Academic record: Delay Atiku’s request, Tinubu tells US court

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President Bola Tinubu, on Thursday, filed an emergency motion to stop the Chicago State University, United States, from releasing his academic record to the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.

Tinubu is seeking a delay in the implementation of the self-effectuating order directing the CSU to comply with Atiku’s subpoenas till Monday.

Magistrate Jeffrey Gilbert of the US District Court for Northern District of Illinois, 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 Tinubu at the university, among others.

The All Progress Congress had dismissed the efforts of the PDP standard bearer to obtain the President’s academic record as ‘’an expedition in futility.’’

The ruling party said it had nothing to fear as the President had always boasted that he had nothing to hide.

But Atiku in pursuit of his allegations that Tinubu was ineligible to contest the February 2023 presidential election secured the order to compel the CSU to release the President’s record.

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 adversary.

The judge stated, “This matter is before the court on Atiku Abubakar’s Application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1782 for an Order Directing Discovery from Chicago State University for Use in a Foreign Proceeding (“Application”) [ECF No. 1]. For the reasons discussed below, the application is granted.”

But in a new twist on Thursday, the counsel to the former Lagos State governor, Christopher Carmichael, filed an emergency motion titled, ‘Emergency motion to delay dispositive ruling number 23CV5099’ signed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.

The motion read in part “Intervenor asks this court to enter an immediate order delaying the effect of the magistrate’s order, at least until Monday, September 25, 2023, so the court may fully consider both the scope of the magistrate’s authority to issue the order without review, and the issue of whether the magistrate’s order was a correct application of the law to the facts presented.’’

In support of his motion, Tinubu said his request was based on the fact that the “Applicant (Atiku) is challenging an election that occurred in Nigeria in February 2023. Applicant filed his action under 28 U.S.C. § 1782 on August 2, 2023, after dismissing a similar Illinois State court action that was originally filed July 11, 2023.’’

“The limited time available is therefore due to the applicant’s decision to seek information utilising section 1782 six months after the election concluded. This court referred the applicant’s request to issue discovery to the magistrate. (Dkts. 6 & 7.)”

Tinubu’s legal team argued that he was unaware until the issuance of the ruling directing CSU to release his records to Atiku that the magistrate intended to issue a binding ruling requiring compliance without any action by the court.

The lawyer further argued that “Considering the nature of applications for discovery under 28 U.S.C. § 1782, the Ninth Circuit concluded a magistrate may only report and recommend to a district judge, in CPC Patent Technologies PTY Ltd. v. Apple, Inc., the Ninth Circuit held.”

Tinubu’s emergency motion was electronically filed with the Clerk of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois through the Case Management/Electronic Case File.

Reactions

Reacting to reports that the President was attempting to block the release of his educational record to Atiku, the Coordinator of Tinubu Presidential Legal Team, Babatunde Ogala, SAN, clarified that what they were seeking was a review and not an appeal of the order.

Ogala emphasised that the US magistrate does not have the power to order the university to release non-privileged information, adding that he could only make a recommendation.

He stated, “As I am talking to you, I am in America and on top of this matter. Our people are just making issues out of nothing. What did the magistrate do? I think we need to understand the American procedure.

‘’The magistrate is to make a recommendation to the district judge and not to give a final order. No, he cannot. He has no such powers. And that is what we are saying to the district judge. They are to make a recommendation, which must be within 48 hours.

“In any case, what is the issue here? Whatever you said you wanted, the court said ‘release non-privileged’. After all, they have confirmed that the man attended their school, got his letter of admission as well as first, second, third and fourth semester results.

‘’They have admitted it is their certificate; you (court) are now coming to say they should release the information. For what exactly? They brought his application for admission.’’

Speaking further, the lawyer explained, “What we are even saying is this: We are not filing an appeal but asking for a review against Monday for the judge to pronounce. And we are providing the judge with additional information to say the person they have granted this order was granted purportedly because he said that he wants to use it to pursue his litigation in Nigeria.

‘’There is nothing to appeal as it does not show anything to suggest that he is bringing anything from America. Is that not fraudulent? That’s our contention.”

While accusing Atiku and the PDP of whipping up sentiments on social media, Ogala noted ‘’their chasing of shadows in far away America will end in frustration.’’

He said, “We are saying you, the magistrate, should make a recommendation based on your findings and allow the judge to review and make an order. But you cannot make the order. I am on top of the situation. As I told you earlier, I am in America here on the matter

“So, let Nigerians know it is not an appeal but a review we are asking for. There is nothing to appeal. Atiku and his people are desperate. Rather than pursue, we are waiting for him to serve us their appellant briefs in the Supreme Court.

‘’They are busy chasing shadows in America and seeking every means to whip up social media sentiments to distract us from the gains of the United Nations General Assembly.”

Atiku reacts

Atiku, speaking through his aide on communication, Phrank Shaibu, said Tinubu’s emergency motion confirmed that he had a lot to hide.

‘’He is in the US doing everything to stop the Chicago State University from releasing his records,’’ Shaibu further alleged.

A source close to the former vice president disclosed to the media that Atiku’s lawyers were working to vacate the motion.

The source said, “It is true; By 9pm (today), the emergency hearing will be taking place. That confirms to the blind that what the president is hiding could be worse than imagined. It is a delay tactic and Atiku’s lawyers are working to vacate the motion.”

Also speaking, a National Executive Committee member of the PDP and Deputy National Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor, said they were not surprised by the new development in the case.

He urged Tinubu to toe the part of honour, apologise to Nigerians and step aside for the apex court to determine the true winner of the 2023 presidential election.

But the lead counsel to the President in the election petition case, Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said the issue of Tinubu’s academic certificate was not before the Supreme Court, adding that the legal team was preparing to defend the appeals filed by Atiku and Obi challenging the electoral victory of the former Lagos State governor at the apex court.

When asked about the emergency motion filed to delay the release of Tinubu’s academic record as ordered by the US court, the senior lawyer simply stated he does not want to be distracted by the ongoing case in the US.

He noted, ”We don’t want to be distracted for now because we are preparing for the appeal that Atiku has filed before the Supreme Court; that issue (Tinubu’s academic record) is not an issue before the Supreme Court.

‘’We are facing the issues submitted to the Supreme Court and which issues arose from the proceedings and the judgment of the Court of Appeal. That’s what we concern ourselves with now.

“We are more concerned with Alhaji Atiku’s appeal at the Supreme Court which they have submitted their notice of appeal to us and we are studying the grounds of appeal line by line, paragraph by paragraph, punctuation by punctuation. That’s what we are doing methodically, studying it so we don’t want to be distracted.’’

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