The judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District, Jeffrey Gilbert, on Tuesday, disclosed reasons he ordered Chicago State University to release President Bola Tinubu academic certificates to Nigerian opposition leader, Atiku Abubakar.
The judge said the need to confirm the genuineness or otherwise of the certificate Tinubu submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission outweighed Tinubu’s personal concerns over its consequences.
Atiku Abubakar of the People Democratic Party (PDP) had sought a subpoena to obtain Tinubu’s academic records following several inconsistencies that characterised the submissions Tinubu certified under oath to the Nigerian electoral office.
Tinubu had fought to have his records blocked and inaccessible to Atiku, who argued he applied for the subpoena directing discovery of his credentials from Chicago State University (CSU) in order to seek Tinubu’s nullification at Nigeria’s Supreme Court.
Tinubu said granting his opponent access to his records would infringe on his privacy rights under Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act (FERPA), a U.S. law that protects academic records of students.
But Judge Gilbert, in his ruling on September 19, said that Tinubu weakened his education privacy rights when he submitted a contentious certificate to run for office in 2022.
He also added that the opposition candidate’s election petition, in which the records he sought would be used, far outweighed Tinubu’s privacy interest, because he himself exposed his records to public scrutiny by submitting a controversial diploma to INEC, knowing the political stakes of other contenders.
Gilbert said FERPA permitted records disclosure “if it is necessary to comply with a lawfully issued subpoena or judicial order.”
“Here, the court finds that applicant’s interest in obtaining Intervenor’s records from CSU outweighs intervenor’s privacy rights because intervenor put his diploma at issue by submitting it to the INEC.”
“There is, however, a ‘significantly heavier burden’ on the party requesting educational records to show that the interest in obtaining the records outweighs the privacy interest of the student,” the court ruled.
The judge said Abubakar satisfied the burden and met the criteria for Section 1782, the statute that allows the U.S. to turn over records “for use in a proceeding before a foreign tribunal.”
Gilbert ordered CSU to provide the former vice-president with all the requested records within two days.
“For all of the reasons discussed above, 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.”