dubious documents to INEC, and politicians, including governors, have been ousted for similar infractions.
Mr Hayes insisted that CSU records showed Mr Tinubu attended the school, but admitted there were several contradictions that the school’s administrators won’t be able to clarify under oath. Those discrepancies include the June 22, 1977, date that Mr Tinubu’s certificate carried, as well as the school’s president at the time the certificate was obtained and typographical, font and header errors on the document.
On June 17, 2022, Mr Tinubu submitted a certificate to INEC that was purportedly issued in 1979 and signed by Elnora Daniel. But Ms Daniel only arrived at CSU in 1998 from Hampton University, 19 years after Mr Tinubu was said to have graduated. She then left the school in 2008 following a financial mismanagement scandal, or 14 years before June 2022 when CSU issued yet a fresh certificate in Mr Tinubu’s name under subpoena from a Nigerian lawyer who had inquired about Mr Tinubu’s education there.
The jarring contradictions, among others, caused Mr Abubakar to file the suit to compel CSU to produce records relating to Mr Tinubu and make its top officials available for deposition to certify the produced records, according to the Nigerian opposition leader’s lawyers.
Alexandre de Gramont, who appeared in court for Mr Abubakar, said the documents and depositions are being sought for use in the Nigerian Supreme Court, where the final battle over Mr Tinubu’s election is now headed.
Mr de Gramont said the Nigerian Court of Appeal upheld Mr Tinubu’s election in its September 6 ruling because the panel did not have CSU’s position on the authenticity of the certificate Mr Tinubu presented, saying the Supreme Court might be able to admit CSU’s position on the document under a special rule.
“Your Honour, we don’t know whether the Nigerian Supreme Court would be receptive to the new evidence or not, but we just want to be able to present the new evidence to them from CSU,” Mr de Gramont said.
“We already have them (the documents), what we are seeking is CSU’s authentication or their explanation for some of the discrepancies.”
Mr Abubakar has until September 20 to appeal the September 6 decision of the Court of Appeal, which is the first instance court in the presidential election tribunal process in Nigeria.
Judge Gilbert said the court has always taken a liberal and broad view in granting similar requests under Section 1782, a statute that allows the release of documents and evidence domiciled in the U.S. to be obtained and used in a foreign proceeding.
Mr Tinubu’s lawyers, represented via telephone conference by Christopher Carmichael, said Mr Abubakar was on a fishing expedition, noting that the previous statements of CSU to the effect that Mr Tinubu graduated from the school were enough.
Mr Carmichael said there was no need to produce further evidence or place the school’s officials under oath to speak to the authenticity of Mr Tinubu’s certificate, saying the proceeding would only fuel online trolls because the Supreme Court won’t accept new evidence even if produced.
Consequently, Judge Gilbert said he would need additional time to reflect before ruling on the matter, but asked lawyers to all the parties to go through records submitted before the court and update them if necessary in the meantime. He said a date for a final ruling or additional hearing would be communicated to the parties