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Legal Dispute Over Tinubu’s Chicago Certificate: HURIWA opposes Agbakoba, upholds freedom of discussion

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Legal Dispute Over Tinubu’s Chicago Certificate: HURIWA opposes Agbakoba, upholds freedom of discussion

 

A prominent lawyer and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) have been advised by the Civil Rights Advocacy Group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), to recognize public opinion as constitutionally protected freedom of expression, asserting that it should not be disregarded to uphold judicial elitism.

HURIWA’s reaction was in response to Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola’s recent statement, emphasizing that public opinion does not outweigh the country’s constitution in resolving legal disputes within Nigerian courts.

Justice Ariwoola stressed the judiciary’s obligation to abide by the law in deciding cases.

He made these comments after swearing in 23 new judges, including his son, Olukayode Ariwoola Jr.

READ ALSO: President Bola Tinubu graduated from Chicago State University in 1979, Registrar testifies

The Human Rights group believes that judges’ rulings serve the public good and are shaped by freely expressed public opinion, which is crucial in determining public interest.

HURIWA’s statement followed former Nigerian Bar Association President, Olisa Agbakoba’s discontent with media and lawyers discussing the alleged forged certificate from Chicago State University submitted to INEC by President Tinubu, later denied by the school before a United States magistrate.

A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), had called on the current president of the association to call out lawyers that breach rules of ethics of the profession by turning the media into a court of law over President Bola Tinubu’s alleged certificate forgery.

Atiku Abubakar, the former Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, has challenged Tinubu’s victory in the February 25 poll, raising concerns about Tinubu’s academic records, alleging discrepancies and forgeries.

Atiku sought the US court’s intervention to compel Chicago State University to release Tinubu’s academic records, which was granted. Subsequently, Atiku applied to present these records as fresh evidence in the Supreme Court.

Debates in mainstream and social media have questioned the relevance of Tinubu’s academic records to Atiku’s appeal and speculated on whether the apex court will admit the fresh evidence.

Responding to these debates, Agbakoba expressed dismay, urging restraint and suggesting that the Supreme Court’s decision should be awaited without the media acting as a substitute for the judiciary.

The senior lawyer expressed displeasure with what he described as the cacophony of discordant voices on Tinubu and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar surrounding the controversy over the CSU records.

His words: “The cacophony of discordant voices on Tinubu/Atiku over the certificate matter is completely out of hand. This utter nonsense from armchair lawyers is heating up Nigeria dangerously. Please, can we keep our opinions and views to ourselves, awaiting a decision of the Supreme Court?

“I am so ashamed to see lawyers on television arguing one way or the other on the merits or demerits of the Chicago State University matter. This is most unhelpful! I call out all media that tolerate this nonsense of adjudicating the CSU matter on TV and newspapers.

“I urge the President of the Nigerian Bar Association to call out lawyers that breach rules of ethics by turning the media into a Court of Law.

“Can we please stop heating up our country!!! Let us allow the Supreme Court of Nigeria to make a judicial pronouncement which is binding on us all!!!! This public nonsense must stop.”

Contrary to Agbakoba’s stance, HURIWA emphasized the importance of public opinion in a constitutional democracy, advocating for the unrestricted expression of ideas as long as the debates serve the public good.

The group cited freedom of expression as a fundamental right allowing political dissent, cultural expression, creativity, and innovation while contributing to the accountability of governments.

HURIWA said: “For the avoidance of semantic doubts, we wish to call the attention of the Senior lawyer to the indubitably universal affirmation that states that “Freedom of expression is the freedom for us all to express ourselves. It is the right to speak, to be heard, and to participate in political, artistic, and social life. It also includes the ‘right to know’: the right to seek, receive, and share information through any media. When you share your views or seek out information, online or off, you’re exercising your right to freedom of expression”.

The Rights group quoting from a legal literature, reminds Chief Agbakoba thus: “When citizens through public conversations, criticise our government for not living up to its promises, you’re exercising your right to freedom of expression. When you question or debate religious, political, social, or cultural practices, you’re exercising your right to freedom of expression. When you attend a peaceful protest, or organise one, you’re exercising your right to freedom of expression. When you create a work of art, you’re exercising your right to freedom of expression. When you comment on a news article – whether you’re supporting it or criticising it – you’re exercising your right to freedom of expression. And when the journalist published that article, so was she.”

HURIWA added that “Freedom of expression is fundamental to political dissent, diverse cultural expression, creativity, and innovation, as well as the development of one’s personality through self-expression. Freedom of expression enables dialogue, builds understanding, and increases public knowledge. When we can freely exchange ideas and information, our knowledge improves, which benefits our communities and societies. Freedom of expression also enables us to question our governments, which helps to keep them accountable.”

“HURIWA therefore expressed strong reservations that such a respected national human rights icon in the person of Olisa Agbakogba is associated with such a draconian advisory to the NBA President to sanction lawyers in this 21st century for speaking out on an issue of such a strategic place such as a President parading a forged certificate of a foreign university. It is a sacrilege to try to stop the media from such public interest debates.”

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