- House c’ttee to invite foreign minister on scandal
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja with agency report
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, will next Thursday meet with outgoing United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, over the sexual misconduct allegation against three legislators.
Investigative public hearing on the scandal begins on Thursday and Entwistle is expected to provide video clips of the incident.
The incident allegedly occurred during the International Visitor Leadership Programme in Cleveland, Ohio, US held between April 7 and 13, attended by 10 members of the lower chamber.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the Chairman of House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Hon. Nicholas Ossai (PDP-Delta), said the committee did not invite management of the hotel where the alleged misconduct occurred.
According to him, we decided not to extend invitation to the hotel management since the ambassador who broke the information through a letter to the speaker has documentary evidence against the three lawmakers.
The three lawmakers involved in the allegation are Mohammed Gololo (APC-Bauchi), Samuel Ikon (PDP-Akwa Ibom) and Mark Gbillah (APC-Benue). They allegedly solicited sex from prostitutes and grabbed hotel housekeeper in a bid to rape her.
Ossai said the committee had also invited Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
He said the committee did not carry out any secret investigation, and urged anyone with useful information to submit same to the committee on or before commencement of the hearing.
“The standard in the US is that an accused is assumed innocent until proven guilty and that is the same standard in Nigeria. Anyone who has evidence can now see the committee,” Ossai said.
The co-Chairman of the committee, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, told THISDAY that the committee would also liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the investigation.
Ukeje, who chairs the Committee on Foreign Affairs, added that the proper channel of communication to any diplomat serving in Nigeria, is through the ministry.
“The committee recognises that our channel of communication to the US ambassador is through the Minister of Foreign Affairs. I can confirm to you that the committee shall at some point invite the Minister of Foreign Affairs and we shall liaise with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the way to go forward as we engage diplomatically,” she said.
“There is no such invitation to the US ambassador because we are cognisant of the Geneva Convention and its provisions, and we understand very clearly the channel of communications between the legislature and members of the diplomatic corps,” Ukeje added.
Dogara had last month expressed regrets over the trending report on the allegation against the three lawmakers, especially in the social media.
The Speaker was quoted by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Turaki Hassan, as urging Nigerians to refrain from passing judgment and wait for the outcome of investigation by the parliament.
“Judgment can only be passed when an allegation is proven,” he had said.
Dogara also vowed that the house would investigate the allegation, saying: “Together with the US Embassy in Nigeria, we will get to the bottom of this matter.”
He had pointed out that apart from the US ambassador’s letter, no evidence had been forwarded to his office, and that there could be no conviction without a trial.
The speaker also indicated that the lawmakers had said they were prepared to defend themselves at their own cost.
The House Committee on Ethics and Privileges handling the investigation postponed the public hearing from Monday to Thursday.
The postponement, according to Ossai, is to enable some members of the committee who travelled to perform their religious obligation in Mecca to return to the country.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers would resume plenary today, following Muslim holiday.
The three accused lawmakers are expected to appear before the committee on Thursday and state their side of the story.