By Farooq A. Kperogi
The BBC’s fact-check of the claims of Tinubu’s certificate forgery has changed the conversation. Here’s my analysis of the evidence. Plus, an analysis of claims that Atiku also forged his school cert:
Neither Tinubu Nor Atiku Forged Credentials with INEC
By Farooq A. Kperogi
The storm over the legitimacy of the credential President Bola Tinubu submitted to INEC has managed to rope in former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who instigated it in the first place. But available facts show that neither of them presented forged documents to INEC.
I go where the facts lead me. That means I could say the opposite of what I said earlier in light of new facts, a reason I advisedly used the expression “the best obtainable version of the truth” in last week’s column. I am not invested in any perspective. Tinubu is an unrelieved catastrophe as a president, but I’ll defend the facts even if they favor him.
Here are 7 facts I’ve found so far after reading and rereading all the facts related to this issue:
- Tinubu attended and graduated from Chicago State University in 1979, was issued a diploma (or a certificate, to use the expression that’s familiar to Nigerians), which he collected (I erred when I thought the registrar said he didn’t; See number 3). Apparently, he lost the original diploma in 1979 and was issued a “replacement diploma dated 27 June 1979,” according to the BBC.
- In the 1990s, he applied for and got a replacement diploma from CSU. Ostensibly, because it looks different from his 1979 diploma (since diplomas bear the signatures of the current president and look like the diplomas issued that year), he got a note from the CSU registrar in 1999 affirming that he indeed graduated from the school in 1979.
- He lost the original copy of the 1990s replacement diploma (but has a photocopy of it) and, in the 2000s, applied for yet another replacement diploma, which the university issued, but which he didn’t collect. I mistook the registrar’s reference to this bit during the deposition as him saying that Tinubu did not collecting his 1979 diploma. My apologies.
- In 2022, Tinubu submitted a photocopy of the 1990s replacement diploma, along with the 1999 “To Whom It May Concern” note from the CSU Registrar, to INEC as the academic credential that qualifies him to run for president.
- Opposition politicians saw it and said it wasn’t similar to diplomas CSU issued in 1979. So, they said it’s fake.
- BBC’s Disinformation Team fact-checked the claim and found that it’s not fake. It appears fake only because it was reissued in 1998 and the university’s logo at the bottom of the diploma was chopped off during photocopying. The BBC says every other detail in the diploma is similar to the diplomas CSU issued or reissued in 1998.
- The registrar disavowed the photocopied INEC diploma during deposition because of the absence of the logo of the university at the bottom of the diploma, but even he hinted that it “was possibly ‘cut off’ when it was photocopied.” So, it was actually a conditional disavowal.
The Foundation for Investigative Journalism (FIJ) attempted to impeach the credibility of the BBC fact check but failed.
The FIJ said, “Of particular interest was the expression, ‘with honors’, which appeared on the certificate Tinubu submitted to INEC. The presence of ‘with honours’ in Tinubu’s certificate is a tautology because the certificate goes on to read, ‘with all the rights, honours, and privileges partaining therto’.[sic]. None of the 1990s samples provided by CSU showed those words underneath the course of study, and this suggests that Tinubu’s certificate, which was supposedly obtained within the same timeframe, did not emanate from the school.”
That’s a problematic claim. “With all the rights, honors, and privileges pertaining thereto” is a fixed phrase that appears on all diplomas irrespective of their class. The addition of “with honors” isn’t a duplication because graduating with honors is an academic distinction that only a limited pool of students achieve, and some U.S. universities include it in diplomas in addition to the fixed phrase that appears on all diplomas.
In any case, Tinubu’s uncollected 2000s replacement diploma that the registrar showed during the deposition has both the fixed phrase AND “with honors.”
Similarly, the claim that the samples of replacement diplomas issued in the 1990s don’t have “with honors” is a weak argument because CSU only showed uncollected diplomas in its records, not a representative sample of every type and class of diplomas earned or re-issued that year. It could well be that the uncollected diplomas in CSU’s records didn’t achieve the distinction that entitles them to have “with honors” affixed to them.
Typically, only between 20% and 30% of students graduate with honors in U.S. colleges and universities (except for Ivy League universities that have higher percentages), so it’s not a given that the uncollected diplomas in CSU’s records will be among the 20% to 30%.
FIJ also said, “Two, whoever created the controversial certificate in Tinubu’s possession copied the template of the 2000s without paying attention to timeframe variations. This is clear in one of the signatures on Tinubu’s certificate. The signature on the right is that of Zaldwaynaka “Z, the current President of CSU, who took office in 2018. A president who took office in 2018 could not have signed a certificate supposedly released in the 1990s.”
This claim seems made up because there is no “Zaldwaynaka Z” in the diploma Tinubu submitted to INEC. The photocopied CSU diploma Tinubu submitted to INEC and the samples of CSU diploma replacements from the 1990s are exactly the same except for the missing logo in Tinubu’s copy as a result of photocopying.
The registrar’s disavowal of the diploma doesn’t invalidate its authenticity because he merely said the photocopy that was shown to him didn’t look like diplomas from CSU because of the missing logo. People who have an emotional investment in the idea that Tinubu “forged” a diploma that he validly earned (which is ridiculously excessive legal literalism to begin with) leave out that context and make it seem as if the registrar’s words are an inviolable article of faith and not a conditional, context-dependent response to a specific question about a specific photocopied document that doesn’t reflect all the features of diplomas CSU issued in 1998 BECAUSE of photocopying.
This issue has demonstrated to me in starkly dramatic terms how partisan blinders can distort people’s perception of reality. When people so badly want something to be true, but it turns out to be untrue, they choose to hang on to the most absurd apophenic hallucinations (i.e., seeing predetermined patterns from a chaos of unrelated phenomena) they can invoke to validate their preconceptions. I’ve studied and taught this phenomenon for years but had never seen it manifest on a mass scale like this.
The only new thing that will change the conversation is a foolproof revelation that Tinubu didn’t meet graduation requirements and was issued a fraudulent transcript that said he did—after the fact—by dodgy university officials. That would establish the legal basis for forgery. Given what I am now reading about the school, I won’t be shocked if this happens. So, I think the answer to the puzzle isn’t on the surface; it’s beneath the surface. Only deep investigation can unearth it.
Finally, the CSU registrar never said, “forgery is a Nigerian thing.” Tinubu sent his lawyer to get copies of his academic records from CSU and requested that the school certify the documents before sending them to him.
Atiku’s lawyer asked if CSU had ever certified documents it sent out, and the registrar said, “No, I believe this was made because it is more of a Nigerian thing.” So, the “Nigerian thing” he referred to was certifying school records for legal purposes, not forgery.
Atiku’s School Certificate
Tinubu’s minions, in their bid to get even with Atiku, dredged up Atiku’s post-secondary school appellative change and are attempting to pass it off as evidence of school certificate forgery against him. But here are the facts.
Atiku was known as Sadiq (or Siddiq—it doesn’t matter in Muslim northern Nigeria because “Sadiq” and “Siddiq” and all other spelling variants are interchangeable) Abubakar. He was named after Abu Bakr, Islam’s first caliph whom the prophet of Islam nicknamed as “al-Siddiq,” which means “the righteous.” So, in Muslim northern Nigeria, every Abubakar (our domestication of Abu Bakr) is a Siddiq and vice versa—just like every Umar is a Farooq and vice versa.
People have asked why Atiku was tautonymous, that is, having the same first and last name— if Siddiq and Abubakar are the same. Well, in the early days of education in Northern Nigeria, people concealed their father’s names in schools to protect them from abuse from classmates. Some used toponyms (i.e., names of places) as their family names (Aminu Kano, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Rabah—before he changed to Bello—are prominent examples).
A few, however, chose the tautonymous route. Among them is former president Muhammadu Buhari. He was named after prolific ninth-century Hadith compiler Muhammad al-Bukhari who was a native of the city of Bukhara in what is now Uzbekistan. Bukhari simply means native of the city of Bukhara. But in northern Nigeria every Buhari is a Muhammad. So, Muhammadu Buhari is effectively a tautonym.
Atiku probably also initially chose the tautonymous route. I don’t know how he came about the name Atiku, but it is the Nigerian domestication of the Arabic name Atiq, which means “ancient.” Some people say it means “freed.” Bangladeshis bear it as Atiqur and Arabs bear it as Atiqullah.
More than anything, though, he swore an affidavit in real time to legalize this change of name. The same can’t be said for Bola Tinubu whom we’ve learned was initially known as Lamidi Amoda Sangodele.
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