THE long-awaited report of the Hon. Nicholas Ossai-led House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges probing the alleged sexual misconduct of three members of the House while on an official assignment to Cleveland, Ohio in the United States of America in April this year, has come out with a verdict of not guilty.
This verdict is hardly surprising, in view of the fact that former US Ambassador James Entwistle, who levelled the allegations against Hon Samuel Ikon (PDP Akwa Ibom), Hon Mark Gbillah (APC Benue) and Hon. Mohammed Gololo (APC Bauchi), failed to appear or send representation to tender any evidence to buttress his accusations.
Entwistle had, in a damning letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara on June 9th, 2016, accused Gololo of sexually harassing a hotel chamber maid, while Gbillah and Ikon were said to have solicited for the services of prostitutes from hotel staff. He insisted that the US Mission “took pains” to confirm these allegations and the identities of those involved in the scandal. The US Embassy promptly cancelled the visas of the three lawmakers, even before they were proved guilty.
Curiously, when the Ossai Committee invited the US Mission in Nigeria to come forward with evidence, they could not get anyone (including the said hotel staff) to produce any. Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Godfrey Onyema, on July 22nd 2016, while testifying, informed the House that the US Embassy had no evidence to support their claims, and that the US Mission had actually closed the lid on the case.
While the “sex scandal” trended like wild fire, the accused members and indeed the entire National Assembly suffered untold opprobrium in the public domain. Gbillah, in particular, stridently denied culpability, as he said he had travelled to the event with his family, yet no one was willing to listen to them.
Unfortunately, it was also during this period that Entwistle’s assignment in Nigeria came to an end and he quietly left the country.
We believe that this issue should not be allowed to end without some kind of redress, both for the affected members of the House of Representatives and Nigeria as a nation, whose images were dragged in the mud by Ambassador Entwistle and the US Mission in Nigeria.
We call for an unreserved apology. We also encourage the unfairly accused persons to feel free to seek any legal redress or relief available to them under Nigerian and US laws.
We must apply caution in condemning accused persons because once reputations of people are destroyed in the public arena, the damage cannot be fully reversed if the ‘charges’ cannot be proven, as in this case.