Why US Court Ordered Chicago State University To Release Tinubu’s Academic Record

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.

Judge Nancy Maldonado of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, held that Atiku’s interest outweighs any intrusion on Tinubu’s privacy interests in his educational records.

Ms Maldonado, a district judge, in her September 30 ruling ordering release of Mr Tinubu’s records, warned that the Nigerian president should not bother returning to her court to attempt obtaining another temporary postponement of the disclosure.

“The court cautions President Tinubu that any request for a stay before this court will be denied, as the court finds any stay impracticable in light of the fast-approaching Supreme Court of Nigeria deadlines,” Ms Maldonado said.

“President Tinubu’s argument and rhetoric as to Mr Abubakar’s likelihood of success at the Supreme Court of Nigeria, or his vigorous disputes with the merits of Mr Abubakar’s underlying claims about the election, do not equate to evidence of the Supreme Court of Nigeria’s receptiveness to assistance in discovery,” the judge said.

‘The discovery sought here relates not only to a prominent public figure, President Tinubu, but is sought as part of an underlying dispute over the Nigerian presidential election, a matter of extreme importance to the Nigerian people.

“The discovery is thus undoubtably of significant importance, as are the issues at stake. And CSU has sole access to the discovery—there is no other way for Mr. Abubakar to access the sought-after information about President Tinubu’s diploma and education,” the court further said.

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, 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.

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 the 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.

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.