In a high-stakes legal battle with far-reaching implications, the legal teams representing President Bola Tinubu and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, are gearing up for a pivotal court showdown set to resume on Monday in a United States courtroom.
The focal point of this legal skirmish revolves around President Tinubu’s academic records from Chicago, a matter that has gripped the Nigerian political landscape.
In a dramatic turn of events, US District Judge Nancy Maldonado granted a temporary stay on an order compelling Chicago State University (CSU) to release President Tinubu’s academic documents to Atiku’s legal team. This unexpected development unfolded late Thursday night following President Tinubu’s legal representatives filed an emergency motion. This motion sought to delay implementing the self-effectuating order directing CSU to comply with Atiku’s subpoenas until Monday, setting the stage for Monday’s courtroom showdown.
Atiku’s legal challenge revolves around his contention of President Tinubu’s victory in the 2023 presidential poll and his subsequent affirmation by an election petition court in Nigeria. The crux of the matter lies in the academic records of President Tinubu from Chicago State University.
Earlier in the week, Magistrate Jeffrey Gilbert issued an order instructing Tinubu’s alma mater to provide all relevant and non-privileged documents to Atiku within two days. The documents sought by Atiku’s legal team, led by counsel Angela Liu, include records of President Tinubu’s admission and acceptance at the university, dates of attendance, degrees conferred, awards received, and any other honours attained during his time at the institution.
As the deadline set by Magistrate Gilbert inched closer on Thursday, President Tinubu’s legal team approached Judge Maldonado, arguing that the previous decision by Magistrate Gilbert warranted review by a district judge. Judge Maldonado subsequently granted the request for a review and a delay of the order until Monday.
During the emergency hearing, Judge Maldonado emphasized the importance of adhering to legal deadlines in Nigeria and pledged to rule on the matter as swiftly as possible. She stated, “I will have a busy weekend. The issue is one of process and rules. I’m a rule person. That’s why I’m a judge. This case is quite involved, and I am aware of the stakes. It’s more important to me to get this right.”
In response to these legal developments, Atiku’s media adviser, Paul Ibe, who spoke to PUNCH, expressed the belief that President Tinubu should not withhold any information and asserted that the court process would reveal concealed details. He stated, “What is in that file, if released, that would bring irreparable harm to him (Tinubu)? It has become important for Bola Tinubu to let Nigerians know what he is hiding in his academic record at Chicago University.”
Ibe continued, “We cannot mortgage the destiny of over 200 million people for the interest of one individual. He is bringing embarrassment to Nigeria; it is shameful and a tragedy to have something as simple as releasing your records subject to public scrutiny. Nigerians should begin to take an interest in this matter. Nigerians should be asking questions about what is going on. Why should the President of Nigeria not be a product of due process, transparency, and accountability? We will get him.”
On the other side of the legal battle, Babatunde Ogala, the Coordinator of Tinubu’s Presidential Legal Team, expressed readiness for Atiku’s next move. He told PUNCH, “We submitted our application, and the order was suspended. We are starting all over again. If they like, let them do a Plan C. We are not sleeping either. We will meet them there.”
While the legal teams prepare for a crucial Monday court session, the nature of the “non-privileged” details contained in President Tinubu’s academic record at CSU remains a closely guarded secret.