Sequel to the deposition made by Chicago State University, CSU Registrar Mr Caleb Westberg in Chicago, Illinois,United States of America, USA on October 3 following judge Nancy Madonnaldo, a district court judge’s ruling on 30th September that Wazirin Atiku Abubakar, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s 2023 presidential candidate’s lawsuit demanding the release of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s academic records from CSU to him for presentation as evidence to the Supreme Court in Nigeria, there has been multiple narratives about the outcome of the legal process.
The subsequent deposition by CSU registrar as a star witness followed the Discovery order on CSU by the same judge Maldonado who had also compelled the institution that President Tinubu attended for his undergraduate degree, and from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1979, to hand over his academic transcript to the petitioner.
After the Discovery order had been complied with by the university and the Deposition had been made by CSU’s registrar, both sides of the divide have been claiming victory.
Arising from the above, the multiple and conflicting narratives about the unfortunate CSU certificate saga have fouled up the political atmosphere to the extent that Nigeria’s political environment has become too toxic owing to the alarming volume of bile and hate that most public commentators, who have been usurping the role of judges of the law courts,have been spewing into the political environment, and by so doing heating up the polity with the unwary members of society becoming highly incensed.
In light of the very high level of attrition that the CSU certificate presented by President Tinubu to INEC has generated, it appears as if court sessions are now literally being conducted in motor parks, barbers shops, hairdressing salons, malls ,places of worship (both of the Christian and Islamic faiths) in village meetings and even in the coven of marabouts and witches.
That is perhaps why there has been an unprecedented number of extreme opinions on the matter of Tinubu’s presidency.
As soon as the case became more of a subject of public opinion than a matter being adjudicated in the court of law, the current bedlam trailing it was not unexpected and as it was bound to happen.
The reason for such a negative prognosis is that we are currently in the age of fake/alternative news that can be driven by Artificial Intelligence, AI which can be used flawlessly to make a man say what he had not really said or did not mean to say, thereby miss informing the unwary and vulnerable members of society.
In this instant case of the controversy over the authenticity of President Tinubu’s university certificate that has practically seized the public space,physically and virtually, courtesy of the feuding parties (particularly the appellant,Wazirin Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition PDP’s camp) that has allegedly been making all the documents submitted to the court of law also available in the court of public opinion, one wonders if Nigeria is not experiencing a gradual death of the judiciary in the manner that the executive and legislative branches of government have lost their salt in the eyes of the critical mass of Nigerians?
The fear being expressed above is justified by the high level of emotions trailing the current epidemic of fake news swirling around the CSU certificate presented to lNEC and the legitimacy of president Tinubu’s mandate.
As it is generally believed that the judiciary is the last bastion of hope for the common man, one is left with no choice than to wonder how the matter would end up, when the esteemed judges of the Supreme Court eventually give their verdict on or before 6th of December, which is the end of the deadline of sixty (60) days allowed by the provision of the Electoral Act 2022 for the presidential election result currently on appeal for review by the apex after the PEPT judgement of 6 September.
It is from the prism of the imminent or unfurling death of the judicial system in Nigeria owing to the fact that everybody has suddenly become pseudo and quasi judges, which is symptomatic of loss of confidence in the judiciary by folks who are holding very strong opinions over the election of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, that l wish to examine the ongoing political/judicial imbroglio arising from president Tinubu’s CSU certificate controversy currently threatening to suffocate our country, literally.
Somehow, it is rather unfortunate that nearly nine months (February 25) after Nigerians elected their president and six months (May 29) after the new president had been sworn into office and a period that our president should be tackling a hydra headed monster of socioeconomic challenges of multi dimensional poverty and acute insecurity tormenting our country,it is issues around the legitimacy of the president’s mandate that have been occupying the minds of Nigerians who have converted themselves into emergency court judges of sorts.
The evolving unfortunate situation of usurpation of the power of judges and arrogation of the same authority to themselves by the pundits who are presiding in the courts of public opinion, as opposed to the real courts of law where the constitutional responsibility to adjudicate on election matters resides is a new phenomenon in our country which is worrying.
The ideal and preferable situation would have been that Nigerians at this point in time would have been debating and contributing their bright and actionable ideas on the best pathway out of a monumental debt overhang estimated to be in the region of N88 trillion; a galloping inflation rate in the neighborhoods of 25% owing to the removal of subsidies on petrol and naira; a crippling debt servicing ratio that is believed to be at par with our country’s income,or even outstripped it, implying that basically all of our country’s income is being applied in paying debts and a crisis situation that has forced most Nigerians into a state of despair and despondency.
It is gutting that instead of all eyes being riveted on how we can all put our hands on the deck to help navigate our ship of state out of the stormy waters in which it is currently sailing,millions of Nigerians,including those with empty stomachs have over the night become experts in American jurisprudence and process of earning a degree as well as whether a certificate is as coveted in the US in the way we place so much emphasis on paper certificates in Nigeria which is contrary to the emphasis on academic transcripts which is preferred in the US.
It is based on the scenario described above that l would like to distance myself from the cacophony of voice’s pontificating on the matter.
Quite unlike the pundits making incendiary comments by declaring winners and losers of the case already before the Supreme Court of Nigeria for adjudication on it, I am inclined to make it clear in this intervention that the Discovery ruling on CSU to release the academic records of president Tinubu and the Deposition made by the university’s registrar, Mr Westberg based on the order of judge Nancy Maldonado of Illinois, US district court, is not by any stretch of imagination a final judgement on the legitimacy of the presidency of Tinubu as some aficionados have been making it seem.
Arising from the foregoing reality, l am imploring the already beleaguered Nigerians that they should not believe the hype from all sides of the political camps still jostling for the presidency that has been called in favor of president Tinubu, nearly six months ago. Rather, they are being urged to rely on the pronouncement of the Supreme Court that would take all evidence into consideration before arriving at a verdict that l believe would be transparent and likely acceptable to all the protagonists.
Put succinctly, it is with the aim to discourage the masses from putting their trust in the pervading conspiracy theories and innuendos that have enveloped the public sphere that l have embarked on a mission in this article to help the hapless masses in becoming aware that the Discovery on CSU and Deposition by the school’s registrar under oath have only put an official seal on the evidence from the US which may be presented to Nigeria’s Supreme Court that is currently reviewing the judgment of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, PEPT.
That is assuming it pleases the eminent jurists to admit or reject the new evidence, as the Electoral Act 2022, gives the apex court the privilege to apply its discretion
It is trite to state at this juncture that the epic legal battle on the presidential election 2023 between former vice president Atiku Abubakar and president Bola Tinubu that has been fought in courts across the Atlantic Ocean on two continents- Africa and North America exacerbated the situation which has made the crisis in Nigeria global.
And the negative fallouts of the presidential election result has assumed such a crisis’ dimension given that it has been dominating public discourse since the verdict on the 25 February election exercise was made in favor of president Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the first day of April (1/4/2023) by the INEC that it has presently taken on a life of its own.
It is pertinent to point out at this juncture that apart from the incidence of advanced fee fraud (also known as 419) which has resulted in the worst de-marketing of Nigeria leading to its unfortunate branding as a nation of fraudsters,the controversy over President Tinubu’s CSU certificate has been the next worst thing that has dented the image of Nigeria.
And the unfortunate thing about it is that it is a self-inflicted harm on the image of Nigerian people which may take quite some time to undo.
As to be expected, both the protagonists and antagonists in the matter have been trading blames over who is culpable for the negative blow back that washing the dirty linen of our beloved country in the public arena has triggered.
Now, whether the placement of the matter in the court of public opinion instead of leaving it in the conventional court system is a strategic ploy by the appellant to gain public sympathy which it had been enjoying in the course of the PEPT that gave its ruling on 6 September against the expectations of some members of the public that were promoting narratives from their personal and sectional bias and therefore a ploy to wipe up sentiments is yet to be deciphered.
Nevertheless, the negative sentiments whipped up by the twisted interpretations of the Supreme Court rules and the Electoral Act 2022 provisions regarding the acceptance of new evidence and the place of academic certificate which appear to be a pre election matter,seem to be signaling the imminent death of our law court system as the arbiter in disputes as reflected by the apparent increasing loss of confidence in the judiciary by Nigerians which is a worrying phenomenon that needs to be closely studied with a view to nipping it in the bud before it becomes a culture.
Be that as it may, one thing that is clear is that the much talked about epidemic of fake news is taking its toll on the 2023 general elections.That is in light of the fact that pre and post election activities have taken dominance over not just the political arena, but the judiciary and even the economic space by sucking up all the oxygen in the environment such that the critical mass of Nigerians have been unable to breathe since the race for the presidency commenced roughly 24 months ago.
And the major reason for the heightened political consciousness amongst Nigerians stems from the fact that election 2023 witnessed the highest involvement of our youths otherwise known as Gen Z who actively registered in unprecedented large numbers (97m) to vote after the INEC promised that the elections would leverage technology to produce its outcome.
That INEC proposition created excitement amongst the youths who basically thrive on technology and rule the social media which is an unregulated or under regulated platform for information dissemination that has had disruptive effects all over the world.
For instance, social media had been effectively leveraged in the past by then senator Barack Obama from the state of Illinois to defeat senator Hilary Clinton from the state of New York in the Democratic Party primary elections held.
That happened when Obama, the eventual winner of the contest, deployed it to woo and mobilise youngsters who had never voted in the past to become an active voting base that swung the pendulum in his favor against senator Clinton.
Subsequently, it was alleged that even Russia used information technology and social media to also sabotage the general elections in the US in 2016 during the former Secretary of State, Senator Hillary Clinton’s contest for the presidency against the eventual winner, a real estate mogul Mr Donald Trump who is currently leading in the poll for the 2024 presidential contest.
So, essentially, social media is a two edged knife that can cut from both sides.
While it was salutary that it enabled mass mobilization of our youths hitherto apathetic to voting into a formidable voting force by getting them massively registered, thus enabling them to vote in 2023 elections, on the flip side it is currently fueling the ruckus in the socio/political firmament of our beleaguered country.
That is because the same youths that are questioning the veracity of the election results are using the social media to heat up the polity.
The development would have been okay if the youths are not allegedly being manipulated by suspected nefarious actors who appear to be harboring sinister intentions against our cherished country.
Again, that is essentially why l am urging the electorate -including the usual voters, the new voters comprising of the youths who are voting for the first time and the diaspora Nigerians (hopefully who may be allowed to vote in 2027 elections if NASS passes legislation to that effect) not to fret or believe the hype from the camps of both the winner and losers in the 2023 presidential contest. That is because only the Supreme Court of Nigeria can make a binding decision on the matter and in which l urge them to have faith.
Is it not amazing how the narrative about the 2023 elections which was driven by then candidate Tinubu’s alleged health issues as his opponents claimed that he was incoherent in his speeches and was slipping up and stumbling on campaign podiums, have suddenly disappeared from public discussion?
By what can be deemed as an extraordinary miracle, the alleged infirm Mr Tinubu has since his inauguration been traversing the world from France to the UK to India, Guinea Bissau, Dubai to New York and holding mentally challenging meetings with fellow world leaders and with potential investors across the globe, as well as local politicians, and organized labor back home in Nigeria.
It is indeed incredulous to me that the same Tinubu that has been so parodied is currently a supper man that is engaging in the grueling marathon-race like meetings as earlier mentioned.
I recently came across (in the social media therefore unverified) a statement attributed to president Tinubu accepting to practically bear the cross of being criticized as a price of putting himself up for public office contestations. An excerpt from it goes thus: “I AM A PRODUCT OF INSULTS”
“Some people get easily angry whenever they see me being insulted. I think that is childish. I am a politician and it is my right to be insulted. It is my right to be called names, it is my right to get bad wishes from whoever I outrun in the polity. Politics, sometimes, is a bully game, don’t get distracted, and keep your eyes on the ball. It is a game of numbers but equally important, a game of common sense with the sole aim of improving people’s lives with the right policies.”
The phenomenal transformation of the Tinubu persona from an infirm to a man strong enough to engage in activities that entail superintending over Nigeria a tumultuous time and serving as the Chairman of ECOWAS in the past six months, during which two military coups have occurred in two countries is evidence of what the social media can do by making a man appear to do what he did not do or do as l had pointed out in earlier paragraphs in this discourse. It is on account of the scenario above that l am urging Nigerians not to believe the current hype about President Tinubu’s CSU certificate being fake and the admissibility or otherwise by the Supreme Court, the new evidence from ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar that has practically seized the atmosphere.
A similar situation applies to the PDP presidential candidate, Wazirin Adamawa who is one of the most vilified politicians of our time pre-election 2023, based on allegations that he is corrupt.
It bears recalling that during the run up to the elections, and throughout the campaigns period ,there was a deluge of allegations that the PDP presidential candidate looted our country’s assets when he was vice president to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ (1999-2007) and all the ills bedeviling Nigeria.
He was even accused of being responsible for failed government investments in industries that should have ideally been under the purview of the private sector and also alleged to have sold assets hitherto owned by government to himself and acolytes simply because he led the privatization of public enterprises effort of the ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ’s administration (1999-2007).
It did not help matters that President Obasanjo who was vice president Atiku’s boss continued to tar him with a black brush by labeling him a thief during and after their reign in office and even documented the allegations in his book and continued to rail against his former deputy up till the 25 February presidential election during which OBJ had a horse in the race-Mr Peter Obi of Labour party, LP.
But fast forward to today to see how stunning it has turned out that Wazirin Atiku Abubakar whose name was dragged into the mud pre 2023 election has become in the period after the elections, the poster child of the 2023 presidential elections in the manner that Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory embodies the June 12th 1993 elections that has been adjudged to be the freest and fairest election organised in Nigeria?
At a world press conference held on 6th October following his success in compelling CSU to release President Tinubu’s academic records to him and a deposition made by the school’s registrar,the triumphant presidential flag bearer of the PDP, ex vice president Atiku Abubakar invoked the image of the late human rights icon Gani Fawehinmi (an epitome of honesty) who had unsuccessfully prosecuted then governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu (1999-2007) on the matter a little over two decades ago: “I wish to pay tribute to the late human rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, who inspired us on this path of discovery. Now, he can truly rest in peace in the assurance that what he started about 23 years ago has come to fruition. Gani’s vindication today gives credence to the saying that no matter how fast a lie runs, the truth will someday overtake it.”
That was a positive development for the Wazirin Adamawa as his hitherto tarnished image pre-election has been laundered by the events that have occurred post 2023 elections.
Hence his name is being mentioned in the same breath as Chief Gani Fawehinmi-the mascot of probity and accountability.
But if he fails to win the current case in the Supreme Court, he may retire from politics with a squeaky clean image, since he is currently 76 years old and would be 80 by 2027 which is the next election season and therefore very likely be too old to contest for the office office of president of Nigeria again.
In the course of the same world press conference held to announce that he is challenging president Tinubu’s victory that was subsequently affirmed by the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, PEPT, the PDP 2023 presidential candidate had alluded to leaving his faith in the hands of the Supreme Court to decide.
That is quite the opposite of the situation with the image of president Tinubu who although has been vindicated by showing physical strength and mental capacity after he assumed office as president on 29 May, as opposed to the lies peddled against him in the course of the campaign that he is too infirm to discharge the duty of President and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria; he has been inundated by another deluge of public opprobrium triggered by the controversy stemming from his CSU certificate.
In effect the case against President Tinubu by his challengers in court has pivoted from the claim that he was declared the winner because the result was not passed through the much hyped Biometric Verification System, BVAS by the INEC, to the allegation that he did not attend CSU, thereafter it was alleged that it was a female Bola A Tinubu in her 50s that got admitted into CSU in 1974. After failing to prove the aforementioned allegations beyond reasonable doubts, the latest allegation is that President Tinubu submitted a forged CSU degree certificate to INEC and therefore he was unqualified to contest for the presidency of Nigeria back in February.
Such is the nature of politics which is defined by the fact that politicians do not give up fights until it is really over.
After the 6th September verdict by the PEPT, which ordinarily should have reduced, if not end the tension,majority of Nigerians led by aggrieved politicians were aghast that technicalities rather than the basic rule of law were applied in arriving at the decision to uphold and affirm president Tinubu’s victory at the polls,and mounted a campaign of calumny against him.
Today it is amazing that the same people that had vilified PEPT for relying on technicalities in affirming Tinubu’s victory in the 25 February presidential polls, are pressuring the Supreme Court to rely on technicalities to rule that since CSU registrar, Mr Caleb Westberg admitted on oath that the school did not issue president Tinubu with the certificate that is being claimed to have been submitted to INEC, that he should be stripped of the presidency on account of the notion that technically he is unqualified to run for the presidency since his certificate is not the exact same one issued by CSU.
The high level of emotions trailing the current epidemic of fake news swirling around the CSU certificate presented make one wonder how the matter would end up when the esteemed judges of the Supreme Court eventually give their verdict on or before 6th of December which is the end of the deadline of sixty (60) days allowed by the provision of the Electoral Act 2022 for the case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court after the PEPT judgement of 6 September.
Apart from imploring Nigerians not to believe the hype, l am also advocating that since the record of the Discovery on Tinubu’s academic details from CSU and the Deposition made by the registrar are in the public domain, Nigerians should endeavor to carefully peruse the questions and answers session conducted by Ms Angela Liu, the counsel to Atiku Abubakar on Mr Westberg the CSU registrar and the one conducted by Mr Peter Henderson, President Tinubu’s attorney on the same Mr Westberg on the same issues.
In my assessment, while the former (Ms Angela Liu) tailored her questions to highlight the discrepancies in president Tinubu’s academic credentials,particularly the diploma (certificate) and make it seem like it is forged, the latter (Mr Peter Henderson) framed his questions to connect the dots in order to make it clear that President Tinubu earned the degree accordingly and the errors observed may be clerical and do not vitiate the fact that he attended CSU and was duly awarded the degree that he presented to INEC, although it is not the original one which he lost during his struggle against the military as a National Democratic Coalition, NADECO a pro democracy advocacy group leader.
It is the duty of the highly experienced Supreme Court jurists to identify the salient points in both conversations in order to make justifiable decisions on whether president Tinubu forged his certificate or simply did not submit the original certificate that he was issued upon his graduation from CSU in 1979 due to loss of the document. They would also be seeking to determine whether it was illegal to procure another with or without CSU’s express permission.
And if indeed he procured a replacement, whether it can be said that he forged the one he presented to INEC having reported the original one as missing and if the new one represents a legitimate replacement since the same grade that he legitimately earned as a student of CSU having fulfilled all the conditions precedent to being awarded the degree is what is reflected in the certificate that he presented to INEC.
Navigating their way through all the legal landmines strewn around the issue of reliance or otherwise on BVAS for the presidential result and authenticity of president Tinubu’s degree certificate submitted to INEC and whether it should be admitted as new evidence for the petitioner are the difficulties that the Supreme Court justices have to deal with and it promises to be a tricky one for the eminent and highly experienced Supreme Court justices. That is because right now law and politics have become too intertwined and emotions are running high. Little wonder the chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Kayode Ariwoola on a recent occasion of swearing in newly appointed appeal court justices admonished them not to be intimidated in the course of discharging their duty.
A spectacular post that l recently came across in the social media suggests that the admissibility of the Discovery order and Deposition by CSU registrar, Mr Caleb Westberg is not automatically a bonafide legal document in Nigeria:
“The magistrate’s Court judgment in Chicago – USA that Atiku Abubakar is seeking to utilise to upstage the democratically elected government of the Republic of Nigeria is null and void ab initio because it is coming from an inferior court of competent jurisdiction.
“The judgment would first have to be registered and litigated in the Nigerian High Court before it can be used in the corresponding or higher courts, with parties to rights of Appeal up to the Supreme Court, See section 4 (1) Foreign Judgment (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act.”
The post which must be cold comfort to ex-vice president Atiku Abubakar’s camp , if true, is attributed to one Dr George Ogunjimi.
In an uncanny way,one thing that President Tinubu has going for him is his grit and what appears to be laser focus on harvesting the fruits of his labor by virtue of currently being one of the foremost pro-democracy activist in Nigeria as he was in the forefront of those that chased the military out of the political leadership of our country back to the barracks in 1999.
The assertion above is underscored by the fact that his supporters are making the case that while those engaged in the current showdown with him over his victory at the polls which earned him the presidency of Nigeria, were enjoying in the comfort zone, President Tinubu was a leading member of NADECO that pressured the military to relinquish political power to politicians in 1999.
As legends have it,then senator Tinubu had escaped death by the whispers after which he ran into exile to evade being assassinated by the tyrannical military dictator of that time who was head of state of Nigeria.
Suffice it to say that President Tinubu was literally busy as a pro democracy activist dodging the bullets of the dictators that ruled Nigeria with iron fist in the mid 1990s and whose leader wanted to transform into a civilian president, so he unleashed the brutal force of his goons led by the notorious sergeant Rogers on those opposed to his intentions.
As law enforcement and judicial records have it,the bullets of Sergeant Rogers, it was that felled Mrs Kudirat Abiola, the elegant and courageous wife of the acclaimed winner of the famous 12 June 1993 elections, Chief MKO Abiola of blessed memory.
So, President Tinubu is making a case that it was in the course of his pro democracy activism that led to the pushing of the military from political leadership back into the barracks,that he lost some of his valuable possessions,including the original degree certificate from CSU which got lost and replaced with the one being referred to as forged by his traducers.
All those sentiments are likely to be on display when the Supreme Court would be making its final decision on the matter.
Until then, l would like to once again encourage anxious Nigerians who can not wait for the election impasse to be over so that they can once again get on with life, not to believe the hype.