Reveals details of meeting with Entwistle as envoy shuns house c’ttee
Accused lawmakers plan legal action
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
In a fresh twist in the sexual misconduct allegations against three members of the House of Representatives by the former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, has disclosed that there is no concrete evidence against the lawmakers to prove the allegations.
He said this as part of the details of his interaction with Entwistle over the allegations where Hon. Mark Gbillah, Hon. Samuel Ikon and Hon. Garba Gololo were accused of sexual solicitation while on a trip to the Cleveland in Ohio, US, for the International Visitors Leadership Programme. Entwistle however did not appear alongside the minister at the hearing.
Due to diplomatic immunity, he cannot be mandated to appear before the committee, as he is shielded from all prosecutions while in a host country.
Speaking yesterday before the joint House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, and Foreign Relations, Onyeama said Entwistle did not provide any evidence that would prove the allegations.
He added that he summoned the outgoing envoy when the story broke, and was told that the issues were just allegations.
“He (ambassador) told me that these were allegations and nothing more, that as far as they were concerned, the matter was closed. Entwistle stated that the allegations did not indicate a position that the ambassador had already passed a judgment or the US government,” Onyeama said.
The envoy, he said, simply wanted to bring the matter to Speaker Yakubu Dogara’s attention to inform him that such allegations were made against his members, and that the petition was not an indication that the US government regarded the men as guilty.
“When I asked him about the evidence that emboldened them to arrive at the type of conclusions in the letter, the ambassador stressed that it was factual that there were allegations, but that he was not passing any judgment. I said who made the allegations? He said a hotel maid or cleaner, who said Garba Gololo made inappropriate request and approached her in the hotel. But, he now made it clear that the housekeeper would not testify; that she does not want to testify,” Onyeama said.
The minister continued: “I was surprised that the person who made such a serious allegation was not willing to testify. For the parking lot attendants, the ambassador said they identified the lawmakers in photographs. I replied that there is clearly a possibility of legal proceedings for defamation because I thought there was stronger evidence.
“Again, he apologised that his only point of writing Dogara was to pass information about those allegations.”
Onyeama however noted that Entwistle did not accept the blame for the leakage of the letter to Dogara, which he described as confidential to the press.
Entwistle however apologised for not writing the Speaker through the appropriate channel required by diplomatic conventions-that is through the Foreign Ministry-Onyeama disclosed.
The minister, however, noted that the House did not intimate the ministry about the International Visitors Leadership Programme invitation to its members, which ought to have been channeled through the ministry.
“…Besides, for a government-to-government arrangement, the normal procedure was for the embassy to come through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Of course, there are no sanctions for such behaviour,” he said.
Following queries by the committee on why the visas of the three lawmakers were revoked, if there were no concrete evidences against them, Onyeama relayed Entwistle’s position that visa approval was at the discretion of the US embassy.
The option available for the accused lawmakers is to sue for defamation of character, Onyeama added.
“The letter (to Dogara) to me was not conclusive of any guilt and I am surprised that the housekeeper would not testify. In my opinion, there may be need for legal proceedings for defamation…I see this case as reminding your members not to put themselves in a position that could deny Nigerians participation in such programmes in the future. It is like a caution,” he said.
The co-Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Nnenna Ukeje, noted that there were breaches of protocol on both sides, if indeed the Foreign Ministry was not aware of the invitation to the lawmakers.
“Again, I am disturbed that there were no evidences like recordings, videos, DNA, something strong to prove the allegations. Tell the US government that Nigeria too has its rules and we expect them to abide by our own rules and the integrity of our citizens,” she said.
The accused lawmakers reacted to the development. Gololo said he has been embarrassed and humiliated by the scandal.
“It will take courage for me to continue with my daily activities. We demand apologies from the US,” Gololo stated.
Ikon said the ambassador could not have intended the petition to be private, as he claimed to the minister.
“This letter was copied to all the 10 members who embarked on the trip. If you add the speaker, that made it 11. It was not private then, he knew what he was doing from the very beginning; it was premeditated,” Ikon affirmed.
One of the victim lawmakers, Gbillah, who again appeared with his wife, Sophia, however urged that the investigation should go further to the US, so that he would get the opportunity to confront his accusers.
“We will take this fight to the very end and the ambassador must take full responsibility for this harm he did to us,” he said.
Sophia, who spoke briefly to journalists after the hearing, said her husband has never cheated on her since their marriage in 2007.
“I say so because when a man fears God, he will not cheat on me. The second reason is because he loves God. He doesn’t even stand in the midst of people having conversations on women or prostitutes. I know the accusation leveled against my husband is sfalse,” she said.
Meanwhile, Gbillah in a text message confirmed to THISDAY that the three accused lawmakers would go ahead with legal action, despite the development.
“Yes, we will. We are already speaking with our lawyers in Nigeria and in the United States,” he said.