US Might Bar Nigerian Legislators From Future Fellowships

James Entwistle, US Ambassador to Nigeria
James Entwistle, US Ambassador to Nigeria

Following accusations of sexual misconduct levelled against three members of the House of Representatives by the United State Embassy in Nigeria, federal legislators might be barred from the prestigious International Visitors Leadership Programme, IVLP, and other fellowships sponsored by the American government.

A source in the American Embassy in Abuja who spoke to the icirnigeria.org on Monday on condition of anonymity said that the American government will take no action or prefer criminal charges against the legislators, but confided that the IVLP, the programme which took the legislators to the US, might be reviewed to exclude members of the National Assembly in future.

Such a ban could also involve other programmes sponsored by the American government or any of its agencies.

The United States Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, had in a letter to the leadership of the House of Representatives accused three legislators, Mohammed Gololo (APC Bauchi State), Simon Ikon (PDP Akwa Ibom) and Mark Gbillah (APC Benue) of sexual misconduct while on a US State Department – sponsored fellowship in Cleveland, United States.

While Gololo was accused of groping a hotel attendant, the other two lawmakers allegedly solicited for prostitutes by asking a parking attendant to look for women for them to sleep with.

All three of them have denied the allegations, with Gbillah threatening to slam a law suit on the US authorities for defaming his name.

Our source said that the embassy did not want the scandal to become public knowledge and insisted that the letter written by the Ambassador to the leadership of the House of Representatives must have been leaked from within the legislative chamber.

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It was gathered that the embassy made attempts to handle the matter diplomatically and that the letter to the Speaker would have been unnecessary but for the attitude of the alleged offender legislators.

As part of efforts to handle the matter diplomatically, Ambassador Entwistle had brokered a meeting between all ten legislators who travelled for the programme and the Deputy Head of Mission at the embassy, Maria E. Brewer.

The meeting was ostensibly to make the legislators understand the enormity of such acts of misconduct, the implications for American/Nigerian relations and to get assurances that they would not reoccur.

However, it was gathered that the three legislators accused of misdemeanour got angry at the meeting and allegedly disrespected Brewer which led to a stalemate.

Angered by the attitude of the lawmakers and the disrespect shown his deputy, Entwistle, it was gathered, decided to intimate the leadership of the House of Representatives of what had happened.

Even then, the Ambassador expected the letter to the Speaker to be a private correspondence and was surprise, it was learnt, to read about its content in the media a few days later.

The accusations against the legislators are grave under US laws and can be punished by fines up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to 20 years under federal law.

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Many observers have questioned why the legislators were not arrested in the US by law enforcement agents before they flew back home. This is important in the light of several previous similar cases, including one involving Dominique Strauss – Khan, former French politician and ex IMF chief, who was prosecuted for sexual assault and attempted rape in New York in 2011.

Strauss – Khan allegedly sexually assaulted a maid, Nafissatou Diallo, at the New York Sofitel Hotel in May 2011. Charges were brought against him and a grand jury indicted him on May 19, 2011 but the charges were eventually dismissed by the judge after the prosecution confessed that its case was near collapse due to the hotel housekeeper’s “diminished credibility.”

In the Nigerian legislators’ case, however, the American authorities did not involve law enforcement and allowed them return home before complaining.

However, the embassy source who spoke to this website said that the hotel called the programme officer attached to the fellows rather than law enforcement agents when a complaint was lodged and that that person decided to inform the State Department which in turn chose to handle the matter diplomatically.

Had the American authorities decided to take up the matter, the legislators would have been immediately arrested after the complaints were lodged against them and charged for misdemeanour or, possibly, felony, which carries stiffer penalties.

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In the United States, laws differ from state to state although there are also federal laws that deal with sexual misconduct or harassment. Under federal law, a charge of sexual assault could fetch a penalty of up to $10,000 or up to 20 years imprisonment.

However, in the state of Ohio where the alleged offences were committed, Gololo would have been charged with “unwanted offensive touching,” a third grade misdemeanour offence that could be upgraded to fourth or fifth grade offence if the accused is found to be HIV/AIDS positive. Penalty could be fine or imprisonment of between two to ten years.

Soliciting for prostitutes, which includes negotiating with a third party, a pimp, madam or any other person, for the services of a prostitute, is also misdemeanour that could be upgraded to a felony that could impose a ten year jail term upon a guilty verdict.

Happily, however, whatever the case, the American Embassy has said that it will not pursue the matter or press charges. Even then, the last may not have been heard about the matter as at least one of the accused lawmakers has threatened to sue the American authorities.

Gbillah has said he would file a suit against the American embassy to claim damages for the disrepute brought upon his name by the allegations.

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