There is no evidence that Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s President forged the certificate he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the BBC’s Global Disinformation Team is saying.
The BBC team made the submission in a publication Wednesday after the team looked at some of the most widely circulated claims, the publication said. The controversy erupted after Chicago State University (CSU) released President Tinubu’s academic records last week, causing a social media frenzy.
This controversy is the result of a legal case initiated in August by one of President Tinubu’s main rivals in the February presidential election, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Abubakar sought to disqualify President Tinubu by alleging that he falsified the CSU diploma in Business Administration awarded in 1979, which he submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
To gather evidence, Abubakar approached a US court in August, seeking CSU’s academic records through a legal process called discovery. President Tinubu’s lawyers opposed this, citing privacy concerns, but the US court allowed the process to proceed.
The requested documents included:
1. A copy of any diploma issued by CSU in 1979.
2. A copy of the diploma CSU awarded President Tinubu in 1979.
3. Copies of similar diplomas awarded to other students with matching font, seal, signatures, and wording.
4. Documents from CSU certified by Jamar Orr, a CSU staff member, between August 1, 2022.
In response, CSU submitted seven redacted diplomas from various disciplines, noting that these had not been collected by the students.
They stated they could not find President Tinubu’s 1979 diploma, as they do not keep copies of diplomas collected by students.
CSU did provide a replacement diploma dated June 27, 1979, and released other diplomas with a similar appearance. They also submitted other academic documents certified by Mr. Orr.
In line with the court’s ruling, Abubakar’s lawyer questioned CSU’s current registrar, Caleb Westberg, in a deposition. While some on social media claimed this deposition proved forgery, the BBC found no evidence to support this.
CSU had issued multiple diplomas between 1979 and 2003, including three different ones for President Tinubu:
1. The original 1979 diploma lost when he went into exile in the 1990s.
2. The second one, submitted to INEC, a replacement from CSU.
3. Another replacement diploma from the early 2000s that President Tinubu never collected.
The allegations on social media were based on comparisons between President Tinubu’s INEC submission and CSU’s 1979 diplomas. During Westberg’s deposition, it was noted that the diploma given to INEC did not resemble those from 1979 but was similar to those given in the 1990s.
Westberg clarified that CSU’s diploma template had evolved over time. A new diploma would match the template in use when it was issued, not when the student initially graduated. Diplomas from the 1990s resembled President Tinubu’s.
Furthermore, the INEC-submitted diploma had part of the university logo missing, possibly due to photocopying.
The BBC obtained a copy of the diploma from President Tinubu’s team, which was identical to the INEC submission.
Claims that CSU’s diplomas do not include “with honors” were also debunked, as this phrase was found in a diploma from the early 2000s authenticated by Westberg.
Another allegation about the gender of a student named Bola A Tinubu was dismissed, with Westberg confirming the student’s male identity through multiple records.
However, discrepancies in President Tinubu’s birth date and secondary school raised questions. CSU documents showed different birth dates, with the official birth date being March 29, 1952. Westberg suggested human error as a possible explanation for these discrepancies.