President Bola Tinubu has filed a motion seeking to prevent a federal court in the United States from releasing his university academic records to Atiku Abubakar, his principal opponent during Nigeria’s February 2023 presidential election.
Documents obtained by Peoples Gazette showed Mr Abubakar, on August 2, approached the States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to issue a subpoena for Chicago State University to release Mr Tinubu’s school records, citing longstanding controversies around the Nigerian president’s background. Journalist David Hundeyin obtained records that showed a Bola Tinubu that attended Chicago State University in the 1970s was a female.
The CSU registrar’s office had told Peoples Gazette that it graduated a Bola Tinubu on June 22, 1979, but did not elaborate when pressed on whether the student was a male or female, much less if it is the same person now occupying Nigeria’s presidency.
Mr Abubakar told the court he was seeking the documents as part of discovery to strengthen his legal challenge against the declaration of Mr Tinubu as Nigeria’s president on March 1, 2023, following the hotly-contested February 23 election.
But Mr Tinubu quickly gathered his team of attorneys and asked to be added as an interested party in the suit, alleging that Chicago State University might be unable to fully protect his interest as the owner of the records being sought.
“Mr Tinubu should be allowed to join or intervene because he has a direct personal interest in records sought, his interests are not fully represented or protected by Respondent Chicago State University, and his interests will be affected if he is not permitted to join or intervene,” the Nigerian leader argued in his motion to join the suit filed on August 3 and submitted by his Chicago attorney Christopher Carmichael.
“Chicago State University stated that its obligation is satisfied by providing notice of the application and attempt to access the records. Chicago State’s position is that it does not have an obligation to oppose the application and, therefore, CSU does not adequately represent Mr Tinubu’s interests,” the filing said.
Consequently, Mr Tinubu argued that the records should not be released because they fell under a 1974 privacy law for American students.
Mr Abubakar’s lawsuit “indirectly seeks relief against Mr Tinubu by seeking his records that the federal and state governments have determined should be confidential. See 20 U.S.C. § 1232(g) (describing the purpose of the Federal Educational Records and Privacy Act of 1974 as to protect students from a school’s unauthorized release of a student’s records); 105 ILCS 10/6(a) (prohibiting the release, transfer, disclosure and dissemination of school student records),” the attorneys argued.
A federal judge had been assigned to the case, and both parties anticipated its expedited hearing and disposal, especially after Mr Abubakar argued that the Nigerian election petitions tribunal would deliver a verdict around September 21, 2023.
Mr Abubakar previously filed a suit before a county court in Chicago, Illinois, but withdrew it in order to file a more comprehensive case at the federal court, which prompted a county judge to dismiss the earlier case from the docket and cleared the path for Mr Abubakar’s federal complaint. Even though the county court handed off the case without prejudice, some Nigerian media outlets erroneously reported that Mr Abubakar’s substantive case was dismissed. But the Nigerian opposition leader’s filing showed he withdrew the case voluntarily to avoid any perception he was abusing the court process.
Mr Abubakar, of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), welcomed Mr Tinubu’s motion to join the suit. His team of lawyers said their client did not oppose Mr Tinubu’s intention to join the suit, saying he was, in fact, previously told he should feel free to join.