Sex Scandal: Absence Of Minister, US Ambassador Stalls Hearing | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe


Sex Scandal: Absence Of Minister, US Ambassador Stalls Hearing

James Entwistle, US Ambassador to Nigeria
Posted: Jul 15, 2016 at 6:11 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

…As Civil Societies Kick


Ahmed Musa

Abuja – Investigative hearing into the allegation of sexual misconduct brought against three members of the House of Representatives was put on hold on Thursday following the failure of Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Mr. James Entwistle, the outgoing US ambassador to Nigeria, to appear before the joint committees.

The much awaited investigative hearing was adjourned to July 20 to enable the minister appear and give necessary diplomatic guidance that would help the committee approach the issues strategically in line with Nigeria’s foreign policy as it works to extract relevant materials vital to the investigation.

Before the adjournment, Hon. Osai Nicholas Osai (PDP, Delta), the co-chairman of the joint committee, had read a letter from the minister appealing to the committee to reschedule the hearing as he is away in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, where he is attending the 29th ordinary session of the Executive Council of the African Union.

In the two-paragraph letter addressed to Hon. Osai with reference number MO/ABJ/H/53 and dated July 11, 2016, Onyeama said: “I regret that I would not be able to attend the rescheduled committee hearing as it coincides with the 29th Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union which I will be attending in Kigali, Rwanda, from July 13 – 15, 2016. I would, however, be pleased to appear before the committee at any other time after my return from Kigali on July 19, 2016”.

Hon. Osai had in his speech earlier picked holes in the channels of communication used by the US Embassy to reach the leadership of the House in an attempt to register its complaint, saying that the approach was faulty.

However, Mr. Malachy Ugwumadu, the National President for Committee for the Defence of Human Right, a non-governmental organisation, had before the adjournment raised an observation as to why the ambassador was not present and the committee did not say anything to that effect.

He therefore urged for clarifications.

Also, David Ogolor, Executive Director, African Network for Environmental Sustainability, said, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is an institution and not an individual, the US Embassy is an institution and not individual. So why can’t the permanent secretary from the ministry and the consular head appear before the committee?”

“We also know that the committee has committed so much resources into this investigation and this is taxpayers’ money. I’m sure that when the US ambassador decided to write a letter to the House, he didn’t seek permission from the minister of foreign affairs before he wrote. This issue does not concern the three lawmakers alone but the image of the entire country,” he stressed.

Reacting to the observations, Osai said: “The committee would not want to look into the technicality of the correspondence between the ambassador and the speaker of the House. It was clearly shown that due process was not followed, but the committee will not be bothered by that in trying to unravel the substance of this case.

“The rules of engagement, according to the Vienna convention that deals with diplomatic immunity, is that the ambassador writes to the House through the minister of foreign affairs, however, writing directly to the speaker means that he has tactically waved the right to that immunity which shields him away from appearing before the committee.

“So if he can write directly to the speaker to make accusations, he should also be able to appear before the committee to prove the allegation, but as a House and a committee, we have overlooked that aspect and written to him through the minister who we asked to liaise with him to secure necessary materials for the investigation,” Osai said.

On her part, Nnenna Elendu Ukejeh (PDP, Abia), the chairperson of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, gave further insight into what the joint committee is expecting from the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

She said: “In trying to prove the veracity or otherwise of this weighty salacious allegation, the diplomatic angle to this issue will indeed follow the rules of the Vienna Convention”.

“If they are unable to appear, we shall be liaising with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get us relevant documents and materials needed to have a balanced investigation and report.

“Since there’s a correspondent from the minister asking for rescheduling, I would say that we give him the opportunity of coming along with the ambassador so that the committee can be rightly guided,” she said.

“We in the committee are aware that before any embassy engages with any arm of government, it must pass through the ministry, and that’s why we will be meeting with the minister to know why this wasn’t so going by the Vienna Convention which also gives diplomatic immunity to the ambassador and shields him from appearing for any investigative hearing”, she noted.

The committee, therefore, adjourned the hearing to July 20 when the minister would be around to facilitate compliance from the embassy officials.

Recall that the outgoing US ambassador to Nigeria had in a letter dated June 9, 2016, addressed to Speaker Yakubu Dogara, alleged that three members of the House namely: Hon. Mohammed Garba Gololo (APC, Bauchi), Hon. Samuel Ikon (PDP, Akwa Ibom) and Hon. Terse Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) had, on a 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 an attempt to rape her.

According to the letter, 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 that they engaged in behaviour un-becoming of parliamentarians.

The allegation and subsequent denial by the accused lawmakers prompted the leadership of the House to refer the matter to the joint committee for investigation.

However, the failure of the US officials to appear before the investigative panel to prove their allegation may cast serious doubts on the credibility of their claims having insisted on the identities of the lawmakers as the alleged offenders.

Nigerians and the rest of the world now wait to see if the minister’s appearance would help to encourage the embassy in proving its case beyond reasonable legislative doubt come July 20.