Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, on Thursday, said the allegation of sexual misconduct brought against three members of the House of Representatives by the immediate past United States (US) Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, was weak, defamatory and lacked merit in nature and could be pursued at the law court if the accused lawmakers so desired.
The minister, speaking before the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges, headed by Honourable Nicholas Osai and the Committee on Foreign Affairs Relations, headed by Honourable Nnenna Elendu Ukejeh, stated that there was no single evidence against the accused lawmakers.
He pointed out from his interaction with the former ambassador, the letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, was purely private and diplomatic, which was just to inform him about the allegations and the need to guide against future occurrence that could tarnish their images and that of Nigeria.
The minister condemned what he termed the “undiplomatic” channel of communication used by the former ambassador for the invitation of the lawmakers to the International Leadership Exchange Programme, as well his letter to the Speaker conveying the said allegations to the panel, adding that neither himself nor his ministry was aware of the trip, despite the fact it was a government-government programme.
Onyeama said in a meeting he held with the ambassador in his office, he clearly expressed his dissatisfaction, because of his failure to communicate the participation of Nigerian lawmakers in a “supposed government-to-government” leadership exchange programme facilitated by the US government and coordinated by the ministry.
According to him, “I called the ambassador to my office and told him that I was surprised he could not brief the Foreign Ministry on this matter before it came to the public. He apologised and said he wrote the letter as a private diplomatic discussion between himself and the Speaker and that it was not meant to be a public show.”
He further said “when I asked him as to what evidence he has to warrant the allegations because if they are found to be defamatory, legal actions could be taken, he said he wrote the letter without making any judgment.”
According to him, “I asked further that on what basis were the allegations made, he said the US government did not make any judgment because the lady who complained of being sexually harassed said she wasn’t going to testify anywhere – which made it difficult for the Home Office to go further with the investigation.
“I also asked him how they identified the accused lawmakers as the culprits, he told me they got their identities from a group photograph. This clearly presents a possibility of proceeding for defamation because I thought that there would have been a stronger evidence of wrongdoing before this kind of judgment is reached.”
When asked if the said programme was brought to his attention, being a “government-to-government arrangement as claimed, the minister said “no,” stressing that ‘‘the known diplomatic procedure would have been to channel whatever communication through him.”