Chicagogate: A ‘Severe And Irreparable’ Damage

by Amos Kalu


It has happened in the past that some men, great and small, were able to predict looming unsavoury fates. While some of such predictions end up as flukes, others have come in pin-point correct. A few, like Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, went to the extent of predicting their own deaths. It is called premonition.

As the case instituted by Atiku Abubakar at the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, to compel the Chicago State University to disclose Bola Tinubu’s academic records proceeded to a decisive end, the Nigerian President had a premonition. And he did not keep it to himself. During a hearing on September 21, 2023, his legal team told Judge Nancy Maidonado that granting the order for release of the documents and the deposition would inflict ‘severe and irreparable harm’ on the Nigerian president.

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President Bola Ahmed Tinubu

An unfazed Nancy Maldonado not only granted the order, she also ordered them to participate in a deposition conducted by Atiku’s legal team. Revelations from the twin actions have been earth-shaking. The prediction came true, inflicting maximum damage on whatever remained of Tinubu’s personal reputation. There is also a collateral damage, similarly severe and perhaps, irreparable: the shenanigans will now go on record as, perhaps, one of the most notable damages inflicted against a nation by its own President.

At the deposition that lasted over 5 hours, following the hand-over of Tinubu’s documents, Registrar of Chicago State University, Caleb Westberg, said Tinubu’s certificate, dated June 22, 1979, and tendered to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on June 17, 2022, was not issued by the university. To every right thinking mind, the affirmation brings a certain closure to the legal battle and how the past has shaped the persona of our president.

Implicit in that deposition is that the document Tinubu submitted to the INEC in the build-up to the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria was obviously forged.

The issue of Tinubu’s crooked educational history is not new; his credentials had long been a matter of contention dating back to over 20 years. As candidate for the governorship of Lagos State in 1999 he had claimed to hold a degree from the University of Chicago which turned to be false. The affidavit he presented in lieu of a certificate he did not produce also ended up fictitious. He was able to wriggle out of the criminal acts, including a legal challenge mounted by Chief Gani Fawehinmi by virtue of his immunity as a serving governor.

While the University of Chicago was at the centre of his earlier election in Lagos, the Chicago State University has sufficed for the presidency of Nigeria in 2023. Interestingly, none of the series of court cases instituted in Nigeria to point out the issues in the certificate submitted by Tinubu on the two occasions has succeeded, until Atiku took the battle to the US.

As Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, continues to challenge the election of President Tinubu based on allegations of non-qualification due to document forgery, the Chicago revelations raise more questions. How will the revelation from the Chicago State University impact the presidential election petition that has moved to the appellate Supreme Court of Nigeria?
Section 137(1)(j) of the Nigerian Constitution (amended in 2010) explicitly states that no one can legitimately hold the office of President of Nigeria if they have presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.

While we ponder the issue, Kalu Kalu one of Atiku’s lawyers at the candidate’s press conference last Thursday, put the matter in perspective. The first issue is that the Certificate Tinubu submitted to INEC did not emanate from CSU. The second is that the certificate from South West College used to gain admission to CSU, does not belong to him as it is clearly marked for someone of the female gender. The third is that the CSU documents revealed that Tinubu attended Government College Lagos and graduated in 1970 while the school came into existence only in 1974. And lastly, it indicates that Tinubu has American citizenship which contradicts an oath he swore in an INEC form that he does not have any citizenship other than Nigerian citizenship.

Trust the President’s spin doctors. They have deployed enormous resources to either disinform the public or obfuscate the facts that have come to the fore. Or both.

Dramatically, and in a matter of weeks after his legal team vehemently opposed the disclosure of his academic documents, Tinubu’s associates now defend him by trivialising his clear indictment. And when they remind you that forgery is a criminal case, they suggest that it is not a case that can be considered by the Supreme Court.

By this, they try to lure you to the lower courts where the matter, like several many others before this, is certain to be buried for good. It is a deflection of the matter to only weigh it on the scale of its value to the ongoing petition in the Supreme Court. Where has morality gone to?

So, as Bola Tinubu’s premonition on the Chicago disclosure comes to pass, it is indeed so incredible that in the 21st century, one man has perfected the snatch-and-run technique in grabbing power. From Lagos State 24 years ago, he has once again lied his way to power, this time to the presidency of Nigeria.

Compared to Chicago-gate, the Watergate that led to the resignation of US President Nixon in August 1974, is a small matter. But it still stands as a reference point in democratic practice that a president caught with hands in the jar of illegality, had the grace to admit his misdeeds and throw in the towel.

All the calls that have come in for Tinubu to resign as a result of the Chicago revelations, have been snubbed. Obviously, because it didn’t work 20 years ago, and Nigeria does not appear to have moved an inch since then.

While our leaders hoist democracy on the totem pole, it has for decades remained a mere window dressing. Chicago-gate is proof that we have paid only lip service to the tenets and precepts that hold out democracy as a people’s form of government. It will remain even more tragic for Africa’s largest democracy.

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Sheddy Ozoene, Editor-in-Chief of People&Politics, is Vice President of the Nigerian Guild of Editors

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