On Tuesday, Judge Jeffrey Gilbert of the United States District Court for the Northern District revealed the rationale behind his decision to compel Chicago State University to release President Bola Tinubu’s academic certificates to Nigerian opposition leader Atiku Abubakar.
The judge explained that the paramount need to verify the authenticity of the certificates submitted by Tinubu to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) outweighed Tinubu’s personal reservations about the potential consequences.
Atiku Abubakar, a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had sought a subpoena to obtain Tinubu’s academic records due to various inconsistencies in Tinubu’s sworn submissions to the Nigerian electoral office.
Tinubu had vehemently opposed any access to his records by Atiku, contending that such access would infringe upon his privacy rights under the Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA), a U.S. law safeguarding students’ academic records.
However, in his ruling on September 19, Judge Gilbert pointed out that Tinubu had weakened his claim to educational privacy rights when he submitted a disputed certificate to run for office in 2022. The judge argued that Atiku’s election petition, in which the requested records would be used, far outweighed Tinubu’s privacy concerns because Tinubu had voluntarily exposed his records to public scrutiny by submitting a controversial diploma to INEC, fully aware of the political implications.
Judge Gilbert stated that FERPA permitted record disclosure “if it is necessary to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena or judicial order.” He further noted that Abubakar had met the burden of proof and satisfied the criteria outlined in Section 1782, the statute allowing the U.S. to furnish records “for use in a proceeding before a foreign tribunal.”
Consequently, Gilbert ordered Chicago State University to furnish the former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar, with all the requested records within a two-day timeframe.
“In light of the above considerations, Atiku Abubakar’s application pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1782 for an order directing discovery from Chicago State University for use in a foreign proceeding [ECF No. 1] is granted,” Mr. Gilbert ruled. “Respondent CSU shall produce all relevant and non-privileged documents in response to requests for production Nos. 1 through 4 (as narrowed by the court) in applicant subpoena within two days of the entry of this memorandum opinion and order.”