Alex Enumah in Abuja
Judge Jeffrey Gilbert of a United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division has ordered the Chicago State University (CSU) to produce all records relating to President Bola Tinubu to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar within two days of the court’s order.
The court’s order came a day after Atiku filed his appeal at the Supreme Court, seeking to upturn the judgment of the presidential election tribunal which had on September 6, affirmed the election of President Bola Tinubu.
Judge Gilbert, made the order Tuesday night, while delivering judgment on an application for an order directing discovery from the Chicago State University in respect of Tinubu’s academic records.
The application filed on August 2, was aimed at making available more credible evidence before the apex court to prove Tinubu was not eligible to have contested the February 25 presidential election.
The suit marked No 28C 6099 and titled: ‘Re: Application of Atiku Abubakar for an Order Directing Discovery from the Chicago State University,’ was brought pursuant to 28 U. S. C. 1782.
Atiku who came second in the February 25 presidential election is seeking the nullification of Tinubu’s election on grounds of non-qualification amongst others.
Specifically, the former vice-president maintained that Tinubu ought not to be on the presidential ballot on grounds of alleged perjury and forgery surrounding his academic records submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in aide of his qualification.
Atiku is claiming that Tinubu forged his CSU certificate owing to the discrepancies in the dates of the certificate CSU issued to him in 1979, and the one issued by the same institution last year, following a court order.
Based on the alleged anomalies, Atiku had approached the US court for an order directing the institution to release information regarding Tinubu’s record to him, to prove his pending petition against the declaration of Tinubu as President, at the apex court.
However, in his ruling Tuesday night, the court held that the applicant, former vice-president of Nigeria and presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has shown sufficient reasons why Tinubu’s academic records should be released to him.
Besides, the court also ordered the school’s administrators to authenticate any documents submitted under oath.
A copy of the judgment obtained by THISDAY, noted that the court also frowned at CSU for seeking a protective order to prevent the applicant from accessing the said documents.
Judge Gilbert noted that the, “court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.”
Adding that, “for all of the reasons discussed above, 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 [ECF No. 1] is granted.”
The court further held that the institution “shall produce all relevant and non-privileged documents in response to requests for production Nos. 1 through 4 (as narrowed by the court) in applicant subpoena within two days of the entry of this memorandum opinion and order.
“The deposition of respondent’s corporate designee shall proceed within two days of the production of documents. The parties can modify the dates set by the court by mutual agreement. Given the tight time frame under which the parties are operating, the deposition can, if necessary, occur on a non-weekday,” the court added.
Atiku had in his application for an order of mandamus compelling the CSU to release information regarding Tinubu’s record, had argued that Section 137 (1)(j) of the Nigerian Constitution (amended in 2010) specifically stated that no one would be legitimately elected president of Nigeria if the person, “has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.”
Tinubu had on June 17, 2022, submitted a certificate to INEC that was purportedly issued in 1979 and signed by Elnora Daniel. But Ms. Daniel only arrived at CSU in 1998 from Hampton University, 19 years after Tinubu was said to have graduated. She left the school in 2008, following a financial mismanagement scandal, or 14 years before June 2022, when CSU issued yet a fresh certificate in Tinubu’s name under subpoena from a Nigerian lawyer who had inquired about Tinubu’s education there.
The irregularities prompted Atiku to file the suit to compel CSU to produce records relating to Tinubu and make its top officials available for deposition to certify the produced records, according to the Nigerian opposition leader’s lawyers.
During a hearing on the matter on September 12, the CSU’s lawyer Michael Hayes, had said the school could not authenticate Tinubu’s certificate without the President’s consent or unless allowed to do so via court order.
Tinubu’s lawyers, led by Christopher Carmichael, argued that the court should not grant Atiku’s application because it was a frivolous expedition aimed at soiling the Nigerian president’s image.
Carmichael, also argued that Nigerian Supreme Court would not accept fresh evidence that was not produced during the tribunal proceeding.
But Atiku’s team, led by Angela Liu, argued that the Supreme Court would accommodate the fresh facts under unique circumstances, especially as they were not available to the Court of Appeal, which is the court of first instance in a presidential election dispute.
In his ruling, Judge Gilbert held that courts across the U.S have traditionally taken a broad and liberal view in granting applications under Section 1782, a statute that allows the release of documents and evidence domiciled in the U.S. to be obtained and used in a foreign proceeding.