An unusual silence has echoed from the camp of President-elect Bola Tinubu after his Guinean diplomatic passport surfaced on social media, sending internet users into a frenzy over how the new leader of Africa’s largest economy lied to the nation’s electoral commission while under oath.
On Saturday night, minutes before midnight, independent journalist David Hundeyin uploaded images of a Guinean diplomatic passport bearing “Bola Ahmed Tinubu” on his Twitter account. The passport also carried Mr Tinubu’s image and said it was issued in October 2015, expiring five years later in October 2020.
The passport was apparently issued to Mr Tinubu while his ally Alpha Conde was Guinean president. Mr Tinubu had publicly claimed credit for helping Mr Conde secure reelection in October 2015. The Guinean leader was ousted in a military coup in 2021.
Mr Tinubu, whose whereabouts remained unclear since he secretly travelled to Europe around March 20, was nominated by Nigeria’s ruling party APC at its convention on June 8, 2022, and went on to be declared the winner of the presidential election that was held on February 25, 2023.
Mr Tinubu’s emergence as president-elect has been challenged by his two main challengers, Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi, in a battle that would drag up to the Supreme Court in a span over 240 days.
The latest disclosure that the president-elect obtained Guinean citizenship has met a strident silence from his surrogates.
Dele Alake, Festus Keyamo and Bayo Onanuga, who are usually quick to defend their principal with strong-worded statements, have been oddly quiet, avoiding the matter. Multiple efforts to get comments from Messrs Keyamo and Onanuga fell through on Sunday.
However, Mr Alake said he had no comments about his principal’s dual citizenship and the potential perjury charges for denying a foreign passport under oath.
In the same vein, social media aides like Segun Dada and Jubril Gawat have also been mysteriously quiet, in a manner that is unlike the team known for its defensive rebuttals.
The dual citizenship dimension, which has caused Mr Tinubu to trend for hours on Twitter, would likely dominate public chatter amid the ongoing election petition trial because his of potential legal actions that would be instituted over constitutional violations.
Section 137 (1)(a) of the Nigerian Constitution said a person shall not be qualified to be president if “he has voluntarily acquired the citizenship of a country other than Nigeria.”
Nonetheless, Courts have repeatedly interpreted that section of the Constitution as inapplicable to a Nigerian-born or a citizen born to either a Nigerian parent or both parents.
Bukola Saraki was a two-term governor in Kwara state despite carrying British citizenship and went on to serve as Senate President.
But the charge of perjury still looms over Mr Tinubu, who, in his form EC-9 — application for the presidency —, told the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that he never obtained citizenship of another country.
Mr Tinubu ticked “NO” in response to “Have you voluntarily acquired citizenship of any other country” posed by INEC in the form.
He also appended his signature on the form swearing that the information given on the form was “correct, true and to the best of my knowledge.”
While it may not be an issue that Mr Tinubu, who was born in Nigeria, carries dual nationality, he is expected to fight to extricate himself of perjury charges that would likely be brought against him.
Mr Tinubu faced a similar legal conundrum shortly after he was elected governor of Lagos in 1999. He had made false claims about attending primary and secondary schools without presenting any evidence of such. He also claimed to have attended the University of Chicago, which also turned out false.
However, he was not charged because he was already a serving governor and had constitutional immunity from criminal prosecution. He also claimed at the time that he did not knowingly make false claims on the INEC document, saying it was filled out on his behalf by his political ally Tokunbo Afikuyomi. Mr Afikuyomi publicly admitted filling the forms for Mr Tinubu, saying he merely assumed his principal attended the schools.
It remains unclear whether the Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could introduce the argument to favour their prayers at the presidential elections petition tribunal, where they are currently challenging the electoral process that gave Mr Tinubu his win.
The 21-day window for amending petitions has passed for both the PDP and Labour. However, if the presiding judges consider the PDP and LP’s argument to be sufficiently compelling, the deadline may be extended or waived.
Festus Okoye, spokesperson for the electoral commission, did not immediately answer calls for comments on whether there were repercussions for false declaration in the EC-9 form. The electoral office has the power to prosecute offenders. Lying in INEC forms is considered perjury and could attract criminal prosecution by federal authorities.