It is certainly not a good time for the 360 members of the House of Representatives, as the institution they represent has come under severe criticism, condemnation and public ridicule, following a recent allegation of attempted sexual assault by three of its members in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
Of course, the image of the Green Chamber has been dragged to the mud, following this ugly development as lawyers, civil society organisations, rights activities and other eminent Nigerians have openly condenmed their action as shameful and embarrassing not only to themselves and their families, but to the institution and the country they represent.
To say the least, the alleged scandal has no doubt brought the lower chamber into disrepute; this weighty allegation is something that will indeed hunt the institution and what it represents for a long time.
Between April 7 and 13, 10 members travelled to Ohio where they were invited by the US government for the International Visitor Leadership Programme in Cleveland, as participants in the International Visitor Leadership Programme on good governance. The lawmakers include: Gaza Jonathan Gbefwi (PDP- Nasarawa); Danburam Abubakar Nuhu (APC-Kano); Nkole Uko Ndukwe (PDP-Abia); Rita Orji (PDP-Lagos); Ayo Huliyat Omidiran (APC-Osun); Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC- Bauchi); Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue).
Reports had it that employees of Cleveland hotel, where the lawmakers lodged, officially informed the US Department of State and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs that Mohammed Garba Gololo allegedly grabbed a housekeeper in his hotel room and solicited for sex, while Mark Terseer Gbillah and Samuel Ikon allegedly requested hotel parking attendants to assist them solicit for prostitutes.
Recently, the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, petitioned the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, accusing the three lawmakers of improper conduct, attempted rape and soliciting for prostitutes while on official trip to the US.
In a letter dated June 9, the ambassador alleged that three members of the House: Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC, Bauchi); Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) had, on a recent visit to the United States for the International Visitor Leadership Programme, brought disrepute to the parliament by soliciting for sex from prostitutes and grabbing hotel housekeeper in a bid to rape.
According to Entwistle, “The US Mission took pains to confirm these allegations and the identities of the individuals with employees of the hotel in Cleveland. The conduct described above left a very negative impression of Nigeria, casting a shadow on its National Assembly, the International Visitor Leadership Program and to the American hosts, the impression of Nigeria as a whole. Such conduct could affect some participants’ ability to travel to the United States in the future.
“While majority of Nigerian visitors to the United States do behave appropriately, 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. The affected lawmakers did not show remorse when the issue was brought to them.
“In addition, most of 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 the question whether to include National Assembly members for other similar programmes in the future. I request, in the strongest possible terms, that you share this message with members of the National Assembly so that 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”.
As expected, the affected lawmakers have since 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.”
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. These are totally false, unfounded and baseless allegations against me. I categorically deny that 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 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”.
On his part, Gbillah wrote Entwistle accusing the US of not giving the three members fair hearing. He 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 their visas. He, therefore, threatened to immediately institute legal actions against the US government, the ambassador and Marriot Hotel Brand, among others for damages.
“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 employees of the hotel in Cleveland,” Gbillah stated.
Ikon also claimed that the allegation levelled against him was not only untrue, but also a case of mistaken identity.
According to him, “My attention has been drawn to a 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”.
In order to clear its name, the House said it has commenced investigation into the alleged sexual assault by three of its lawmakers during an official trip to the USA.
The House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, insisted that the accusation remains an allegation until proven otherwise. Namdas pointed out that they have commenced investigation to ascertain the true state of things.
According to him, “Ten of our members went to Ohio on a leadership programme and returned sucessfully. We recently received a letter from the US ambassador that there was misconduct by three of the members while on the official trip. While we investigate the matter, it remains an allegation”.
While some have argued that the members involved in the sex scandal should be suspended, others insisted that their action was immoral and ignoble and therefore should be recalled by their respective constituents if found guilty.
National Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, said the House of Representatives should set up a panel of inquiry because it will reveal what actually transpired, adding that the action has caused a big dent on the image of the country; hence the lawmakers should be investigated.
“It would be premature for the accused members of the House of Representatives to sue the United States government because the petition against them is weighty and it is like a statement of fact as it is coming from such an important personality in the person of an ambassador of the United States. Nobody is likely to associate him with frivolous comments.
“Their actions have brought a disgrace that should be visited with recall. I also think that the House leadership should suspend them from office and look for appropriate sanctions that the law permits to serve as a deterrent to others,” Okorie posited.
Similarly, President of Women Arise for Change Initiative, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, said the incident is worrisome not only because Nigerians are involved, but because people who are saddled with the responsibility of making laws for the country are involved in such ignoble act of sexual immorality and indiscipline.
According to her, “These men have only succeeded in exporting what perhaps is their daily lifestyle to far away United States of America. It is therefore my opinion that this act of sexual immorality and what I can further describe as sexual violence is thoroughly investigated and perpetrators are accordingly punished if found guilty”.
It now behoves on the speaker and the leadership of the House to swiftly mandate its Committee on Ethics and Foreign Affairs to thoroughly investigate the allegation and ensure that justice is done.
Nevertheless, it is morally right that while the probe is ongoing, the three accused lawmakers should vacate their seats to allow for a hitch-free investigation. In fact, this is one investigation that the House cannot and will not afford to sweep under the carpet because of its interest nationally and internationally.
Finally, as Nigerians and the US government wait for the possible outcome of the investigation, the speaker should not hesitate to apply sanctions where necessary as this will surely serve as a deterent to others.

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