• Visas of accused lawmakers revoked as Gbillah, Ikom head to court, deny wrongdoing
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The House of Representatives has said it has commenced investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct against three of its members by the United States embassy, even as the embassy has already revoked the US visas of the accused lawmakers.
The US ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, in a June 9, 2016 letter to Speaker Yakubu Dogara, accused three lawmakers of attempted rape and solicitation for sex, while on a recent trip to Cleveland, Ohio for the International Visitors Leadership Programme.
The accused lawmakers are Hon. Mohammed Garba Gololo (Bauchi APC), Hon. Samuel Ikom (Akwa Ibom PDP) and Hon. Mark Gbillah (Benue APC) who were on the trip with seven other House members.
Gololo allegedly grabbed a housekeeper cleaning his hotel room and solicited her for sex, while Gbillah and Ikom allegedly asked hotel parking attendants to help them find prostitutes.
Spokesperson of the House, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, acknowledged receipt of the letter from the ambassador to the speaker.
He told THISDAY that “as a responsible parliament” the House has commenced investigations into the allegations.
“We are doing our investigations… they remain allegations until proven otherwise. We have our laws and when investigations are conducted, we will brief you further,” he said.
Namdas however declined to explain what form the investigations would take and if they were being carried out with the US Embassy.
“None of them is before any court of law, it is a letter that alleged the development,” he said.
THISDAY however gathered that the development has thoroughly embarrassed the House leadership which nominated the participants for the US government-sponsored programme.
“This is not a good development even if nothing comes out of the allegations. It may deprive the House members of crucial exposure,” a lawmaker lamented.
Gbillah has however indicated his intention to institute legal action to clear his name and save his political career.
A copy of his response to the US Ambassador, which he made available to THISDAY, stated that he would institute legal action in the United States against the Marriot Hotel brand, the Cleveland Council of World Affairs and the US State Department requesting damages, a comprehensive investigation of the allegations to exonerate myself, and a formal globally publicised apology.
In the letter dated June 16, 2016, he stated: “It has come to my attention that via correspondence from your good self to His Excellency, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (a copy of which I also received), you made very serious allegations against me and other members of the House of Representatives group that visited the United States in April 2016 as part of the International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP).
“In your letter you claimed that I was identified as one of the members of the aforementioned group who asked for the assistance of a hotel parking attendant to solicit for prostitutes at the Residence Inn Downtown Cleveland Ohio.
“I am extremely shocked, upset, irked and embarrassed by your letter and want to categorically state that these allegations are completely false, unfounded, malicious and a calculated attempt to malign and cast aspersion on my reputation and character as a Nigerian citizen and Honourable Member of the House of Representatives and to bring disrepute to the hallowed institution of the National Assembly and the entire nation of Nigeria.
“Considering the enormity of these allegations it is instructive to note the following:
1) The US State Department and the US Embassy in Nigeria appear to have concluded on the accuracy of these allegations based on the testimony of the employees of the hotel without recourse to a response from the accused individuals or a proper forensic investigation. Paragraph 5 of your letter clearly states that ‘The US Mission took the pains to confirm these allegations and the identities of the individuals with the employees of the hotel in Cleveland’. The Embassy claims the accused individuals were identified by the hotel employees from a photograph of the group. Is this the manner in which such allegations against any US citizen (not to mention Members of the US Congress) are investigated and prosecuted in the United States or does the US State Department and Embassy have so much disdain towards Nigeria and her citizens that they did not bother to carry out a proper investigation? For a country that prides itself as the bastion of Democracy, justice, the rule of law, fair hearing and human rights it is quite alarming that allegations of this magnitude can be made and confirmed without allowing the accused individuals to respond.
2) Without conclusive evidence of any sort or contact with any of the accused individuals the US State Department and US Embassy in Nigeria have less than six days after your letter to the Speaker gone ahead to revoke the US visas of accused individuals based on hearsay from the employees of the hotel in Cleveland. Affected individuals received correspondence from the US Embassy on Wednesday 15th June 2016 indicating the denial of their US visas and requesting that they bring their international passports with current US visas to the Embassy.
3) The accused individuals were not accosted with these allegations while in the US so they could immediately defend themselves, the hotel employees conveniently refrained from making these allegations while the members of the group were in the United States and curiously decided to do so after our departure. What is the reason behind their not reporting these incidents immediately they occurred and why are we only being informed about these allegations two months after our return from the US?
4) None of the members of the group was driving a vehicle while at the hotel and would therefore have had no cause to interact with the car park attendants as the Residence Inn car park is not in front of the hotel but somewhere behind and some distance away from the hotel. You will have to go out of your way to go to the car park so video footage should clearly indicate whether or not any member of the group interacted with a hotel car park attendant.
5) Other groups comprising African Americans and other ‘people of colour’ were also occupying the Residence Inn while this group of House of Representatives members was visiting Cleveland because of the scheduled basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks at the Quicken Loans Arena which is just across the road from the hotel. What is the certainty of the ability of the probably caucasian hotel car park attendants to accurately identify the specific members of any of the groups at the hotel as being responsible for the purported infractions?
6) The US border agency has it on record that I came into the US with my wife and baby on this trip and although the organisers did not allow them to stay with me in the hotel I was always communicating with my wife on facetime whenever I returned to the hotel. I stayed indoors on the days we had a break from our usually hectic schedule and only had cause to go to the grocery store to pick up items for my room. I wonder when it was I found the time to solicit for prostitutes from a hotel parking attendant and how I intended to bring a prostitute to my room when I had a regular facetime schedule with my wife which we never concluded until I was ready to turn in. This can very easily be verified from my log in activity on the hotels Wi-Fi service.
7) I have visited the US and several countries in the world countless times over the last several years and have stayed at countless hotels all over the world and want to dare the US government to find any instance where I have previously solicited for prostitutes from a hotel employee even when I was not a married man. I am a Hilton HHonors Diamond Member with over 1,500,000 reward points, an Intercontinental Ambassador Platinum Elite Member, a Ritz Carlton Rewards Silver member, a Marriott Rewards Member, a Starwood Preferred Guest Member and a Fairmont Presidents Club Member.
I am a member of two of the rewards programs of the parent hotel brand of the Residence Inn (Marriott Rewards and Ritz Carlton Rewards) and the record of my previous lodgings at all the hotel brands can be obtained to ascertain whether or not I have ever solicited for prostitutes from any hotel employee. Although it is very easy to obtain the previous travel history and track record of accused members, it is obvious the US State Department and the US Embassy have presumed our guilt without proper investigation because of the disdain and disrespect they have towards the average Nigerian citizen even when such citizens are Members of the Nigerian House of Representatives, a treatment they will never mete out to an ordinary American citizen who is not even a member of the US Congress.
8) It is noteworthy that a member of our group made a formal complaint to the organisers of the programme about his being defrauded to the tune of about $100 at the Renaissance Hotel Dupont Circle Washington DC but neither the US State Department nor the US Embassy in Nigeria has deemed it fit to take any action or initiate any investigation in this regard. Members of the group also expressed their dissatisfaction, displeasure and disappointment with the organisers of the programme over their inability to organise a single meeting with any member of the US congress and constraining members to meet with only one State Representative and several County Representatives and officials contrary to the initial objectives of the programme. Perhaps there are other underlying reasons behind the lacklustre attitude of the US State Department and the US Embassy towards ensuring proper investigation of these allegations.
“Your Excellency, this unfortunate and malicious situation has further been exacerbated by the fact that your Embassy by omission or commission has allowed your correspondence to the Speaker to fall into the hands of the print media in Lagos without fair hearing or upholding the rights of the concerned individuals; an employee of one of the national dailies intimated me about this and their desire to publish the story.
“This story was indeed published in the New Telegraph of Thursday, 16th June, 2016 alleging that related Members of the House of Representatives were involved in a sex scandal.
“You can imagine the incalculable damage to my reputation and image with the publication of these spurious allegations especially when I unequivocally know that I am completely innocent.
“It is also unfortunate that at a meeting with your Deputy Chief of Mission in Abuja the attempt by members of the group to express their exception to and displeasure with these allegations, the lack of proper investigation and the tainting of the image of the entire group was considered to be a very negative reaction by your Chief of Mission and your good self.
“I suppose the US Embassy expected renowned personalities in Nigeria like Members of the House of Representatives to accept complicity in such malicious and spurious allegations without proper investigation or evidence or any opportunity to defend themselves.
“Considering the psychological trauma, irredeemable defamation of my character and reputation before my spouse, children, family, colleagues, leadership, constituents and the general Nigerian and global public and the incalculable damage to my political career, I intend to take the following actions:
1) Institute legal action in the United States against the Marriot Hotel Brand, the Cleveland Council of World Affairs and the US State Department requesting for damages, comprehensive investigation of these allegations to exonerate myself and a formal globally publicised apology.
2) Institute legal action in Nigeria against the US Embassy in Nigeria also requesting for damages, comprehensive investigation of these allegations and a formal globally publicised apology.
3) Demand that the US Embassy and the US State Department (regardless of your revocation of my US visa) allow me to travel to Cleveland even at my own expense to confront my accuser and confirm my innocence. I otherwise have no desire to travel to a country that appears to pay only lip service to the ideals they claim to uphold.
4) Demand for the full video/cctv footage covering the period of our entire stay at the hotel; this should clearly show the movements and activities of every member of the group throughout the hotel.
“It is unfortunate that I have to write to your good self under these circumstances but I believe you will use your good office to redress this very grave injustice and redeem the image of your country.”
Another House member, who was accused of asking the hotel parting attendant to find him a prostitute, Ikom, also refuted the allegation, adding that he would take steps to clear his name.
In a statement yesterday, he said: “I wish to state unequivocally that this is false and definitely not me. This to me is a case of mistaken identity and I have already instituted measures both legally and diplomatically to clear my name and the institution I represent. I call for patience and God’s abiding wisdom at this time.”
Entwistle’s strongly worded letter to Dogara, read in part: “The US Mission took pains to confirm these allegations and the identities of the individuals with the employees of the hotel in Cleveland.
“The conduct described above left a very negative impression of Nigeria, casting a shadow on Nigeria’s National Assembly, the International Visitor Leadership Programme, and to the American hosts’ impression of Nigeria as a whole.
“Such conduct could affect some participants’ ability to travel to the United States in the future.
“While the majority of Nigerian visitors to the United States do behave appropriately, even a few Nigerians demonstrating poor judgement leads to a poor impression of the Nigerian people generally, though it is far from accurate.
“Such incidents jeopardise the ability of future programming and make host institutions and organisations less likely to welcome similar visits in the future.
“In addition, most of the members of this group reacted very negatively to my deputy when she brought this matter to their attention, further calling into question their judgement and commitment to the goals of the International Visitor Leadership Programme.
“This leads us to question whether to include National Assembly members for other similar programmes in the future.
“I request, in the strongest possible terms, you share this message with members of the National Assembly so they understand the seriousness of these issues, and the potential consequences of their actions, not only for themselves as individuals, but also for the future of such programmes designed to benefit Nigeria.”