- Accused lawmakers reiterate innocence
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama and the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, were wednesday absent from the hearing being conducted by the House of Representatives into the allegations of sexual misconduct against three lawmakers.
Onyeama and Entwistle were absent from the hearing last week, resulting in the postponement to yesterday, as the minister was away attending the 29th Ordinary Session of the African Union in Kigali.
Entwistle, in a June 9, 2016 petition to the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, accused Hon. Mark Gbillah, Hon. Samuel Ikon and Hon. Mohammed Garba Gololo of sexual solicitation, while on a trip to the US for the International Visitors Leadership Programme.
The three men denied the accusations, and threatened legal actions to clear their names. The House however set up a joint committee comprising its Committees on Ethics and Privileges, and Foreign Relations to investigate the allegations.
At the sitting last week, the co-Chair of the Committee, Hon. Nnenna Ukeje, disclosed that the Minister already interfaced with the ambassador over the matter, and is therefore being expected to brief the committee on the outcome of the conversation.
Outgoing Entwistle, due to diplomatic immunity, is expected to appear in company of the Minister. The House, through its spokesman, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, has however expressed readiness to visit him, and take his testimony, if he is unwilling to appear before the committee.
Onyeama, in a letter to the committee which was read by the Chairman, Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, requested that his appearance be rescheduled as the timing clashes with the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.
His letter last week to the Committee had requested that his appearance be scheduled for any day after July 19, when he was expected back in the country.
The fresh letter however drew the ire of several members of the committee.
Hon. Toby Okechukwu urged that ‘strong words’ conveying the displeasure of the committee be sent to the minister, particularly as the letter was received just at the commencement of the hearing.
Ukeje however appealed to her colleagues explaining that the minister’s excuse was a plausible one, since “this is the first FEC meeting after he returned from Kigali.
“The president and other FEC members will expect to hear from him the outcome of the summit he went to attend, particularly considering that fact it was to elect a new AU Chairperson”, she added.
The committee rescheduled his appearance to Thursday., and also summoned the US Ambassador to appear and present his evidence.
“It is the ruling of this committee that the American Ambassador will appear here on tomorrow. The Minister of Foreign Affairs will bring him here, as was earlier resolved by the committee,“ Ossai said.
In their testimonies, the accused lawmakers denied the allegations against them.