Wednesday 11 October 2023

BBC Investigation Exposes Atiku And His Legal Team Says No Evidence That Tinubu Submitted Forged Diploma To INEC

The BBC’s Global Disinformation Team has conducted an investigation and found no evidence to support the claim that Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu submitted a forged diploma to the country’s electoral commission.

Allegations of forged certificates circulated widely on social media after Chicago State University (CSU) released President Tinubu’s academic records last week.

Here are some of the key points:

The disclosure of the president’s academic records follows a legal case initiated in August by one of his primary rivals in the February presidential election, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Mr. Abubakar sought to disqualify President Tinubu by accusing him of falsifying a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration diploma from CSU, which Tinubu submitted to the electoral authority (Inec).

In an effort to gather evidence for his case in Nigeria, Mr. Abubakar petitioned a US court in August, seeking an order for CSU to release Mr. Tinubu’s academic records through a process called discovery, which involves the exchange of information, including documents, before a trial.

Mr. Tinubu’s legal team opposed the discovery application, citing privacy concerns, but the US court ultimately ruled in favor of proceeding.

The documents requested by Mr. Abubakar were:

A copy of any diploma issued by CSU in 1979.

A copy of the diploma issued to Mr. Tinubu by CSU in 1979.

Copies of diplomas with the same font, seal, signatures, and wording awarded to other students that are similar to what CSU awarded to Mr. Tinubu in 1979.

Documents from CSU that were certified by Jamar Orr, who was then a staff member of CSU, in the 12 months from 1 August 2022.

In response to request one, CSU submitted seven diplomas covering different disciplines with the names of the students redacted. According to the university’s registrar, these diplomas had not been collected by the students.

Regarding request two, CSU stated that it could not locate the diploma they issued to Mr. Tinubu in 1979, as they do not retain copies of diplomas once they have been collected by students.

In response to request three, CSU stated that it provided Mr. Tinubu with a replacement diploma dated 27 June 1979. Additionally, the university released diplomas awarded to other students that shared similar font, seal, signatures, and wording as Mr. Tinubu’s diplomas.

Concerning request four, CSU submitted other academic documents initially verified and released by Mr. Orr.

In compliance with the judge’s directive, Mr. Abubakar’s attorney, Angela Liu, conducted a deposition of Caleb Westberg, the current registrar of CSU, last week.

The BBC obtained the deposition transcript through Mr. Abubakar’s spokesperson, Phrank Shaibu.

Certain social media users in Nigeria contend that the deposition and the diplomas provided by CSU validate the assertion that the diploma submitted to Inec by Mr. Tinubu was falsified. This assertion was also reiterated by one of Mr. Abubakar’s attorneys, Kalu Kalu, during a press conference last week.

However, we have found no evidence to substantiate this claim.

CSU provided a range of diplomas issued between 1979 and 2003, all of which were scrutinized in our analysis.

In our examination, three distinct diplomas pertaining to Mr. Tinubu are considered:

The original diploma from 1979, which Mr. Tinubu has previously stated was lost during his period of exile in the 1990s.

The second diploma, which he submitted to Inec, purportedly a replacement diploma from CSU. It bears similarities to diplomas issued by CSU in the 1990s.

Additionally, CSU retains another replacement diploma for Mr. Tinubu, likely from the early 2000s, which he never collected.

The allegations circulating on social media stem from a comparison between the document Mr. Tinubu presented to Inec and the 1979 diplomas released by CSU.

During Mr. Westberg’s deposition, Mr. Atiku’s lawyer focused on the copy of the diploma submitted by President Tinubu to the electoral commission, suggesting that it differed from the diplomas released by CSU.

While Mr. Westberg concurred with Ms. Liu that the diploma in question does not resemble the samples from 1979, he clarified that it does bear resemblance to three of the diplomas CSU provided to Mr. Abubakar. Our analysis corroborates this.

It turns out that the discrepancy in the appearance of the diploma can be attributed to it being re-issued in the 1990s.

Mr. Westberg explained that CSU’s diploma template has undergone multiple changes over the years. Therefore, any request for a new diploma would reflect the template in use at that specific time, regardless of when the student initially graduated.

In light of this, if Mr. Tinubu had requested a replacement diploma in the late 1990s, what he would have received would align with the prevailing template of that era.

Among the diplomas provided by CSU dating from the 1990s, three were notably similar to Mr. Tinubu’s.

One of these, dated 18 December 1998, is nearly identical (with the exception of names, class of degree, and dates) to the diploma Mr. Tinubu submitted to Inec.

Additionally, Mr. Westberg clarified that CSU does not maintain records of diploma reissuance requests, which means Mr. Tinubu’s request for a copy of his diploma was not documented.

Regarding the copy presented to the electoral commission, it lacked a portion of the university logo. Mr. Westberg suggested in his deposition that this might have been “cut off” during the photocopying process.

Upon examination, it is evident that the lower section of the diploma was indeed omitted during the photocopying process.

The BBC contacted Mr. Tinubu’s team to obtain a copy of the diploma in question. They provided what they claimed to be the sole existing copy of the diploma, which is a black and white photocopy identical to what was submitted to Inec.

Furthermore, a fact-checking organization in Nigeria asserted that the diploma Mr. Tinubu submitted was not from CSU because its diplomas do not feature the phrase “with honors” under the degree name.

However, the BBC discovered that while this detail was absent from the other diplomas released by CSU, it does appear in Mr. Tinubu’s diploma issued in the early 2000s.

This was confirmed by Mr. Westberg during his deposition. The inclusion of the words “with honors” aligns with the diploma bearing the same detail submitted by the president to INEC.

Mr. Westberg clarified that the school was able to authenticate this specific diploma since it remained in their possession, having never been collected.

It’s worth noting that not all students graduate from university with honors. However, CSU has confirmed in several court documents reviewed by the BBC that Mr. Tinubu did indeed graduate with honors.

The BBC reached out to CSU with inquiries regarding their diplomas and it referred us to a statement that read in part: “We are confident and always have been in the veracity and integrity of our records regarding Tinubu’s attendance and completion of graduation requirements”.

Another circulating claim on social media suggests that the individual who attended CSU with the name Bola A Tinubu is female.

Mr. Tinubu initially attended Southwest College (now known as Richard J. Daley College) before transferring to CSU in 1976. In Southwest’s transcript, there is an “F” (for “female”) in the gender column, which has led to assertions that a woman attended the school and Mr. Tinubu “assumed her identity”. This was alluded to by Mr. Atiku’s lawyer, Mr. Kalu, during a press conference last week.

However, Mr. Westberg emphasized in his deposition that there was no confusion regarding the gender of the individual who attended CSU. The person in question was a male named Bola A Tinubu. He further explained that the university relied on factors beyond the name to authenticate the student’s identity.

According to Mr. Westberg, the Social Security Number (SSN) indicated in the transcript from Southwest College corresponds with the information in other documents where the student’s gender is clearly identified as male.

However, the documents that were released did raise questions regarding Mr. Tinubu’s birth date and the secondary school he purportedly attended.

One of the documents claimed that Mr. Tinubu was enrolled in Government College Lagos in 1970. However, information available on the school’s website indicated that it was established in 1974.

Apart from the gender inconsistency, the birth dates in some of the disclosed documents differ from President Tinubu’s official birth date, which is 29 March 1952.

His transcript from CSU lists his date of birth as 29 March 1954. On his undergraduate admissions application form, his date of birth is noted as 29 March 1955.

During Mr. Westberg’s deposition, Mr. Atiku’s lawyer pointed out that on the forms submitted to Inec, Mr. Tinubu had stated his date of birth as 29 March 1952.

In response, Mr. Westberg, under cross-examination, mentioned that the inconsistencies could potentially be attributed to human error.

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