By Ikechukwu Amaechi
IF there is anything that the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, would want to die down at this critical moment, it is the certificate scandal that has dogged his political career for more than two decades.
Though he survived the scandal when it first reared its ugly head in 1999 even as the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, accused of the same scam, lost his plum office, it has refused to go away.
Tinubu survived the scandal then because the same gladiators who forced Buhari to resign on July 22, 1999, exactly 49 days after he clinched the coveted seat of the House of Representatives Speaker, turned around to save his neck from the political guillotine. And what was the case against Tinubu? Like Salisu Buhari who claimed to have attended University of Toronto in Canada and graduated with a degree in Business Administration, when he did not, shortly after he was sworn in as governor of Lagos State on May 29, 1999, there were allegations that Tinubu had perjured and forged the credentials that qualified him to run for the governorship election.
The allegations were contained in a petition dated August 12, 1999, written by Alhaji Jameed Seriki and Dr. Waliu Balogun-Smith. They alleged a discrepancy in Tinubu’s age since the profile published during his inauguration stated that he was born in 1952 and the age on his transcript at the Chicago State University claimed that he was born in 1954.
They also alleged that he did not attend Government College, Ibadan, as was stated in his profile and INEC FORM CF.001, and the University of Chicago as claimed in INEC FORM CF and an affidavit sworn to at the Ikeja High Court of Justice on December 29, 1998. Unlike Buhari who had no constitutional bulwark to shield him, by this time, Tinubu was already the governor and so enjoyed immunity, courtesy of Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
The onus, therefore, fell on the Lagos State House of Assembly dominated by the Alliance for Democracy, AD, to investigate him and take punitive action if he was deemed to have committed acts constituting gross misconduct.
Of course, that was not going to happen. So, despite the fact that following a motion moved by Tajudeen Jaiyeola Agoro, who represented Lagos Mainland Constituency, the then Speaker, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora, on Tuesday, September 21, 1999, set up a five-man ad hoc committee comprising Babajide Omoworare (Chairman), Thomas Ayodele Fadeyi, Adeniyi Akinmade, Ibrahim Gbola Gbabijo and Saliu Olaitan Mustapha, to investigate the allegations, Tinubu survived the scare.
But the questions were not answered. In 1999, he claimed to have attended Saint Paul Aroloya Children Home School, Ibadan between 1958 and 1964 and Government College, Ibadan between 1965 and 1969. The petitioners claimed that he did not. So, the question is simple.
Did he or did he not? And because the monster that was Tinubu’s certificate scandal was not exorcised, it has reared its ugly head once again 23 years after and it will not go away because the man in the eye of the storm has refused to clear the air. He believes that he will successfully ride the storm.
That may well be true. In any other country other than Nigeria, Tinubu would have voluntarily thrown in the towel like Salisu Buhari did in 1999 or be forced to do so. Tinubu submitted an affidavit to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, claiming his degree certificate was carted away by the Nigerian Army during a raid. But in doing so, he left the fields for primary and secondary school education blank, meaning he didn’t acquire those certificates even as he claimed to have obtained a degree in business and administration in 1979. Refusing to provide the information as required by law has further aroused public indignation.
While Tinubu is keeping mum on the matter, his surrogates are speaking up, but even in doing so, they have refused to address the real issue. On Tuesday, human rights activist, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, said Tinubu graduated from the University of Chicago in flying colours and was the overall best graduating student in accounting.
“Let me say here that in his working career, Tinubu has served as an accountant in various companies, including Arthur Andersen, Haskins and Sells, Deloitte and Douche, GTE Service Corporation, America’s largest communication and utility company and auditor and later treasurer at Mobil Oil Producing Unlimited,” Abayomi wrote on his Facebook wall. “He was once a distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a NADECO chieftain and major financier alongside Pa Alfred Rewane and Governor, Lagos State,” the senior lawyer who has supported Tinubu’s presidential ambition to the hilt wrote.
The same day, Imo State governor, Hope Uzodimma, introduced a rather ludicrous slant to the whole saga when he blamed what he called the inefficiency of INEC’s server for the mess. “In 1999, Tinubu contested elections and became the governor of Lagos. In 2003, he contested election for a second term. He ran and won as a senator in the country. Were records keeping efficient, and INEC server functional, he wouldn’t need to do fresh submission (of documents),” Uzodimma said. Nigerians have been scratching their heads, trying to make meaning out of his harebrained submission.
In the 23 years since this scandal blew open, Tinubu has done everything humanly possible to squash it. Ironically, the only thing he has refused to do is the easiest: produce the certificates or provide proof that he attended those schools and shame his detractors. Like his political soul mate, President Muhammadu Buhari, who would rather hire dozens of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, to defend him in court than show Nigerians his WAEC certificate, Tinubu has wilfully refused to assuage the anxiety of Nigerians. If actually he attended primary and secondary school, the only reason he is not forthcoming on that is because there is something hidden in those documents that he does not want Nigerians to know about him.
Dr. Femi Aribisala, an educationist and newspaper columnist, said that much in a tweet this week where he said: “I wrote in 2014 that Tinubu’s affidavit that he attended Government College Ibadan, GCI, between 1965 and 1968 is false. I was in GCI from 1962-1968, and Tinubu was not there. Tinubu now tells INEC he did not go to primary or secondary school. This means he committed perjury.” That is the crux of the matter. The issue is not about how brilliant Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is. No one is doubting his genius. The crux of the matter is: do we know anything about this man who may well become president on May 29, 2023?