by Ladi Olorunyomi, PREMIUM TIMES
U.S. officials have “solid evidence” of the alleged misconduct Ambassador James Entwistle reported to House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, high-level diplomatic sources have told PREMIUM TIMES.
In a letter dated June 9, the U.S. Ambassador in Nigeria, Mr. Entwistle, accused three Nigerian lawmakers – Mohammed Garba Gololo (Bauchi APC), Samuel Ikon (Akwa Ibom PDP) and Mark Gbillah (Benue APC) – of soliciting sexual favours from hotel staff in two separate incidents.
Mr. Gololo allegedly grabbed a housekeeper in his hotel room and solicited her for sex while Messrs. Ikon and Gbilla allegedly requested hotel parking attendants to assist them to procure prostitutes.
The alleged incidents occurred in April at the Residence Inn Marriot, Downtown Cleveland and were promptly reported to State Department officials by the hotel’s management.
In response to the lawmakers’ denial of the allegations and threats of legal action, local sources in Cleveland and sources close to State Department and the Nigerian diaspora community in Washington DC have told PREMIUM TIMES that relevant U.S. officials are in possession of records specifying “circumstances of” the alleged incidents, including “eyewitness reports” and real-time “video” evidence.
“The Ambassador wouldn’t have written to the Speaker if there is no solid evidence,” said one of our sources, who added that after the hotel manager reported the incidents, State Department officers “had to investigate before acting on the allegations.”
The investigation was extensive and exhaustive; it included interrogation of relevant hotel staff and review of all closed-circuit cameras in the vicinity of the alleged incidents, state department insiders said.
Hinting at details of the investigation, our source countered Mr. Gololo’s denial, insisting that of the three lawmakers, “he is the one who actually put his hand on somebody, the others only made a verbal request”.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt from the state department that “the woman he (Gololo) allegedly accosted felt intimidated”. Local Cleveland sources told us that she feared she would lose her job if she screamed or caused discomfort to the hotel’s other guests.
She however reported the incident to her supervisor at the soonest opportunity after extricating herself from the offensive situation.
Our source equally brushed aside Mr. Gbilla’s protestations about not having a car as a diversion.
“You don’t need to have a car to talk to a parking lot attendant,” he said.
This newspaper was reliably informed by our Washington DC sources that Ambassador Entwistle would neither retract nor apologize for the contents of the letter sent to the Speaker.
“In all honesty, the Ambassador would not have gone forward with the letter if there is no solid evidence behind it,” he said adding that Mr. Entwistle “is not going to apologize; there is nothing to apologize for.”
Contrary to Mr. Gbillah’s assertion that Mr. Entwistle’s petition was an attempt “to bring disrepute to the hallowed institution of the National Assembly and the entire nation of Nigeria”, our source said the intention was to put out there that some participants in the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP), not all, are guilty of bad behaviour and to educate participants who may be admitted for this and other programmes in future.
“The reality is that these three gentlemen made a mistake. They violated the terms of the IVLP of which they were duly informed before they left Abuja,” our source said.
“Prostitution is not legal in the U.S., they were informed about that before their departure,” the source said.
Our source insists that the lawmakers even had a chance to redeem their image after the fact.
“If they had been remorseful, if they had just said it was miscommunication and apologized, that would have been the end of it,” the source said.
Instead, the lawmakers over-reacted and made their case “sound worse than it is”, said our source.
“They were accused of assault and solicitation, no one talked about rape,” the source added.
PREMIUM TIMES has it on good authority that State Department officials are not worried about the lawmakers’ threat of legal action because, according to our Washington DC sources, “they know their evidence will hold up in court”.
“If they (Gololo, Ikon and Gbillah) want the full spotlight of the justice system to shine on the evidence in the possession of the State Department, they should go ahead and initiate a lawsuit,” the source said.
“Their conduct was a breach of U.S. law, instead of calling State Department officials, hotel managers could have had them summarily arrested and charged. As it is, everybody gave them a pass, letting them complete the programme without interference,” said the source.
The lawmakers’ alleged misconduct resonated negatively among Nigerian-Americans who are active in ongoing U.S. presidential election campaigns.
Those scheduled to be in Cleveland next month for the Republican Convention and allied political activities are weary that they may be victimized for the lawmakers’ bad behaviour.
Hotel management and staff may single them out for unsavoury treatment, they said.
“I won’t be surprised if they keep female service staff away from anyone who identifies as a Nigerian or carries Nigerian passport,” a Washington-based Nigerian said.
Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC has operated without an ambassador since the death of Professor Adebowale Adefuye last September.
When contacted, Gbara Awanen, Head of the Political Section, Embassy of Nigeria, Washington DC, said other than what he read in the Nigerian media, he knew nothing about the incident.
Other officials declined to comment for this story.