There is no evidence that the Chicago State University (CSU) diploma presented by Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to the country’s electoral commission was forged, the BBC’s Global Disinformation Team has said.
Allegations that President Tinubu’s certificate was faked went viral on social media following the release by Chicago State University of his academic records last week.
The BBC Team said it has looked at some of the most widely circulated claims.
According to BBC, the release of the president’s academic documents was the culmination of a judicial case filed in August by one of his main rivals in February’s presidential election, Atiku Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Abubakar was hoping to have the victor disqualified after accusing him of falsifying the CSU diploma of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration awarded in 1979 that he submitted to the electoral authority (INEC).
To obtain evidence for his case in Nigeria, Mr Abubakar approached a US court in August, requesting it to compel CSU to release Mr Tinubu’s academic records through a process called discovery, where the parties exchange information including documents ahead of a trial.
Tinubu’s lawyers opposed the discovery application, citing privacy concerns, but the US court decided it should proceed.
“A copy of any diploma issued by CSU in 1979; a copy of the diploma CSU gave to Mr Tinubu in 1979; copies of diplomas with the same font, seal, signatures, and wording awarded to other students that are similar to what CSU awarded to Mr Tinubu in 1979.
“Documents from CSU that were certified by Jamar Orr, who was then a staff member of CSU, in the 12 months from 1 August 2022 In response to request one, CSU submitted seven diplomas covering different disciplines with the names of the students redacted.”
According to the university’s registrar, these diplomas had not been collected by the students.
In response to request two, CSU stated that it could not find the diploma they issued to Tinubu in 1979, because they do not keep copies of diplomas already collected by students.
In response to request three, CSU stated that it produced for Tinubu a replacement diploma dated 27 June 1979. It also released diplomas awarded to other students that bore similar font, seal, signatures and wordings as Mr Tinubu’s diplomas.
In response to request four, CSU submitted other academic documents initially attested to and released by Mr Orr.
In line with the judge’s ruling, Abubakar’s lawyer Angela Liu last week questioned Caleb Westberg, CSU’s current registrar, in a deposition.
The BBC said it was given access to the deposition transcript by Abubakar’s spokesperson, Phrank Shaibu.
Some social media users in Nigeria allege that the deposition and the diplomas released by CSU confirm that the diploma submitted to Inec by Mr Tinubu was forged. This claim was also repeated by one of Abubakar’s lawyers, Kalu Kalu, at a press conference last week.
“We found there was no evidence to support this claim,” BBC said in its report.
It added that the CSU released several diplomas issued between 1979 and 2003 and the team analysed all of them.
BBC said there are three different diplomas for Mr Tinubu that it refers to throughout its analysis. These are:
The original one, from 1979, which he has said in the past was lost when he went into exile in the 1990s
The second one, that he submitted to Inec – supposedly a replacement diploma from CSU (it is similar to diplomas issued by CSU in the 1990s)
Additionally, CSU holds another replacement diploma for Tinubu that they say is probably from the early 2000s that he never collected
The allegations on social media are based on a comparison between the document Mr Tinubu submitted to Inec and the 1979 diplomas released by CSU.
“During Mr Westberg’s deposition, Mr Atiku’s lawyer focused on the copy of the diploma President Tinubu handed to the electoral commission and suggested that it was unlike any of the diplomas released by CSU.
“However, while Mr Westberg agreed with Ms Liu that the diploma in question does not look like the samples from 1979, he stated that the certificate actually looks like three of the diplomas CSU released to Mr Abubakar. Our analysis confirms this.
“I turns out that the discrepancy in the appearance of the diploma is down to it having been re-issued in the 1990s.
“Mr Westberg said the template of CSU’s diploma has changed several times over the years. He said any request for a new diploma would resemble the current template at that time, no matter when the student graduated.
“As such, if Tinubu had reordered his diploma in the late 1990s, what he would have been given would look like what was obtainable then.
“The copy he gave to the election commission had part of the university logo missing, which Mr Westberg said in his deposition was possibly “cut off” when it was photocopied,” BBC stated.
The international media organisation said it analysed the diploma and it appears in fact that its bottom part was not included during the photocopy process.
The BBC said it reached out to Tinubu’s team to get a copy of the diploma in question, “they sent what they said was the only existing copy of the diploma. It is a black and white photocopy identical to what was submitted to INEC.”
It said, another claim, made by a fact-checking organisation in Nigeria, was that the diploma Tinubu submitted was not from CSU as its diplomas do not include the phrase “with honors” under the degree name.
But BBC found that while this was not reflected in the other diplomas released by CSU, it does appears in Mr Tinubu’s diploma issued in the early 2000s, which was authenticated by Mr Westberg during his deposition.
It has the words “with honors” – a match with the diploma with the same detail submitted by the president to Inec.
The BBC contacted CSU with questions about its diplomas and it referred us to a statement that read in part: “We are confident and always have been in the veracity and integrity of our records regarding Tinubu’s attendance and completion of graduation requirements”.
Another allegation making the rounds on social media is that the person who attended CSU with the name Bola A Tinubu is female.
But BBC said in his deposition, Westberg stressed that there was no confusion about the gender of the person who attended CSU as he was a male named Bola A Tinubu. He said the university used other factors other than the name to authenticate the student’s identity.
According to him, the Social Security Number (SSN) in the transcript from Southwest College matches what it has in other documents in which the student’s gender is clearly marked as male.
However, the released documents did raise questions about Tinubu’s birth date and the secondary school he attended.
“One of the documents stated that Tinubu attended Government College Lagos in 1970. However, information available on the school website stated that it was only founded in 1974.
“Aside from the gender discrepancy, the birth dates in some of the released documents differ from the official birth date of President Tinubu, which is 29 March 1952.
“His transcript from CSU has his date of birth as 29 March 1954. His undergraduate admissions application form has his date of birth as 29 March 1955,” BBC stated.
It reported that Atiku’s lawyer said during Mr Westberg’s deposition that on the forms submitted to INEC, Mr Tinubu had given his date of birth as 29 March 1952.
However, Mr Westberg, during cross-examination, responded that the discrepancies could have been due to human error.
BBC said it contacted Tinubu’s team for comment about these discrepancies and a spokesperson directed us instead to his party – the All Progressives Congress and it then contacted Tinubu’s presidential campaign spokesperson Festus Keyamo, who is also a minister in the government.
The international medium said, Keyamo however did not take its calls or respond to its text and WhatsApp messages.
BBC said it also sent questions to Abubakar’s team but they did not respond.