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OPINION: Fate of Nigeria’s Disputed President in Chicago Courtroom Again

Judge’s stay order blocked potentially embarrassing records release during Tinubu’s New York UN Visit

By Emmanuel Ogebe

[Washington] In a last gasp effort, attorneys for Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu secured a stay of the court-ordered release of his Chicago State University records, barely an hour to the production deadline Sept. 21.

Rival presidential candidates Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar have filed suits for months to invalidate the election of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as new president of Nigeria on Feb. 25. A US District Judge in Chicago ruled in Atiku’s favor to release Tinubu’s academic records during his claimed study at Chicago State University in the 1990s, boosting expectations that documentation of an outright lie would force the Nigerian Supreme Court to disqualify Tinubu from office.

It is just the latest twist in a high-stakes litigation over the presidency of Africa’s biggest economy and America’s top trade partner – Nigeria — that revolves around a Chicago court again.

On September 6, a five-judge panel in Abuja decided that Tinubu’s $460,000 drug-money laundering forfeiture in a Chicago court 30 years ago did not disqualify his candidacy.

The new action in Chicago seeks to secure his school records in a last-ditch effort to prove he presented forged certificates in his election bid, which, if proved would be eerily similar to scandals linked to disgraced Congressman George Santos (Republican, New York).

US Federal District Judge Nancy Maldonado stayed the production of Tinubu’s records, pending filing of briefs in the matter by next week with arguments and judgment to follow.

The US government has ignored numerous requests from lawyers and journalists for other records of Tinubu’s time in the United States, in contrast to its actions against Gen. Manuel Noriega, a drug-dealing de-facto Panamanian dictator whom the US deposed and imprisoned in 1989.

 Further delays in the record release could undermine the election challengers’ Supreme Court appeals which are time-bound.

For now, however, Tinubu dodged a spectacle of being probably the only president in the world whose school records were unsealed by a U.S. court while he was in the country attending the UN with other world leaders.

Abuse of court process in Nigeria has been exported to America. Ordinarily the stay motion should have been brought before the same judge who ordered it, but by mischievously bringing it before a new judge unfamiliar with the matter, Tinubu managed to squeeze out an unnecessary  delay in the matter.

As the counsel for Abubakar Atiku rightly pointed out, Tinubu is actually blocking the release of some records which are already public, and which he has even used previously. What Atiku is asking for is merely the authentication of what he submitted.

Barely two weeks after the Presidential election court gave a judgment that glossed over the myriads of vexing questions dogging the dubious identity and qualifications of Senator Tinubu, all eyes are now on the judiciary in America in an international litigation ping pong which attracted hundreds of Nigerian callers into the court’s telephonic hearing.

He has no footprint of existence anywhere before a Southwest Community College in Chicago – which identified him as female.

Tinubu’s profile is murky:

1. Name – False (claimed and disproven)

2. Parentage – False (claimed and disproven)

3. Primary school – Fake (claimed and disclaimed)

4. Secondary school – Fake (claimed and disclaimed)

5. Community college – doubtful 

6. University (University of Chicago) – False (claimed and disproven)

7. University (Chicago State University) – doubtful (claimed certificate proven fake)

8. US District Court Money Laundering forfeiture – True

9. National Youth Service – Doubtful (claimed and disclaimed)

Sadly, the failure of Nigeria’s  legal system to deal adequately with these troubling recurring concerns over the years has invited the ignominious public spectacle that while Tinubu is at the world’s UN center stage, a Chicago court is digging into his antecedents.

The United States Embassy, in a letter signed by the FBI legal attaché, said Chicago State University had “no record” of him previously but no updated information was provided during recent litigations despite the danger of granting sovereign immunity to an individual who has been known to be associated with drug-money laundering flying into the United States on a presidential jet that US authorities cannot search.

The United States cannot, nor can Nigeria afford to have, somebody with such a questionable antecedent to be president of one of the United States’ biggest security partners on the continent. 

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Emmanuel Ogebe, Esq, is a prominent US-based international human rights lawyer and Nigerian pro-democracy advocate with the US Nigeria Law Group in Washington.

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