The allegations of sexual misconduct levelled against three members of the House of Representatives by the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, is without evidence.
This revelation was made on Thursday by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who spoke at the hearing of the Joint House Committee on Ethics/Privileges and Foreign Relations of the House of Representatives on the issue.
Onyeama said there was no credible evidence to prove the allegations of sexual misconduct against the Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Terse Mark-Gbillah (APC-Benue); Samuel Ikon (PDP-Akwa Ibom); and Mohammed Garba-Gololo (APC-Bauchi).
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, had set up a Joint House Committee on Ethics/Privileges and Foreign Relations, chaired by Nicholas Ossai and Nnena Ukeje, to investigate the matter.
Entwistle had written a petition to Dogara on the alleged sexual misconduct against the lawmakers.
In his June 9, 2016 letter to Dogara, Entwistle alleged that the members behaved inappropriately towards a hotel housekeeper and solicited the services of car park attendants to get prostitutes for them.
But testifying before the committees in Abuja, Onyeama said Entwistle told him that all he did was to bring the allegations to the attention of Dogara, not that the US Government passed any judgment of guilt on the Nigerian legislators.
He said Entwistle described his letter as a “private, confidential letter” to Dogara, merely to draw his attention to the fact that the allegations were made against his members, who visited the US in April.
Onyeama told the joint committee that the Ambassador did not accept responsibility for the leakage of the letter to the public, but apologised for not using the formal diplomatic channel of writing the Speaker through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He said when the matter was brought to his attention, he summoned Entwistle to verify it.
He said: “He told me that these were allegations and nothing more; that as far as they were concerned, the matter was closed.
“That the allegations did not indicate a position that the ambassador had already passed a judgment or the US Government.”
Onyeama said he was upset by the response of the ambassador and further asked for the evidence that led to his writing to Dogara.
He said Entwistle replied that the letter was written based on the allegations made by a hotel housekeeper and the park attendants just to keep Dogara informed of the development.
The minister said: “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.
“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 a legal proceeding 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 was then asked to explain why the US withdrew the visas of the lawmakers if Entwistle claimed that there was no judgment or concrete evidence to prove the allegations.
He said the ambassador explained that the US had its rules of engagement as the issue of who should get visa approval was at the “discretion of the US embassy”.
When asked what could be the possible penalties against the ambassador for his conduct, Onyeama said nothing could be done outside of the fact that the members could sue for defamation of character.
He expressed displeasure that neither himself nor the ministry was aware of the International Visitors’ Leadership Programme as the US opted to send invitations directly to the 10 members who attended the programme instead of routing it through the ministry.
Onyeama said the fact of the allegations being made in the first place without concrete evidence was a lesson for Nigerians on how to conduct themselves in other countries.
“I will 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.
Ukeje, who chairs the Committee on Foreign Relations, noted that there was a protocol breach in the fact the ministry was not aware of the programme.
She added: “Again, I am disturbed that there was no evidence like video recording, DNA; something strong to prove the allegations.”
Garba-Gololo, Mark-Gbillah and Ikon said the development confirmed the innocence they had pleaded all the while.
Garba-Gololo said: “I have been humiliated and embarrassed.
“It will take courage for me to continue with my daily activities.
“We demand apologies from the US.”
Mark-Gbillah appealed to the committee to take the investigation further to the US so that he could at least confront his accusers one-on-one.
He said: “We will take this fight to the very end and the ambassador must take full responsibility for this harm he did to us.”
Ikon disagreed with the claim of the ambassador that he intended the letter to be a private and confidential communication between him and Dogara.
He said: “This letter was copied to all the 10 members who went on the trip.
“If you add the Speaker, that made the number 11.
“It was not private.
“He knew what he was doing from the very beginning.
“It was premeditated.”