Chicagogate: If I were Tinubu

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By Casmir Igbokwe

In Nigeria today, truth is on sale. When some public office-holders, for instance, tell you good morning, you have to cross-check to be sure that it is actually morning. The certificate forgery allegation trailing President Bola Tinubu has further blighted the image of Nigeria in the world. The President claimed to have graduated from Chicago State University (CSU) in the United States. There have been speculations about the validity of his credentials which he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). His main political rival and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, went to court in the US, asking it to compel Tinubu to submit his CSU records to him.

Tinubu had kicked against this, raising more curiosity among Nigerians. People wondered why someone who claimed to be a brilliant student would not gladly release his records to whoever cared to see them. By the time the CSU submitted Tinubu’s records to Atiku, it was discovered that, indeed, a Bola A. Tinubu passed through the university. But, this did not end the confusion and curiosity. The questions are: is this Bola A. Tinubu in question the current President of Nigeria? Or, is it a question of identity theft? There are other contentious issues concerning Tinubu’s real date of birth, gender and secondary schools attended.

What is not in contention, nevertheless, is that the CSU disowned the certificate Tinubu submitted to INEC. This presupposes that it was forged. So, if Tinubu truly graduated from the school, why did he submit a forged certificate to INEC? Should he not come out clean and explain to Nigerians what happened? If it so happens that the forged certificate is an intentional action, should he not honourably resign from his exalted position and save Nigerians the global embarrassment?

Already, Atiku has tendered the Chicago documents in his appeal against Tinubu at the Supreme Court. The Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) had earlier given judgement, on September 6, 2023, affirming the election of Tinubu as President.

The question now is, will the Supreme Court dispense justice in this case? I find the recent statement credited to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, pregnant. Last week, while swearing in 23 new judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja, the CJN was quoted to have spoken about vitriolic attacks regularly heaped on the judiciary. He admonished judges to rely on the constitution and their conscience in deciding cases. He added that public opinion “cannot override or supersede the constitution of the country which we apply in deciding each case.” Good!

But, what exactly did the CJN mean? Recall that the weight of public opinion appeared to be against the affirmation of Tinubu as President. This was partly why some concerned citizens displayed “All eyes on the judiciary” billboards in some strategic locations in Nigeria. The powers that be felt uncomfortable with this. Pronto, the billboards were pulled down.

Whatever be the intention of the CJN, I have already concluded within me that the Nigerian judiciary is the lost hope of the common man. I said it in one of my interventions on this page that Atiku and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, were wasting their time. It is good they pursue their case to a logical conclusion; but getting justice in the Nigerian judicial system as presently constituted is a different ball game. Some of our judges are very good in dispensing technicalities rather than justice. And they have different ways to explain away their decisions.

By now, our judges should have learnt one or two things from their US counterparts in the dispensation of justice. We all saw the swiftness the judge displayed in handling the Chicago case. She ordered the CSU to tender Tinubu’s credentials before October 5, 2023, so that Atiku could beat the deadline of filing his papers at Nigeria’s apex court. And when she gave her final order, she warned that further appeal from Tinubu would not be tolerated. This is how it should be. There was no resort to technicalities. Everyone saw that there was this sense of urgency to dispense justice.

Nigeria is in constant search for truth and justice. Relying on the judiciary to give us that truth and justice may not work for now. Hence, I do not intend to go into the legalese of the Tinubu certificate saga.

My main concern here is to draw the President’s attention to the hallmark of a true leader. When a leader makes a costly mistake, he owns up to it, apologises and resigns if need be. Last year, the former British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, resigned following what was referred to as ‘partygate’ scandal. Johnson and some of his colleagues had attended multiple parties at his official residence when the entire country was under strict COVID-19 lockdowns. Before his resignation, more than 50 members of his government had resigned in protest against some ethics scandals. In June this year, Johnson also resigned as a member of parliament, accusing those probing into his ‘partygate’ scandal of driving him out.

There are many other examples. In 1974, Richard Nixon became the first US President to resign from office following the Watergate scandal that marred his administration. In 2016, Brazil’s ex-President, Dilma Rousseff, was forced out of office having been found guilty of breaking budgetary laws in an impeachment trial. In 2007, Shinzo Abe resigned as Japan’s Prime Minister after low approval ratings and scandals among many government ministers. In South Africa, former President Thabo Mbeki resigned in 2008 after his government was accused of political interference in the corruption, fraud and racketeering charges against Mbeki’s political rival, Jacob Zuma. A judge described the charges as invalid and threw them out.

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Back home in Nigeria, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, apologized to Nigerians and resigned when his certificate forgery was blown open in 1999. He claimed to have graduated from Toronto University which was discovered to be false. He also lied about his age. He was later prosecuted and sentenced to two years imprisonment with option of fine. He later received a presidential pardon. Former Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, also resigned in 2018 when it was discovered that she did not have the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) certificate. She was also accused of forging an exemption certificate.

A few months ago, Miss Mmesoma Joy Ejikeme falsified her Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination results. She claimed to have scored 362 when she actually scored 249. She obtained scholarship based on this falsehood. But when the lie was discovered, she apologized and the scholarship was withdrawn. The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) also sanctioned her.

We must teach our young ones the virtues of honesty and hard work. We must let them know that forgery will never get them the good things of life. And we must begin by setting a good example with ourselves if we err by apologizing and resigning if it becomes necessary. If I were Tinubu, this is the path I will follow. The President is the number one citizen of the country. Everybody looks up to him. He represents everything noble about the country. Hence, the position demands someone with a moral high ground who will command respect and obedience from the citizens. Anything short of this will engender embarrassment and ridicule for the country.

Already, Nigerians are viewed with suspicion in many parts of the world. Nigerian travellers are usually marked out for thorough search in many airports. With this certificate scandal involving the number one citizen, the situation will be worse. Tinubu should save Nigeria this embarrassment by tendering his resignation letter as soon as possible. He has no moral right to chastise our young ones or even sack a corrupt official if he fails to satisfactorily explain this ‘Chicagogate’.


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