The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, has petitioned the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, accusing some members of the lower chamber of improper conduct, attempted rape and soliciting for prostitutes while on official trip to the US.
But, the affected lawmakers have denied all the allegations and threatened to sue the ambassador and the US government for “character defamation and a calculated attempt to ridicule the National Assembly.”
The Ambassador, in a letter dated June 9, 2016, addressed to Speaker Dogara, exclusively obtained by New Telegraph, alleged that three members of the House namely: Hon. Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC, Bauchi), Hon. Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Hon. Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) had, on a recent visit to the United States for the International Visitor Leadership Program, brought disrepute to the parliament by soliciting for sex from prostitutes and grabbing hotel housekeeper in a bid to rape.
Ten lawmakers were invited by the US government for the International Visitor Leadership Program held between April 7 and 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. They include: Gaza Jonathan Gbefwi (PDPNasarawa State), Danburam Abubakar Nuhu (APC-Kano State), Nkole Uko Ndukwe (PDP-Abia State), Rita Orji (PDPLagos State), Ayo Huliyat Omidiran (APC-Osun). Entwistle’s letter reads: “It is with regret that I must bring to your attention the following situation.
Ten members of the Nigerian National Assembly recently travelled to Cleveland, Ohio as participants in the International Visitor Leadership Programme on good governance. We received troubling allegations regarding the behaviour of three members of the delegation to the U.S.
Government’s flagship professional exchange programme.
“The U.S. Department of State and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs received reports from employees of the Cleveland hotel where the representatives stayed, alleging the representatives engaged in the following behaviour: “Mohammed Garba Gololo allegedly grabbed a housekeeper in his hotel room and solicited her for sex.
While the housekeeper reported this to her management, this incident could have involved local law enforcement and resulted in legal consequences for Representative Gololo. “Mark Terseer Gbillah and Samuel Ikon allegedly requested hotel parking attendants assist them to solicit prostitutes.”
Entwistle said the US government made efforts to authenticate these allegations. His words: “The U.S. 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 Program, 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.”
The ambassador acknowledged that “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.” Entwistle stated that the affected lawmakers did not show remorse when the issue was brought to them.
“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,” he said in the letter.
But, Gbillah said that there was no iota of truth in what the ambassador said but a calculated attempt to cause disaffection between them and their wives, families and constituents as they were not given any fair hearing before the letter was sent to the speaker.
He said he was on the trip with his wife and baby and could not, in any way, solicit for sex from a prostitute. He said: “This is an affront on the National Assembly and Nigeria, it appears they have ulterior motives. We are not going to take this lightly; we will take legal actions against the US government. It is a dent on our image.”
Narrating the story of their stay in US, Gbillah said: “I went on the trip with my wife and baby and insisted that she stayed with me, but they told me the accommodation was meant for only participants. So, at Cleveland Renaissance where we were, opposite the Quicken Loan Arena, the Cleveland Cavalier Basketball team played a match and many people came to lodge at the same hotel, and they claimed that we spoke with car park attendants.
We didn’t go with cars, so how could we have spoken with attendants?” He explained that the first time he heard about the allegations was a month after they returned from the US and went to represent the speaker at the farewell dinner for the Chinese ambassador. “…
I saw the ambassador (Entwistle) and went to greet him and he told me how a few of us tarnished the image of the House. I advised him to make it formal so that we can know who was involved and what actually happened.
“It was after this encounter that they called us to their premises and said they were identified by their accusers in a group picture. This is curious. No video footage. They didn’t accost us while we were in US. We suspect this is a calculated attempt to rubbish the National Assembly. “Is this how they would have investigated their congressmen? Do they know that there were other black people who came to watch the match? How could they have identified us in a picture without our knowledge?
“We, the concerned members, have written to the speaker indicating the facts and demanding footage of our stay in the hotel. We also want them to provide access to our accusers to identify us. But most importantly, we would be demanding compensation from the US government for defamation of character.”
Also, in his letter to the speaker, dated June 13, Gololo, who was accused of grabbing a housekeeper, said: “Let me, from the outset, express my shock and dismay at the contents of the letter generally and particularly affects me.
“These are totally false, unfounded and baseless allegations against me. I categorically deny any such incident happened, I never grabbed any housekeeper nor did I solicit for sex. I also take this issue very seriously not only because I am a honourable member representing a hallowed institution, but because of my integrity as a husband and father.
How would my family and in-laws react to these wild and grave allegations? “I demand an apology and retraction of these allegations or I shall not hesitate to engage the services of lawyers and not only to clear my name, but to seek redress for the damages done to my reputation. I insist that evidence of the allegations against me be produced….
“It is, therefore, in the interest of both countries to investigate this matter thoroughly to get to the root of it and I am ready to go back to Cleveland at my expense to establish my innocence without prejudice to my rights, press charges against libellous allegations” When contacted, spokesman for the House, Abdulrazaq Namdas, confirmed the receipt of the letter by the speaker.
All attempts to get Hon. Ikon to tell his side of the story were unsuccessful as his phone number was permanently shut. A member of the House on the delegation expressed shock and disbelief about the incident.
“I cannot believe this. Something must be wrong somewhere. We were all in the same hotel and this same man (Gololo) was there as well. He has all the capacity to get a woman in the city if he wanted to, but he is somebody we all know loves his wife and family so much.
The lady did not even mention names, we learnt she only pointed at the man in the group photograph we took during the programme. “Again, this issue was reported two weeks after we left the hotel. Why was this not done while we were there?
The lady in question did not shout immediately and one wonders if truly there was such thing. “We did not know anything until the letter written to the Speaker went round all of us who were in Cleveland for the meeting. It is shocking,” the lawmaker told New Telegraph on condition of anonymity.