The United States District Court in Northern District of Illinois has ruled in favour of the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubakar, and ordered the Chicago State University to release President Bola Tinubu’s academic record by Monday (today).
But Tinubu’s lawyers insisted that the documents would not be relevant in Atiku’s appeal against Tinubu at the Supreme Court.
Atiku had earlier secured an order from a US magistrate for CSU to make Tinubu’s academic records available to his legal team.
The magistrate, Jeffrey Gilbert, had ordered Tinubu’s alma mater to provide all relevant and non-privileged documents to Atiku’s legal team within two days.
The documents sought by the PDP candidate, through his counsel, Angela Liu, include Tinubu’s record of admission and acceptance at the Chicago State University, dates of attendance as well the degrees, awards, and honours obtained by Tinubu from the CSU.
But as the deadline given by the magistrate drew nearer, Tinubu’s lawyers approached the US high court, arguing that the earlier decision by the magistrate needed to be reviewed by a district judge.
The request for a review and delay of the magistrate’s order till Monday was eventually granted by the US district judge.
Tinubu’s application, filed by his New York-based lawyer, Oluwole Afolabi, advanced two reasons.
First is that his academic records in issue are not useful in Nigerian courts as claimed by Atiku because “the Nigerian election proceedings and the Nigerian courts have explicitly been unreceptive to the discovery.”
His second reason is that Atiku’s request “is unduly intrusive because it allows the applicant (Atiku) to conduct a fishing expedition into the intervenor’s private, confidential, and protected educational records.”
The former vice president in a fresh response filed last Wednesday, in Chicago, Illinois, charged the court to overrule Tinubu’s request in its entirety.
In a fresh judgment obtained on Sunday, Maldonado noted that CSU did not object to Judge Jeffery Gilbert’s decision that the academic record be made public.
The court held that Atiku’s interest outweighs any intrusion on Tinubu’s privacy interests in his educational records.
The judge overruled Tinubu’s objections to the ruling by the magistrate ordering CSU to make his academic records available to Atiku.
Judge Gilbert also adopted the magistrate’s ruling in full.
The memorandum opinion and order read in part: “For the foregoing reasons, the court overrules President Tinubu’s objections to Magistrate Judge Gilbert’s recommended ruling, and therefore, adopts the ruling in full.
“Mr Atiku’s Application is, therefore, granted. In light of the pending Supreme Court of Nigeria deadline, represented to the court as October 5, 2023, and based on CSU’s representations that it is ready to comply with the discovery requests and produce a witness, the court sets an expedited schedule for completion of discovery.
“Respondent CSU is directed to produce all relevant and non-privileged documents in response to Requests for Production Nos. The Rule 30(b)(6) deposition of CSU’s corporate designee must be completed by 5:00 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, October 3, 2023. Given the October 5, 2023, filing deadline before the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the court will not extend or modify these deadlines.
However, the judge stressed that his verdict “is expressing no view on the merits of Mr. Abubakar’s underlying claims regarding President Tinubu or his graduation from CSU, or on the validity of the Nigerian election. Nor is the court taking any position on what any of the documents or testimony from CSU may or may not ultimately show.”
“The court simply finds, on the narrow question before it, that Mr Atiku is entitled to the production of documents and testimony that he seeks from CSU,” he said.
Reacting to the verdict, a member of the PDP National Executive Council, National Deputy Youth Leader, Timothy Osadolor, described President Tinubu’s appeal as a needless route.
Osadolor, in an interview, said “If he was convinced that has had nothing to hide, there was no need for those appeals against the courts.”
According to him, the US judgment will reinforce Atiku’s appeal before the Supreme Court.
“Tinubu is not who he claims to be and that is what our candidate and our party want to prove.”
Efforts made to reach the spokesman for the All Progressives Congress, Felix Morka, were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, one of the President’s attorneys, Oluwole Afolabi, has played down the importance of his academic documents, saying it will be of no use in Atiku’s Supreme Court appeal in Nigeria.
Reacting in a WhatsApp note published on Sunday by PM News, Afolabi stated that the Electoral Act does not allow for the introduction of new evidence on appeal.
“A party must provide a list of the documents he intends to rely on at the time his petition is filed. A party cannot spring a surprise on his adversary by introducing evidence that was not filed along with the petition,” Afolabi said.
Similarly, the Coordinator of the Tinubu Presidential Legal Team, Babatunde Ogala (SAN), said, “The documents can no longer be used. It is of no value. We have passed that stage.”
“One is whether President Tinubu attended Chicago State University. The answer is yes. Second, what were his grades in school? The school had already provided that,” Ogala said.