Privacy Law Cannot Shield Academic Records, Atiku Challenges Tinubu

*Urges the judge to expedite proceedings to meet time constraints*

Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the previous presidential election, firmly conveyed to President Bola Ahmed Tinubu that he cannot employ privacy laws as a pretext to prevent the disclosure of his academic records from Chicago State University (CSU). Atiku made this assertion in his response to Tinubu’s objection to Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert’s order, asserting that Tinubu’s objection lacked merit and competence.

The former Vice President stated that Judge Gilbert had already addressed all of Tinubu’s objections to the lawful court order after listening to both parties. It’s important to recall that on September 19, the court had ruled in favor of Atiku’s discovery request over Tinubu’s plea for privacy protection.

Among his grounds for denying Atiku’s request, Tinubu argued that Judge Gilbert had erred in instructing CSU to release documents related to Tinubu’s Diploma certificate, transcripts, and admission letter, among other records. However, Judge Gilbert emphasized that Atiku’s case had merit as it concerned Tinubu’s qualification for the 2023 presidential election, which Tinubu had won.

Unsatisfied, Tinubu petitioned a Federal High Court, presided over by Judge Nancy Maldonado, seeking to postpone the order’s enforcement until Monday, September 25, when he planned to formally file his objection. During Monday’s proceedings, Tinubu argued that the order violated his right to privacy and breached U.S. laws governing the release of academic records.

Tinubu specifically contended that the discovery Atiku sought was intrusive, as educational records are typically private and protected from disclosure under the Federal Educational Records and Privacy Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1232(g) (“FERPA”). However, Atiku countered in his latest move, asserting that the privacy law invoked by Tinubu was not relevant in this context.

Atiku’s lawyer, Angela Liu, pointed out that FERPA and similar state laws do not establish an independent privilege for educational records and cannot be used to shield against a court-issued subpoena. She noted, “FERPA does not provide a privilege that prevents the disclosure of student records.”

Furthermore, Atiku argued that Tinubu couldn’t claim protection when he “had already placed his educational records at issue” by submitting them to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and allowing his records to be introduced in Nigerian proceedings and widely publicized.

Atiku asserted that Judge Gilbert’s decision to grant discovery was correct based on the balance of discretionary factors, stating unequivocally that “The Objections are meritless.”

To justify the release of Tinubu’s disputed academic records, Atiku maintained that a mechanism existed in the Supreme Court of Nigeria to admit fresh evidence. He referenced Supreme Court Order 2, emphasizing that his application was straightforward and aimed to test the authenticity of documents purporting to be from CSU and to scrutinize Tinubu’s claim of graduating in 1979.

He concluded by requesting the court to overrule Tinubu’s objections entirely and to set deadlines for document production and depositions, allowing sufficient time for transcripts to be finalized and the evidence to be sent to Nigeria for submission to the Supreme Court.