President Bola Tinubu’s lawyer, Wole Afolabi in this interview on TVC’s Politics Tonight, monitored by Deborah Onyofufeke, clarifies doubts surrounding the controversial diploma certificate of the President. While maintaining that Tinubu graduated from the Chicago State University (CSU) as attested to by course mate, he said the Atiku Abubakar legal team is only alleging forgery without proof
So, after a protracted legal battle, Chicago State University released President Tinubu’s academic records I’d like you to tell us how it all happened.
Well, the wrong information was planted out there that President Bola Tinubu did not attend Chicago State University (CSU) and someone sold that to Atiku Abubakar on that premise he approached, through his lawyers, the High Court in Chicago asking that his records be released to him because he had it on good authority that he did not attend the university. At some point, he decided to withdraw the case and then he returned to the Federal High Court and then Chicago State University, through the registrar, deposed to an affidavit where it was stated that not only did President Tinubu attend CSU but in fact graduated with high honours in very rigorous accounting. He was one of their best students and no wonder he was hired directly out of college. So confronted with this information and being reluctant to beat a retreat, he pivoted and went in the direction of the certificate that he (Tinubu) presented to INEC was forged. Now, the university came out and said this is their practice, diplomas are merely ceremonial documents; what is important to them and many universities in America is the transcript. It’s in the transcript that you see the grades, courses he took, everything relating to the student, and all that you need to know about students. That’s why the diploma is mainly ceremonial. It’s on the day that you graduate and if you need a replacement you apply for it and get it. So, the university said the practice is once they give it out they don’t retain copies. So having given out the version that the president submitted to INEC, they did not have it in their possession. At some point, the President requested for replacement of the diploma as some students do, it was prepared but the President could not go back to pick it up. He was asked by the registrar why did he not come and pick it up and why did he not ask that it be sent to him and he correctly answered. Why did you not ask him? I am not in a position to respond to that. So, one Mr Enahoro Iba came from Nigeria and requested that a copy of the president’s certificate be handed over to him under a subpoena which was obtained illegally. He had no right to do that. What he did was wrong and the university knew that what he did was wrong because he had no right, especially since the President, was not notified under the FIBA laws. He should have been notified where he could have asserted his rights to intervene and push back if he wanted to. Now, the university, the only certificate that they had on their file of the President was the one that he did not pick up. The university made a copy of it and made it available to Mr Enahoro Iba. Mr. Enahoro Iba went back and did some gymnastics with it, at the Federal or FCT high court, in Abuja. I just know they went to a court in Abuja and asked that the President be prosecuted on the ground that he didn’t go anywhere predictably. Somewhere along the line he was in cahoots with the camp of Atiku Abubakar and he presented everything to them and then as a late measure, he now adopted that as part of their late reply to the petition. It was not part of their petition they only adopted it at a later stage which is not allowed under the electoral laws. Now, they dragged him to the federal court in the US as it is, after the school had said he was admitted they now said let us have a copy of what you gave Mr Enahoro Iba which was also produced. Now, Mr. Enahoro Iba and the legal team of Mr Abubakar, believe that because he had only one certificate for the president the university only had one certificate for the president which was the one that was presented to Iba and with that they now, in their minds predict that the one that was presented to INEC was forged. What they failed to realise was that in America it is not only one diploma that is issued for all purposes; you can have as many diplomas as you want. If you want to apply for it, all you have to do is to pay for it. So, the university only has in its possession the diplomas that were not picked up just as in the president’s case some other students applied but did not pick up their diplomas and this they made available through Atiku Abubakar‘s lawyer for comparison and if you look at what was issued to the president and some of the samples that the university found, you will see the similarities. They are very similar. Honestly to me, with all sense of responsibility and to be honest this is not what we will call cynicism. It just doesn’t make any sense. If the president had not attended the school, that would have made a whole lot of sense but having attended and the university having come out to say yes, he attended and we issued the diploma and we don’t have that on file because we gave it to him. It’s not just him, the other students too, and then a classmate, someone who attended university the same time that he did and studied the same programme deposed to an affidavit and said I know him, we were in the same class, we took the same courses and we participated in a very tightly contested election and he won. The same person who won, who defeated me is the same person who is in Nigeria today. One would have thought that would have ended the matter but now you are saying you want to go to the Supreme Court to introduce fresh evidence and one thing that should agitate the minds of lawyers especially those who are very familiar with litigations regarding election petitions, first of all you are going to Supreme Court to do exactly what? To reintroduce fresh evidence.
Well, let’s speak on these issues one after the other. So the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ordered the CSU to release the academic record of President Tinubu but for the sake of clarity what sort of documents were released by the university?
Virtually everything that was in the file. That was everything that was given to them. That was his grades, his transcripts, everything.
If you say everything and what was released, please can you be specific?
Number one, they released his transcripts, which showed clearly that he took courses from the school in Erica where he graduated. His transcript from the junior college he attended; South West College was equally released and handed over to them, his application letter, wherein he checked off the box mail was released, his letter of admission wherein he checked led off the box wherein he was addressed as Mr Tinubu was also released to them. They also gave him samples of the diplomas that they issued about the same time. Those are the things that they handed over to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s lawyers in Chicago.
But many were taken aback by the president’s lawyers’ appeal to the court that releasing the academic record would damage him irreparably. Why did they say this to the court?
You see, that was a lawyer’s language as legalese now any lawyer that you speak to who’s a practitioner will tell you that when you approach the court of law to get an interlocutory release that is after someone gets a judgement or ruling against you and you want to appeal. So, you can go to court and say we want a stay of execution meaning don’t do that thing before this appeal or this review as in this case is done so essentially one of the things that you have to satisfy the court with is this, you have to tell the court that look your honour if you go ahead and you allow these documents to be released now, irreparable harm would have been done. What does that mean in everyday language, it means that once the genie is out of the bottle you can’t put it back. Now, we contested based on FEDRAP laws (Federal Educational Rights Privacy Acts) that a student is entitled to protection, that a student’s records are entitled to protection that was what we maintained. You know I have three kids here, one has graduated college, and two are still in college. I don’t have access to their records, I can’t go to their registrar and say hey I’m paying their tuition turn these things over to me, no. I can’t do it. I can’t do it. So we maintained that under FEDRAP, the president is entitled to privacy to his records unless he wants to release them. So, the magistrate judge, Gilbert, having ordered that the result be released within 48 hours we were just a few hours away from reaching the time frame so we went to George Maldonado and said your honour, put a stop to the execution of this order because if you don’t and these records are released then there will be nothing for you to review anymore that was all that we meant by that not irreparable harm as in being shot or being killed or no. It is a legal term. I mean if you are asking for a stay, you must demonstrate that if this order is not granted then your honour there’ll be nothing before you to review and the judge listened to us and granted that order. The judge agreed with us that if I don’t stay the execution of the order of Magistrate Judge Gilbert and these documents are released right now if you come back to me then there will be nothing for me to preside over. It will be spent so that was the context in which it was used and lawyers do that every single day in both jurisdictions. I mean it is done in Nigeria which is a common law country, it is done in America. It is just a requirement of the law. Let me give you a practical example, you go to court and you have a land case and someone is about to build on your land, and then you go to court and say, my Lord, I need you to stop this individual from building on my land and you say one of the things that will happen is if he’s not stopped irreparable harm will be done to me what do you mean in that context? The land and the topography would be changed and maybe you wanted to build a bungalow, that was your plan, and then the person now built something else so that was the context. There was no physical threat.