On October 2, 2023, a flame ignited that could potentially set the whole country ablaze. Or, at the very least, its leadership. Coerced by a US court injunction, Chicago State University (CSU) finally released the academic records of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to Atiku Abubakar, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, revealing fresh allegations that could threaten the perpetuity of the incumbent.
But these recent sparks are merely the result of glowing embers that have been fanned as rumours since 1999. Adding renewed fuel to this fire, Atiku, in his tell-all World Press Conference on October 5, 2023, made five submissions based on the officially released deposition that substantiate the rumours that the official certificate tendered by the President to INEC for the 2023 elections is not from CSU and that the proof of education document from Southwest College submitted by the President on entry into the university belonged to a female “Bola A. Tinubu”.
Other rumours are that this female Tinubu was of African-American heritage, discrediting the President’s claim of not possessing any other citizenship; that the proof of secondary education document submitted claiming secondary school education at Federal Government College, Lagos, indicating the valedictory year of 1970 is fraudulent and inconsistent considering the school’s founding date of 1975; and that the name is borne on the presented NYSC certificate, “Bola A. Tinubu” is for a Bola “Adekunle”, which is not among the President’s middle names.
These allegations, though irreparably damning, are not new. In fact, Atiku in his address credited the works of renowned human rights lawyer Gani Fawehenmi, who in the 1999 and 2003 Lagos state gubernatorial elections raised similar concerns, and David Hundeyin, whose sensational investigative piece prior to the 2023 elections was the latest to raise dust about Tinubu’s mysterious past.
However, now admitted as evidential statements in a US court, they may now bear weightier implications for Tinubu’s claim to legitimacy. But more pertinently, this unexpected turn of events raises important questions that need to be answered as we approach the final showdown of the Presidential Tribunal Appeal. Is there some precedence to this potential illegality? What are the options in the event that these allegations are proven true? And more pertinently, would our democratic institutions withstand this moral test?
Possible futures based on legal precedence
Thankfully, the Nigerian Constitution is not silent on this matter. Sections 66, 107, and 137, respectively, disqualify any candidate vying for a seat in the National Assembly, State Assembly, or Presidency who “has presented a forged certificate to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)”. These clauses were put to almost instant effect upon codification with the sacking of Salisu Buhari, the first speaker of the House of Representatives, in 1999, after it was discovered he had presented a forged certificate.
Since this landmark precedent, many other political figures have been accused of certificate forgery, some substantially and others unsuccessfully. However, most relevant to the current dilemma are the cases of Biobarakuma Degi-Eremienyo, the running mate of David Lyon, the APC Bayelsa gubernatorial candidate in 2019, and of Godwin Obaseki, the former governor of Edo State in 2021. The former because Biobarakuma’s disqualification due to a forged WASSCE certificate, by implication, affected his running mate, leading to the Supreme Court wholly sacking the duo as a unit. In the case of the latter, though the Supreme Court vindicated Obaseki, it opined that to clearly prove a case of certificate forgery, there must be a statement from the issuing institution corroborating the allegation.
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Both of these cases set relevant precedents that might determine the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision this time around. However, whether or not Atiku’s new submissions would be admitted by the Court as evidence remains to be seen. But in the eventuality that they are, the chances of a Tinubu victory become infinitesimally slim leading to another relevant question that needs to be answered.
What if Tinubu loses?
Though a serial winner, the odds seem terribly against him this time around. Aside from Atiku’s latest discoveries, the president has a grossly inconsistent history with his certificates. Historically, Tinubu has presented three different dates of birth in different electoral cycles. Also, prior to the recent CSU debacle, the president in 1999 claimed in a sworn affidavit to have attended the University of Chicago before later redacting this statement and opting for CSU.
Furthermore, in his press conference at Chatham House last year, President Tinubu affirmed that he had obtained his original diploma certificates from CSU so as to pre-quell any opposition rabble. That statement is now in direct opposition to that of CSU, which, in court, thoroughly disavowed Tinubu’s INEC certificate.
Coupled with the university’s comments about his entry certificate from Southwest College belonging to an American woman with a US social security number and the inclusion of a foreign name on his NYSC certificate, Tinubu’s records can be classified as a cacophony of confusion that, when assessed in consonance, lacks any genre of logical rhythm. One inconsistency might be a mistake. Two? Maybe a fib.
However, more and more, Tinubu’s dilemma seems like a case of a haunted past catching up with an undeserving present. The easy way out would be for him to resign. Take the high road. The road was never taken in Nigerian politics. Needless to say, this is unlikely. Nevertheless, if taken, various possibilities emerge.
Firstly, by s.146(1) of the constitution, if the President steps down due to impeachment, his Vice President naturally fills the vacant slot, as was the case with President Goodluck Jonathan in 2009 due to Yar’adua’s ill-health and untimely demise. However, the 2019 Biobarakuma case now informs the courts with a precedent that might lead to the sacking of both Tinubu and Shettima.
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In this eventuality, a slim probability situation might see the Senate president, Godswill Akpabio, take the seat temporarily as s.146(2) of the Constitution prescribes until another election can be organised. However, this is unlikely, based on the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) ruling prior to this appeal dismissing claims of electoral fraud. Thus, the likely outcome would be the Supreme Court declaring Atiku the winner based on his second-place finish at the polls.
Now, if Tinubu chooses to fight and loses, an Atiku victory still seems written in the stars. Despite the initial antecedence of Peter Obi as a viable third force pre-election, a case for him winning the presidency in any potential version of these events is highly unlikely, as to do so would require the Labour Party coming up with new evidence to prove electoral fraud from both the APC and the PDP, a claim which was dismissed, albeit questionably, in the initial PEPC judgment. Though more dramatic, an Atiku victory seems like the simplest result. Yet, nothing is simple about any of the aforementioned alternatives.
Implications of a Jagaban defeat
For one, Atiku’s potential victory would mean reconducting the presidential inauguration to begin a new, legitimate tenure. This would have a wide range of implications, foremost of which would be the shifting of Inauguration Day, which has been May 29 since the start of the fourth republic. But more pertinently for posterity, this would throw our Presidential Electoral cycle permanently off-calendar. The cost implications of this eventuality are dire, considering the segmented budgeting that is needed for off-cycle elections.
However, more relevant for now is the degree of bureaucratic chaos that is bound to ensue. A Tinubu loss entirely delegitimizes every appointment, policy decision, etc., taken by the President since he assumed the seat. Think about it. The president’s position on fuel subsidy removal, the hike in electricity tariffs, the student loan act, ministerial appointments, service chiefs, Inspector-General of Police, etc., all to be redone? The magnitude of the chaos is unimaginable. Granted, some of these appointments and policy positions might remain status quo considering the shared perspective of the major presidential candidates on these issues pre-election. Regardless, Tinubu’s imminent loss rolls the nation back to a degree most Nigerians have yet to fathom.
What if Tinubu wins?
Now, the facts are before us. There’s no escaping them. But perhaps this mayhem is avoidable. Perhaps there is some legitimate explanation for Tinubu’s degree discrepancies. Or maybe there has been some mistake. I do not think these should be possibilities we should be pondering. At what point do public standing and character begin to matter to us? And at what point do we begin to hold our leaders by the standards we hold ourselves by? In July this year, 19-year-old Mmesoma Ejikeme appeared before the House of Representatives, a state panel, and was subject to a secret service investigation after it was alleged she forged her Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) result.
The UTME is an exam with only a one-year validity period, impacting only personal consequences. Yet Mmesoma was banned from taking the exams for two years after admitting guilt to the accusations. If integrity is expected of the least of us, should it not be demanded of the highly placed? Should Tinubu emerge from this unscathed, the arguments surrounding such a victory are difficult to cogitate. Regardless, the Supreme Court would have a lot of explaining to do. Most of which would be explaining to everyday Nigerians that the rule of law still applies and that justice is still obtainable in Nigerian courts.
In this swirling whirlwind of controversy and uncertainty, one thing is clear: whether Asiwaju Tinubu wins or loses, Nigeria stands on the precipice of a precarious future. The nation’s democratic fabric has been stretched thin, tested by the flames of these revelations and legal battles. A Tinubu victory would raise questions about our commitment to transparency and accountability, while a defeat would plunge us into a maelstrom of logistical nightmares. Will the rule of law prevail, or will it wither in the face of power? Regardless of the verdict, we stand at the crossroads, where the road to justice and integrity intersects with the tumultuous path of politics. The stakes are high, and the consequences are profound. Nigeria’s democracy stands at a tipping point, and the world watches to see which way the scales will sway.