Contrary to misleading reports made public by numerous Nigerian media outlets, the registrar of Chicago State University (CSU), Caleb Westberg, has clarified that the institution never issued a replacement certificate to President Bola Tinubu in 1997.
In compliance with an order given by Judge Nancy Maldonado of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois directing CSU officials to provide Mr Tinubu’s records and avail themselves for deposition to authenticate them on Tuesday, Mr Westberg attested under oath that the institution did not award the June 22, 1979 certificate the Nigerian leader submitted to Nigeria’s electoral body, INEC on June 17, 2022.
The CSU registrar explicitly stated that Mr Tinubu did not apply for a replacement certificate, nor was he ever issued one.
Instead, he explained that the June 27, 1997 date was only a typographical error in Mr Tinubu’s replacement certificate which was issued to Nigerian lawyer Mike Enahoro-Ebah in an earlier subpoena filed in August 2022.
“That is correct” was Mr Westberg’s response when asked whether he meant to write “1979” instead of the “1997” date on the replacement certificate issued to Mr Enahoro-Ebah.
“I’ll state on the record as the author that is my typo,” the CSU registrar answered in his deposition late Tuesday as he admitted and took responsibility for the error.
But as of early Tuesday morning, the majority of Nigerian news outlets had begun disseminating false information, claiming that Mr Tinubu had received the replacement diploma in 1997 rather than Mr Enahoro-Ebah. Furthermore, they erroneously claimed that CSU had authenticated the president’s diploma hours ahead of the scheduled deposition at 5:00 p.m. CDT, or 11:00 p.m. Nigerian time on Tuesday.
When asked how they came about the report, an outlet told Peoples Gazette that Oluwole Afolabi, Mr Tinubu’s attorney, gave them the information. And since he was directly involved in the case as the president’s legal counsel, they had no reason to doubt the information.
It appears that Mr Afolabi deliberately misrepresented the details of the matter to the Nigerian media in order to deceive them into publishing stories that may favourably portray his client and cast doubt on the truth when it eventually surfaced after the deposition.
Mr Afolabi’s hasty release of documents that were unauthenticated by CSU before deposition could imperil his legal practice in the U.S. joining the likes of chief of staff, Femi Gbajabiamila, whose law licence was revoked after he stole money from his client and violated the U.S. bar rules and regulations.
The matter of forgery — evidenced by CSU’s outright denial that the school did not issue the diploma Mr Tinubu presented to INEC — has since sparked public debates, dominating headlines as the president’s supporters argue that Mr Tinubu could use any roadside vendor to design his certificate since the school already said it was a ceremonial document.
But the question of whether the vendor who printed the certificate — Mr Tinubu tendered to INEC — was licensed by CSU to do so remains unanswered.
Mr Westberg, in his deposition, affirmed that there were numerous companies on the Internet that specialise in the business of forgery, a statement that implies Mr Tinubu may have patronised the forgers for the diploma he presented to the electoral commission.
It also remains unclear whether the Supreme Court would admit the forgery evidence to thwart Mr Tinubu’s election victory since they would be reviewing the judgement of the lower court, the presidential elections petitions tribunal that upheld Mr Tinubu’s legitimacy based on the previously admitted evidence.
Still, unsuccessful presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, remains highly optimistic that Mr Tinubu will be sacked by the apex court where he plans to tender the evidence of forgery relying on Section 137(j) of the Constitution which states that no one would be eligible to become president “if he has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission.”