FROM ROSE EJEMBI, MAKURDI, JOE EFFIONG, UYO, and PAUL ORUDE, BAUCHI
JUST as Nigerians await the outcome of the House of Representatives’ investigation of the alleged involvement of three of its members in a sex scandal in the United States, political leaders from their constituencies are already taking divergent positions on what should be the fate of the federal lawmakers.
Unfortunately for the embattled lawmakers, none of their constituents was ready to vouch for them even as some of them regretted that the indictment has brought a national and international embarrassment to their constituencies.
Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, had on Thursday, directed the investigation of the three indicted members following a diplomatic complaint against them by the United States Government.
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, who confirmed the probe explained that the leadership of the House decided to investigate the alleged sex scandal following a formal complaint made by the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle.
He said, “We are in receipt of a letter from the US Ambassador, alleging misconduct by some members of the National Assembly, who attended training in the United States of America. The leadership of the House has commenced its own part of the investigation. When it is concluded, we will brief Nigerians further on this issue.”
The affected members – Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC, Bauchi), Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) – allegedly committed the act during a recent trip to the US to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Programme on Good Governance organised by the US Government.
The three legislators were members of a team of 10 lawmakers nominated to attend the leadership programme, which took place in Cleveland, Ohio, between April 7 and 13 this year.
US opens can of worms
Entwistle, in his June 9 letter to Dogara, stated: “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. 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.
“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.
“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.”
Some other members who participated in the programme but were not fingered in the scandal were Chairman, House Committee on the Diaspora Affairs, Mrs. Rita Orji; Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Gaza Jonathan; Mrs. Ayo Omidiran; Mr. Danburam Abubakar; and Mr. Nkole Ndukwe.
Indicted lawmakers spit fire
One of the embattled lawmakers, Mark Gbillah, had written Entwistle on Thursday, accusing the US of not giving the three members fair hearing. Gbillah also expressed surprise in his letter that within hours of bringing the matter to the attention of the House, the US Government had gone ahead to cancel the visas of the lawmakers.
He threatened to immediately institute legal actions against the US Government, the Ambassador and the Marriot Hotel Brand, among others for damages.
Part of Gbillah’s letter, which was dated June 16, read, “Without conclusive evidence of any sort or contact with any of the accused individuals, the US State Department and US Embassy in Nigeria have less than six days after your letter to the Speaker, gone ahead to revoke the US visas of the accused individuals based on hearsay from the employees of the hotel in Cleveland.
“Affected individuals received correspondence from the US Embassy on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, indicating the denial of their US visas and requesting that they bring their passports with the current US visa to the Embassy.”
The letter was copied to Dogara, the US Secretary of State, Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Cleveland Council of World Affairs, and the President and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International.
On his part, Ikon claimed that the allegation levelled against him was not only untrue but also a case of mistaken identity.
He stated, “My attention has been drawn to the publication, alleging an act of impropriety against me by the US Mission in Nigeria.
“I wish to state unequivocally that this is false and definitely not me. This, to me, is a case of mistaken identity and I have already instituted measures both legally and diplomatically to clear my name and the institution I represent.”
Gololo while speaking with the BBC Hausa service on Friday in Abuja, claimed the allegation of rape against him was not true and challenged the US government to come up with concrete proofs and evidence adding that he was ever ready to prove his innocence including going back to America when needed.
The embattled federal lawmaker said since the news broke, his supporters from Gamawa, and beyond have been calling to sympathise with him and even told him that similar allegations of rape had been made against members representing Gamawa constituency in the National Assembly in the past.
We’re shocked- Lawmakers’ constituents
From Benue state, Engr. Felix Atume, a former Registrar of COREN and PDP governorship aspirant in the last general elections said he regards Gbillah as a gentleman but could not vouch for his conduct in the US.
“Gbillah has denied the allegation saying he went to the US with his wife and children. Aside that, I know him to be a gentleman to the core. He is a very focused person and from a very good family background too. But again, I did not go to the US with him and may not know what happened there”, he added.
In his reaction, Chief Abu King Shuluwa, PDP chieftain in the state described the incident as unfortunate.
His words: “It’s unfortunate that this has happened but I expect Nigerians to be careful with foreigners, especially the whites, because those things that don’t matter to us matter to them a lot. Our representatives should realise that all eyes are on them as our ambassadors and be very careful what they do outside. “However, we have so many issues in Nigeria that are begging for attention. This particular one is a distraction. Why should the American Ambassador in Nigeria be reporting such matter about our representatives? That is to show that Nigeria is in the eye of the world and we need to be careful what we do.”
A national leader of the APC, Senator JKN Waku, will however want to err on the side of caution. “I have read it through the social media but I have not seen the letter written by the American Ambassador to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. When I see the letter, I will react both to the House of Representatives and the constituency. For now, it is like a rumour and I am old enough to know that I shouldn’t react to mere rumour”, Waku noted.
The Youth leader of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) in Bauchi State, Alhaji Danladi Maigari Gamawa in his reaction to the indictment of Gololo expressed sadness over the allegations of rape levelled against the member representing his constituency, Gamawa federal constituency in the National Assembly by the US government.
He said the rape allegation against Gololo was a sad embarrassment to the entire people of Gamawa constituency.
He said: “We are sad and we want to distance the people of Gamawa from the allegation because we are law abiding citizens and we are dedicated to our religion of Islam which forbids rape. We will try as much as possible to distance ourselves from the allegation because it is coming to us as a sad news”
Gamawa said the people of the constituency are highly disturbed by their lawmaker’s response that some lawmakers who held the seat in the past also faced such allegations.
“It is not true. Before Gololo, we had Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, we had Mohammed Ibrahim Tabako, Suleiman Nazif Gamawa who is now a serving senator represented Bauchi North, we also had Ahmed Madaki Gololo who he took over from. We have prominent politicians such as Senator Mohammed Babayo Gamawa. They had impeccable record of service to their constituency and country. These people never had any allegation of such against them. We are certain that the US government cannot tell lies against Gololo. There must be an element of truth because if he didn’t attempt the rape they wouldn’t have written to Nigeria and the House of Representatives leadership. To us in Bauchi State and indeed Gamawa, it is a sad and serious issue. Gololo has been defending himself but the issue must be thoroughly investigated. We the people of Gamawa are not leaving it like that because we must go back and see what we can do”, he stated.
In Akwa Ibom state however, there appears to be unanimity in condemning the American embassy’s allegation that former Speaker of the state House of Assembly and now a member of the House of Reps, Mr Sam Ikon was involved in soliciting for sex from prostitutes while on an official trip to the United States recently.
The member representing Ikon in the state House of Assembly, Mr Aniefiok Dennis, told Saturday Sun that such allegation was baseless. “Ikon has been going to America even as a kid; he had been going to America before he became a member of the state House of Assembly in 2007. He knows the rules out there even more than some of us.
“For somebody to have levelled such an allegation against him is to say the least very unfair. He was not even given fair hearing. I am a lawyer and I strongly believe in the maxim of fair hearing. The embassy just wrote to the Speaker of the House of Reps without bothering to hear from him.
“As somebody representing Ikon in the State House of Assembly, I have called him and he told me that there was nothing like that. He said he was ready to appear before any investigative panel; in fact, he says he has consulted his lawyers to prepare his briefs; that he might seek legal redress to clear his name,” Dennis said.
The publicity secretary of PDP in Akwa Ibom State, the party Ikon belongs, Mr Ini Ememobong, said the party in the state was aligning itself with the law, which says that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
“As long as no court of competent jurisdiction has ruled on it that he is guilty, the person remains innocent. No one has heard from Hon. Ikon; the American embassy has not written to him to come and defend himself. The ambassador simply wrote; and in writing, the thing has escalated to the point that he has been pronounced guilty already in the court of public opinion.”
Similarly, Sam Ikon’s predecessor in the House of Reps, Obong Dan Akpan who was also Ikon’s colleague in the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly before moving to the House of Reps in 2011, described the allegation as a thrash.
Though he contested against Ikon in 2015 but on the platform of APC, Akpan said Ikon as a man of God could not have indulged in soliciting sex from prostitutes.
“Personally, I won’t believe that because Ikon is a pastor and knows the ethics of his office, apart from travelling to America or going on assignment. I think it is very unfair for the American embassy to say he asked somebody to call a woman. What does that mean?
“For me, I think the allegation is very uncalled for. Does it mean that all the people that travel abroad don’t talk to women? Why should that be an issue? It amounts to invasion of somebody’s privacy. And personally, I don’t think it’s true.
“As I said earlier, Ikon is a pastor, and he has been travelling several times. I was with Ikon in the state House of Assembly. He has travelled so many times to America. If you check his passport, you will see that he has travelled so many times to America and he has never had any issue with women or any scandal. So for me, I would say the American embassy is just trying to be funny. What is the evidence? A man is asked to go and bring a woman and that had become a big thing?” Akpan asked.