Sex, Reps and Diplomacy
Sex is a powerful thing. It can bring out both the best in humans and unleash the beast in them. It is yet a wonder of creation how a moment of sensual excursion can lead to a gulf of glory or a gloom of doom. History is replete with tales of how the lust of the flesh led to the loss of power, fame and fortune. Men of valour are known to have been cheaply vanquished in simple skirmishes of the skirt. Much the same way celebrities and soapbox heroes have been reduced to nonentities and political scums.
Like filthy lucre, lewdness is a known trigger in most of the world’s biggest political scandals. From Greece’s Andreas Papandreou and the ‘Air Hostess’ scandal of the 1980s; to the Zippergate series of Bill Clinton; and then the story of Sani Abacha’s death in the hands of some fabled Arabian damsel bearing luscious apples, illicit sex has brought kings and kingdoms to ruins. Of course Bill of America did eventually escape the whirlwind of hurricane Lewinsky by a hair’s breath but until Hamza Mustapha decides to tell the truth about Abacha’s death, the ‘Jerryboy arrangements’ remain the dominant theory of how the late maximum dictator died mysteriously.
For now however, the yarns are spinning around the trio of Messrs. Mark Gbillah, Samuel Ikon and Mohammed Gololo. These men are honourable members of Nigeria’s House of Representatives. But they are currently ensnared in a most dishonourable bind: tackling a mammoth challenge to retrieve their integrity, reputation and political career from a sex scandal made in America. The legislators were members of a delegation of 10 invited by the US States Department to attend a leadership immersion course in Cleveland, Ohio, in April this year. Trouble started when a letter from the US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle to Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara was leaked to the media.
Mr. Entwistle brought grave allegations of sexual misconduct against the men. “It is with regret that I must bring to your attention the following situation,” the letter dated June 9, 2016, began. It continued: “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 US Government’s flagship professional exchange programme. The US Department of State and the Cleveland Council on World Affairs received reports from employees of the Cleveland hotel, where the representatives stayed, alleging that 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 that hotel parking attendants assist them to solicit prostitutes.”
Trust the media! The story first by New Telegraph newspaper, immediately became the staple of virtually all news stables in the land. To the accused, the embarrassment was first class; for the House of Representatives, an institutional blight. It brought Dogara's House to debatable infamy. Thus while it was primarily the responsibility of the accused to clear their names and salvage whatever they can of their bruised reputations, it was also invariably incumbent on the entire legislative body to starve off a collective shame.
Expectedly, a staccato of responses, nay rabid rebuttals filled the air. For Gbillah, Gololo and Ikon, the American Ambassador was out on a smear campaign against them, the House of Representatives and by extension, the Nigerian nation. To emphasize their case, the lawmakers threatened legal action even if it meant travelling to Cleveland at their own expense.
Perhaps buoyed by the stout defence put up by his colleagues, Dogara demanded that the US Ambassador provide evidences to back up his allegations. Apparently irked by the barrage of negative commentaries on social media, the Speaker took to Twitter to call for proofs. Barely days after Dogara's challenge to the Ambassador, the House at plenary entertained the issue following a motion by one of the accused, Mr. Gbillah. The lawmakers resolved to undertake a formal probe of the affair and accordingly mandated its Committees on Ethics; and Privileges and Foreign Affairs on a joint exercise.
But as all of this was going on, the US Embassy strengthened its position on the matter by revoking the entry visas of the affected lawmakers. Recall that Gbillah had also expressed surprise at the allegation in a letter to Mr. Entwistle. He lamented 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 reiterated an earlier threat to institute legal actions against the US Government, the Ambassador and the Marriot Hotel Brand, among.
Gbillah’s letter, dated June 16, 2016 read in part: “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.”
Ikon who did not respond immediately like Gbillah, said the allegation that he solicited for sex 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."
But as the lawmakers insist on their innocence while awaiting the commencement of investigations, the US has refused to publicly comment on the matter. This silence in spite of Speaker Dogara's call for evidence has been interpreted by some as an assurance that the Americans are convinced of their claims against the lawmakers. Would an Envoy worth his salt stake the honour of his home country to lay such weighty allegations against Members of Parliament, MPs, in his host nation if he was unsure of the facts? Another question that has also arisen is whether or not the US Ambassador exhausted appropriate diplomatic channels in handling the alleged sexual misconduct? Was writing directly to the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives the apt and appropriate in the circumstance? And why has the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Abuja played mute on this matter so far? These are questions begging for answers whilst the reputations of the accused MPs remain with the dogs.