Monday, 4th December 2023

Chicago University: You’re ignorant of US law, Onoh replies Atiku

By Guardian Nigeria
30 September 2023   |   9:43 am
President Bola Tinubu's campaign former spokesman in the southeast, Dr. Josef Onoh has carpeted the 2023 presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his United States of America lawyer, Angela Liu, for their inability to interpret correctly the US law on Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Atiku, through…

President Bola Tinubu’s campaign former spokesman in the southeast, Dr. Josef Onoh has carpeted the 2023 presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, and his United States of America lawyer, Angela Liu, for their inability to interpret correctly the US law on Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Atiku, through his lawyer, Lui had argued in a US court that President Tinubu cannot use the excuse of privacy law to stop the release of his academic records from the Chicago State University (CSU).

Tinubu had, amongst other grounds for the denial of Atiku’s request, submitted that Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert erred in directing the CSU to release documents bordering on his diploma certificate, transcripts and admission letter, amongst others.

Atiku’s lawyer, Liu, in her reply, pointed out that the FERPA and analogous state laws do not create an independent privilege for educational records and cannot serve as a shield against a court-issued subpoena.

According to the applicant, “the assertion of a privilege or privacy interest under FERPA is a nonstarter; the statute does not give individuals any enforceable rights”, adding that, “FERPA does not provide a privilege that prevents the disclosure of student records.”

But Onoh in his response countered Atiku and pointed out that Atiku’s lawyer, Lui was simply serenading around what she knows is a fact and presenting baseless arguments to massage the ego and political desperation of her client to ensure she keeps her job.

“Obviously no lawyer will want to loose a client like Atiku at this moment of his desperation especially being a foreigner. The fact remains that FERPA protects the unauthorised release of President Tinubu’s academic records irrespective of the legal gimmicks his international legal team might be telling him to keep his legal fees Pilling up.

“Let me refresh Atiku’s memory on a case where state-ordered student records release was deemed to violate FERPA and federal judges held that a federal privacy law prohibits Miami University of Ohio and Ohio State University from adopting policy of releasing student disciplinary records of universities and that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act specifically prohibits schools from releasing them.

“Atiku has no ‘Legitimate Educational Interest’ hence President Tinubu’s academic records cannot be released to him. Even the educational records he’s requesting for cannot be tendered as fresh evidence in his case in Nigeria, that window is closed hence the only use of such records to him will be to violate President Tinubu’s right to privacy and not for his ongoing election legal matter in Nigeria. He’s an alien entity that contested an election outside US jurisdiction with the winner of same election to the office he also sort to occupy, hence any interest is personal and aimed at causing irreparable damage and violation of Tinubu’s privacy.

“Atiku is neither a Chicago University school official who can be deemed to have a LEGITIMATE EDUCATIONAL INTEREST if an official needs to review an education record in order to fulfill his or her professional responsibility, nor was he employed by the University in an administrative, supervisory, academic, research, or support staff position (including law enforcement unit personnel and health staff).”

Onoh further said that Atiku was not a company with whom the University has contracted such as an Attorney, Auditor, collection agent or a person serving on the Board of Trustees; a student serving on an official committee, such as a disciplinary or grievance committee, or assisting another school official in performing his or her tasks.

He clarified that irrespective of the fact that Chicago State University may disclose Tinubu’s educational records without written consent to persons in compliance with a judicial order or a lawfully issued subpoena, Tinubu will still be notified that CSU has responded, unless prohibited by law.

Unfortunately, the records requested by Atiku is protected by law. Every college student in the United States is protected by a Federal law called FERPA. It’s pretty much the same thing as HIPA that protects medical records of patients in the US. What these laws do is make those records confidential.

“Even a college employee in the US can only look at and use their access to student records in the context of their work and cannot release them to a third party without the explicit, written or verified electronic approval of the student to a third party and that should only be done by designated staff members in an official capacity. But transcripts are essentially confidential information and the property of the student.

“If you release that information, it is a firing offense because you would have broke a Federal law. The institution can get sanctioned too and that’s what Atiku has refused to understand.

“Atiku’s case is a waste of academic exercise, it’s important to not that no American candidate for President has ever had to present their college transcripts. It’s not a qualification for office either, same as in Nigeria. Former US President Harry S Truman never went to college, nor did Abraham Lincoln. Some, such as John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush were quite open about their not too sterling academic records while Hoover and Jimmy Carter were considered brilliant students. Grant may not have been a very good student.

“If we voted based on degree qualifications, I think the facts speak for themselves as Atiku’s qualifications are as shady as his nationality. Atiku has exploited the gullibility of the Nigerian public who never heard of FERPA to try to undermine President Tinubu through innuendo.

“It must be very frustrating for Atiku trying to dig up new dirt on President Tinubu who has successfully triumphed over various scandals slammed at his personage.

“President Tinubu has nothing to hide, like every sane thinking and respectable personality, I think one reason Tinubu doesn’t want the release of his college transcripts is because he might just have been tired of providing new material for his detractors to make up nothing about.

“In brief, Atiku and many of his supporters including the Labour Party Obidients can’t stand the fact that Tinubu was clearly an outstanding student at CSU and graduated successfully. For most of them it’s bigotry pure and simple. Plain old ethnic bigotry. President Tinubu might not be the best president who ever sat in Aso rock presidential office, he’s not Ibo, Hausa or Fulani, he’s a Yoruba man and our president.

“He might have had policies we disagree with since assumption of office and you might not have voted for him but if you think he didn’t win the presidential elections and also deserve to study in CSU where he studied and was a successful student and today defending his right to privacy, you just need to look in the mirror and suck it up.

“Atiku’s attacks on President Tinubu were and still are always ad hominem. When he says something about Tinubu, he’s actually revealing something about himself and it isn’t pretty.

“Finally, may I remind Atiku that he is also a beneficiary of the US privacy laws when sometime in November 2016 a Nigerian investigative media outlet requested for information on whether Atiku was wanted in the US in connection with any issue of money laundering, they also asked the department to confirm whether Atiku has been banned from entering the US and if there is any court case against him concerning the Halliburton scandal which resulted in the conviction of a US lawmaker, William Jefferson.

“The then spokesperson for the US Department of Justice, Peter Carr said the issue was confidential. He said that Visa issues are confidential under section 222(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Hence it’s also safe to say that President Tinubu’s academic records which Atiku specifically requested is confidential and protected by Federal law under FERPA,” Onoh clarified.