“The committee invited editors of THISDAY newspaper because of the prominence which they have given to the publication of the allegations. The editors of THISDAY visited us informally, refusing to oblige our invitation and informing us that they would rely on their publications.”
The excerpted quote is from the ‘Report of the ad-hoc committee set up on Tuesday 21st September 1999 by the Lagos State House of Assembly to investigate the allegation of perjury and forgery levelled against the executive governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu’. It was one of the documents attached to the 16th June 2022 letter by the Centre for Reform Advocacy which asked the Inspector General of Police to initiate criminal proceedings against Tinubu on grounds of alleged perjury in his 1999 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Form CF 001.
Let me say three things very quickly. One, I was among those unnamed editors of THISDAY in the Lagos assembly report. Instead of testifying before the panel as requested, we visited the chairman of the committee, Hon Jide Omoworare (who later became a Senator from Osun State) in his office. We explained to him that our information had already been published and we would stand by those reports. Two, I authored the 29th August 1999 cover story for THISDAY, The Sunday Newspaper, that blew open the scandal. It was titled, ‘From Toronto to Chicago: The Case of Bola Tinubu’. Three, these allegations predated the advent of social media, so it was possible for the national newspapers to conspire and kill any story at the time.
Although I have decided not to begin my series on the presidential candidates until later in the year, I believe I should set this record straight. A WhatsApp message being circulated implies that certain journalists have ignored the ‘story’ contained in Tinubu’s INEC form where he did not list the primary and secondary schools he attended. Since all the journalists being vilified by the writer are Yoruba, the implication is ethnic motivation resulting in a conspiracy of silence. The writer did not include my name, but I cannot count the number of people who have forwarded the piece to me. Some ask why I have ‘refused to write about Tinubu’s certificates’. To the few that deserved my response, I told them the issue had been over-flogged by the media in the past. However, it is important to refresh the memory of those who may have forgotten as well as those who were either not born or too young to understand what transpired.
Shortly after the inauguration of the National Assembly and the election of Salisu Imam Buhari as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1999, TheNews magazine published an expose that Buhari did not attend the University of Toronto, Canada, as claimed in the sworn affidavit attached to his INEC form. Among other allegations, the most damaging was that Buhari was born in January 1970 which then put his age at 29. Since section 65(1) of the 1999 Constitution at the time disqualified anyone below the age of 30 from running for election to the House, it meant that Buhari’s speakership was resting on nothing. On 23rd July 1999, following pressure from the House that had set up a committee to investigate the allegations, Buhari resigned. He was subsequently charged for perjury, convicted and then pardoned by President Olusegun Obasanjo. What followed was a floodgate of allegations about the dodgy credentials being paraded by several other politicians. That was how the allegations against Tinubu surfaced.
All the papers I received were from a source I was almost certain had given them to other journalists as well. As a responsible media house, we of course needed to verify the claims before publishing. I enlisted the support of Waziri Adio, who had just returned from the United States (where he was THISDAY’s New York Bureau Chief) with a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Columbia. Waziri was the person who emailed and received the first responses from American institutions about Tinubu’s qualifications.
We investigated all the allegations. The reporter we sent to Government College, Ibadan met the principal who told him that only the then Oyo State Governor, the late Lam Adesina, could compel the school to respond to our inquiry. We took that as an affirmation that Tinubu did not attend the school. Did he attend the University of Chicago? A response to Waziri’s mail by their Director of Communication, Mr Larry Albeiter, said such a name could not be found in their records. That also told us something. Did Tinubu participate in the mandatory National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme? We confirmed that he served at Haboni Engineering Company, Ibadan in the 1982/83 batch and we obtained a copy of his NYSC discharge certificate, number, OY/FORN/82/9106. Did he attend Chicago State University? A quick response came that Tinubu graduated from the school. We also got his Chartered Public Accountant (CPA) record and the years he obtained different qualifications.
To cut a long story short, when we thought we had our story of false claims about aspects of his INEC form, Waziri and I sought appointment to see the governor. We met him at a Lagos State government guest house in GRA, Ikeja. He was with his then all-powerful Chief of Staff, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the current Information and Culture Minister. It was only the four of us: Myself, Waziri, Tinubu and Mohammed. In the more than one hour we spent at the session, we asked Tinubu all questions pertaining to his education from primary school to university. It is an interaction I will never forget and will certainly form part of my memoir when I write one. Perhaps being a lawyer, Alhaji Lai Mohammed made our job rather difficult with his interjections. So irritated was Waziri that, at one point, he snapped: “Sir, will you please allow the governor to speak for himself?”
While still attempting to establish the veracity of the allegations, TODAY, an Abuja-based weekly newspaper owned by the late Abadina Coomasie, (brother of the former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomasie) ran a report titled, ‘Tinubu in Fraud Sensation’. But the story was more an attack on the ubiquitous ‘Southwest media’ that the paper claimed had resolved not to publish the Tinubu allegations, unlike the way we treated the Salisu Buhari saga. A sectional tone permeated the report. When I eventually wrote my story on Tinubu, I referenced the fact that “the document on which TODAY based its story had been sent to virtually all media houses in Lagos and THISDAY on receiving a copy had commenced investigation.”
On reflection, even the intro to my story was somehow defensive: “Aside falsifying his age, Salisu Buhari, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, lost his office and seat to the claim that he attended University of Toronto, Canada when he never did. Now, Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, is facing a similar allegation that borders on another foreign university, this time in Chicago, United States. Olusegun Adeniyi, who has been following the development, reports.” There were a series of other reports and backpage columns on the issue with Waziri writing three, including the one savaging the Yoruba establishment and the other taking on the media, titled “The Hypocrisy of the Ngbati Press”. I also wrote two backpage columns, including “In the Beginning Was Toronto.”
Meanwhile, our chairman, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, was abroad at this period but as it so ever happened, we used him as a shield and despite the pressure on him, he did not interfere in any of our reports. Of course, it was not easy for us, because of the backlash we also received at a period Tinubu was very popular given the role he played in the pro-democracy struggles during the military era which ended only a few months before. These, of course, are tales for the future.
Two things followed my story and subsequent publications (not only by THISDAY but also by other media houses, especially The Source magazine, published by Ms Comfort Obi) on the Tinubu saga. One was political and the other legal. On the political front, the Omoworare panel was established by the Lagos State House of Assembly as part of possible impeachment proceedings. The Speaker of that House, by the way, is Dr Olorunnibe Mamora, the current Minister of State for Health. On the legal front, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN, went to court to charge Tinubu for perjury. That case went as far as the Supreme Court where it was resolved in 2002 that Tinubu, by virtue of constitutional immunity, could only be investigated but not prosecuted. At that time, Tinubu had a formidable legal team headed by his Attorney General and Justice Commissioner, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, the current Vice President of Nigeria.
At the House of Assembly, Tinubu went with his lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN, while Senator Tokunbo Afikuyomi, who took responsibility for the ‘error’ in the form, appeared with Prof Itse Sagay, SAN. Several other lawyers were invited by the House, including Mr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, who contended that while Tinubu could not be tried because he had immunity, the House had the power to impeach him if they concluded that he had committed perjury. Aside from the late Fawehinmi who argued before the House that Tinubu had indeed committed perjury and should suffer the same fate as Salisu Buhari, other lawyers countered that the governor had not done anything to warrant impeachment.
At the end, the House came up with six issues for determination: allegations of perjury, allegation of forgery, comparison between Salisu Buhari and Tinubu, possible impeachment, NYSC primary assignment and immunity. They resolved all these issues in Tinubu’s favour, before they concluded: “Since the governor himself accepted responsibility for the ‘needless errors’ made, and in any event, he is responsible for documents signed by him, we strongly advised him to be more careful in ensuring the accuracy of documents that carry his signature in future.”
While Tinubu survived both the impeachment scare and the court case by the late Fawehinmi, he faced enormous challenges while seeking re-election in 2003. By then there was no love lost between him and President Obasanjo. Besides, the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) with Chief Olabode George as Deputy National Chairman was determined to take Lagos. As he has done now, Tinubu only filed his Chicago State University in the space for education, leaving out his primary and secondary schools. He also survived all legal and political battles and won his re-election in 2003.
On the whole, I doubt if any politician has faced as much scrutiny as Tinubu over the past two decades. Most of what people now “know” about his alleged Iragbiji (Osun State) heritage, the names he reportedly bore when he was young etc. were written by journalists. A simple Google search will give anybody hundreds of different accounts about Tinubu’s parentage, age and other allegations. So, for me, journalism has discharged its obligation. If Tinubu is still so politically relevant that he could win the presidential primaries of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) against all odds and 15 years after he left office—and lost immunity from criminal prosecution—guilt-tripping people along ethnic lines when the journalists that established these claims were also Yoruba, makes no sense.
Before I hazard a guess as to what I consider the issue in the Tinubu story, let me state what it is not about. Given our findings 23 years ago, this is not about a lack of higher education. You don’t get recruited by Deloitte from an American campus without being a cut above the rest. Tinubu’s record at Chicago State University is indeed impeccable. On 28th May 1979, for instance, a letter signed by Andrew F. Sikila, from the Office of Dean, College of Business and Administration, reads: “I recommend that Bola A. Tinubu, a student in the College of Business and Administration be the recipient of the Outstanding Senior Award. Mr. Tinubu exhibits qualities of an ideal student: he shows strong leadership abilities as President of the Accounting Society, and he is an excellent student. In my interaction with this student, I have found him to be inspirational to other students and interested in their problems. It is with pleasure that I recommend Bola A. Tinubu to receive the Outstanding Senior Award.”
Now, what is this all about? I believe, as most reasonable people do, that there is a deliberate omission about Tinubu’s early life in his INEC form that raises serious questions for which he must be ready to provide answers. And if he doesn’t, his opponents can seek legal option, use it for campaign purposes or make it an issue during the presidential debates we must have before the election. What primary and secondary schools did Tinubu attend? This is a legitimate question to ask of someone who seeks to be the president of Nigeria without denigrating the work that some people did more than two decades ago, (which is already in the public domain) or unfairly insinuating ethnic cover-up or bias—something that is unfortunately becoming a dangerous part of the 2023 campaigns.