Tension In House Of Reps As Sex Scandal Investigation Begins Today


WHEN 10 members of the House of Representatives arrived the Renaissance hotel in Cleveland, Ohio as guests of the US government for the International Visitor Leadership Programme held between April 7 and 13, 2016, the millions of Nigerians they represent were oblivious that that the privilege would become an ill-fated trip of a sort. Constituents of these lawmakers went about their lives not knowing that the luxury hotel managed by the famous Marriott Hotel Group, would be the scene of an international sex scandal, that has caused them major embarrassment and again blighted the country’s reputation.

In most cases, even some of the wealthiest countries, the US inclusive, when hosting international exchange programmes or summits, work with a budget, with such events being hosted at affordable hotels.

But probably due to the calibre of those invited for the leadership programme, the US government chose to host the event at the sophisticated hotel located in downtown Cleveland. Daily Sun findings indicate that rooms in the Renaissance’s hotel start at about N92,000 per night. Further research on the hotel by Daily Sun also showed that it has 33 event rooms one or two of which would have hosted the conference the Nigerian lawmakers attended. Also not coming cheap is the usage of the now famous parking lot at the hotel, where two lawmakers were accused of asking a staff who assists in parking cars, known as valet in America, to help procure the services of prostitutes.

According to the website of the hotel, parking
there for a day when a guest does that by himself costs about N7,600 and about N9, 000 when the parking of the car is done by a valet and in most cases, wealthy clients at such hotels still drop a generous tip for valets.

It is therefore easy to hazard a guess, that any commercial sex worker who agrees to be pimped by valet at such a hotel would not come cheap.

It was in that luxury hotel that according to the outgoing US ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, the three lawmakers were engaged in sexual misconduct. Entwistle in a letter dated June 9, 2016, addressed to Speaker Yakubu Dogara, alleged that, Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC, Bauchi), Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) had during their stay in the hotel been involved in sexual misconduct.

The envoy in his letter said Gbillah and Ikon asked a staff of the hotel to engage prostitutes on their behalf and Gololo made sexual overtures to a housekeeper.

When the envoy’s letter became public knowledge, resulting in a roaring scandal, with members of the public expressing outrage both on social media and at different forums, Dogara in his first response, said in a series of tweets that his colleagues are innocent until proven guilty. On their part, the three lawmakers have held to their plea of innocence and just before it proceeded on a two- week break for Sallah, the House mandated its Committees on Foreign Relations, Ethics and Privileges to investigate the lawmakers.

The mandate given the joint committee was subsequent to the adoption of a motion raised under matters of privileges at plenary on Tuesday June 21 by Gbillah, who vehemently denied asking anyone to procure the services of a prostitute on his behalf.

Gbillah whose motion was presented in an atmosphere of pin-drop silence, explained that he was demanding on behalf of his colleagues, that the House conducts a “detailed and public” investigation into the matter.

He accused Entwistle of a “calculated campaign to tarnish and smear the image of we the lawmakers and this hallowed institution”.

The lawmaker in an emotion laden voice insisted that he has never cheated on his wife. He said: “For my colleagues who don’t know me and Nigerians out there , I want to categorically state here, for any avoidance of doubt, that no such incidence occurred.

“I want my colleagues and the nation to understand that though we are in the eye of the storm, we will bear this cross and courageously too. I want to say that this is calculated to tarnish the image of the three members and this very hallowed institution. I caution Nigerians who are quick to conclusion. I want to state categorically for all Nigerians to know again, that I love my wife without reservation. I have only eyes for my wife. I have never cheated on her. I wish she was able to come to this hallowed chambers to testify to this. I went on this trip with my wife and my baby. I travel everywhere I go with my wife and baby”.

Owing to the relevance of her committee to the investigation, Chairperson House Committee on Foreign Relations, Nnenna Ukeje( PDP-Abia), the only member allowed to speak after Gbillah, by Dogara, called for a “de-escalation of the situation”, probably in reaction to the deluge of negative comments against the lawmakers in the public domain. She maintained that the investigation of the House must be done with the understanding that Nigeria and the US share a long history of a peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship. The Speaker in his ruling emphasized the importance of the investigation to the House and the public as according to him, the reputation of the country was at stake. He said: “Few Nigerians were involved in Advance Fee Fraud. But it soon became what Nigerians were identified with.

“So if we think that this is about the three members, we will be wrong. It could become the standard which we and other Nigerians are judged”.

Dogara repeated his earlier call to uphold the legal mantra that accused persons be considered innocent until proven guilty. “Let me reiterate that the standard in the US and it is the same in Nigeria, is that you are innocent until proven guilty”, he restated. Even with the commencement of the investigation today, for many it is hard to predict its outcome as the situation is quite unprecedented. Regardless, a member of the joint committee, who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity, said the House in recognition of the mood of the country over the scandal, will not only make the investigations transparent but will make findings public.

The Joint Committee met on Tuesday behind closed doors in preparation for its first public hearing holding today. Daily Sun learnt that the meeting was majorly to work out modalities by which this first of a kind investigation will be conducted. Nevertheless, the basic expectations are that the Foreign Relations Committee will handle the diplomatic angle, while the Committee on Ethics and Privileges will deal with the conduct of the lawmakers.

Of note is the fact that as investigations commence, again, the lawmakers are saying that the onus of proof lies with the US Envoy who turned down journalists at the Saturday July 2 cocktail party organised by the embassy to commemorate the 240th anniversary of America’s declaration of independence. “I have nothing to say about that” he said, when asked if the House had replied his letter or made any contact. But it is quite glaring, that the highly regarded envoy who is expected at today’s hearing will have to say all he knows about what happened in far away Cleveland, Ohio. Chairman of the Joint Committee, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, disclosed on Monday that the Committee decided not to invite the management of the Renaissance hotel because it believes the ambassador will come with all the necessary video evidence showing how and when the members he fingered carried out the actions for which he wrote the Speaker in protest.

Suffice to say that tensions are high in the House over the content of the video evidence the ambassador is supposed to present. Apart from the outgoing US ambassador, the Committee also extended invitations to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, the House Committee on Human Rights, the three accused lawmakers, the National Human Rights
Commission, as well as the other seven members that attended the leadership programme.

Most importantly, Nigerians, an overwhelming majority of whom are demanding for a thorough and transparent investigation will be watching the Joint Committee closely, more so a lot is expected from the duo of Ukeje and Ossai as ranking members whose contributions to debates on the floor are characteristically demanding of a higher standard of service and accountability from both elected and appointed government officials. It is safe to say that with this investigation, the House may just be facing one of its toughest tests as whatever report it comes up with will be freely critiqued by Nigerians, some of whom are already sceptical. Speaking to Daily Sun on the scandal, president of the Human Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA),
Emmanuel Onwubiko, opined that the Speaker shouldn’t have made any comments until investigations have been fully conducted.

In addition to this, Onwubiko is of the view that with the House conducting the investigation on the matter, the three accused lawmakers might just be exonerated. For him, a better option would have been, having the lawmakers investigated by a neutral committee set up by the Foreign Affairs ministry.

Also speaking on the scandal, lawyer and rights activist Esther Uzoma said it would be irresponsible to treat the allegations made against the lawmakers with levity.

Uzoma who is the National Coordinator, of the Proactive Gender Initiative, however posited that Nigerians have found it easy to believe the allegations, because of what she described as a “high prevalence of sexual excesses” by Nigerian men, especially the highly placed, a category, lawmakers fall into.



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Gist Arena: Tension In House Of Reps As Sex Scandal Investigation Begins Today
Tension In House Of Reps As Sex Scandal Investigation Begins Today
Gist Arena
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