House to collaborate with US embassy on investigation Cleveland police ‘unaware’ of incident
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has urged Nigerians to refrain from passing judgement on the three lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct while on a trip to the United States, as they are innocent until proven guilty.
He added that while no evidence had been provided, asides the petition accusing them of misconduct, the House would collaborate with the US Embassy in Nigeria to get to the root of the matter.
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, in a June 9 letter to Speaker Yakubu Dogara accused the three lawmakers of attempted rape and solicitation for sex, when they visited Cleveland, Ohio in April 2016, as part of the International Visitor Leadership Programme.
The accused lawmakers are Hon. Mohammed Garba Gololo (Bauchi APC), Hon. Samuel Ikon (Akwa Ibom PDP) and Hon. Mark Gbillah (Benue APC). Gololo allegedly grabbed a housekeeper cleaning his hotel room and solicited for sex, while Gbillah and Ikon allegedly asked hotel parking attendants to help them find prostitutes.
The three lawmakers have denied the allegations.
Speaker Dogara, according to a statement issued Saturday by his spokesman, Mr. Turaki Hassan, assured that the House would conduct a thorough investigation into the scandal.
The speaker, in his first public reaction to the allegations in a series of tweets earlier yesterday urged Nigerians to wait for the outcome of the investigation by the House.
“…as ambassadors of the House and indeed, the entire country, the members in the middle of the scandal would have known not to bring dishonour to the institution they represent,” he said.
Dogara also disclosed that the accused lawmakers had expressed readiness to defend themselves at their own cost. He also noted that no allusion was made to attempted rape in the petition.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Police Friday said they were unaware of the incident when they were contacted by THISDAY on Friday night.
An officer who answered the call to the telephone number +1-216-623-5300 however noted there were five police units in Cleveland and suggested the Sex Crime Unit would normally handle such investigations.
He connected our reporter to the Sex Crime unit, and the detective who picked the call also said he was unaware of the incident.
He further transferred the call the to the record unit which should be aware of any such development if it was reported, an automatic prompter asked our reporter to leave a message and contact details which would be responded to.
THISDAY left a message, and called back several times, but there was no call-back as at 8.10pm Friday night.
THISDAY also contacted the Residence Inn hotel where the lawmakers stayed at 527 Prospect Avenue E, OH 44115 with telephone number +1-216-443-9043.
The lady who answered the call said the hotel management was aware of the incident involving the lawmakers.
She however noted that she was not competent to speak on the matter, and transferred the call to the officer who she said was competent to respond to enquiries.
The officer was not on his seat to pick the call, and the call was not returned as at press time.
When THISDAY repeated the call on Saturday, a man who picked the phone declined to comment on the matter maintaining that only the GM could comment on it. He later transferred the call to the GM’s line. Again, the senior hotel official was not on seat and a voice mail left by THISDAY was not responded to. An email sent to the hotel yesterday to find out whether the hotel accosted the lawmakers when the allegations were leveled and whether a report was made to law enforcement agency was also not replied.
THISDAY also reached out to the United States Mission in Abuja on Friday to enquire why the attempted rape and solicitation for sex, were not reported to Cleveland Police when the lawmakers were still there participating in the programme.
It also sought to know what form of evidence indicting the lawmakers exists, such as CCTV footage, and why their visas were revoked instead of giving them the opportunity to return to Cleveland to clear their names through the court system.
The spokesperson of the Embassy, Mr. Sean McIntosh, declined to respond to the queries or to comment.
In an email, he said: “As far as your questions are concerned, it is our policy to not comment on private diplomatic correspondence. Thank you for taking the time to reach out to us.”
A follow up mail sent by THISDAY to the embassy on Saturday was responded to by McIntosh thus: “As I told your editor last night, the United States does not comment on the details of its private diplomatic correspondence. That is all we have to say on this matter. Thank you for understanding.”