Buzz by Olumide Iyanda
Email: email@example.com Twitter: @mightyng
At least someone is lying about what happened in Cleveland, Ohio when members of the Nigerian National Assembly travelled to the US for the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on good governance in April 2016.
A petition written by the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, to Speaker of the House of Reps, Yakubu Dogara, accused three members of Green Chamber of sexual assault and soliciting for prostitutes.
Those accused are Samuel Ikon (PDP Akwa Ibom), Mohammed Gololo (APC Bauchi) and Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue).
While Gololo was said to have grabbed a hotel housekeeper and asked her for sex, the other two were alleged to have asked for the assistance of a parking attendant to solicit prostitutes.
According to Entwistle, “The US Mission took pains to confirm these allegations and the identities of the individuals with the employees of the hotel in Cleveland.”
The three lawmakers in the middle of the controversy have however sworn by everything but their ancestors’ graves that the allegations against them are lies from the pit of hell.
Some uneducated and self-righteous Nigerians have also questioned the morality of America, one of the most sexually liberated countries in the world, to make an issue of Nigerians going after ordinary “harlots”. In their jaundiced opinion, a country that promotes the rights of the LGBTQ community should not make a fuss about a group of men wanting to pay for heterosexual sex.
Unknown to such people, while prostitutes are allowed to roam freely on major streets in homophobic Nigeria, prostitution is illegal all over the US except for a few counties in Nevada where commercial sex trade is permitted in brothels.
Laws vary from state to state in America but there is a general ban on prostitution, solicitation and loitering for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex.
Even without actual sexual contact, a person may still be prosecuted for soliciting, pimping and pandering.
A person who asks another or offers to pay another to engage in sex for money is guilty of solicitation.
That, aside from sexual assault and any other that may arise, is the allegation the housekeeper reportedly made against Gololo.
Under Ohio’s laws, it is also a crime to compel or promote the prostitution of another (pimping), or to procure or find a prostitute or a customer (pandering).
That, aside from any other that may arise, is the allegation the parking attendant reportedly made against Ikon and Gbillah.
You do not expect to get this kind of feedback on a trip facilitated to teach good governance.
Beyond portraying the accused as sex predators whose brains are between their legs, the allegations against the lawmakers is a national embarrassment and a smear on the Nigerian flag.
In the words of Entwistle, “The conduct described above left a very negative impression of Nigeria, casting a shadow on Nigeria’s National Assembly, the International Visitor Leadership Program, and to the American hosts’ impression of Nigeria as a whole. Such conduct could affect some participants’ ability to travel to the United States in the future.
“While the majority of Nigerian visitors to the United States do behave appropriately, even a few Nigerians demonstrating poor judgement leads to a poor impression of the Nigerian people generally, though it is far from accurate. Such incidents jeopardise the ability of future programming and make host institutions and organisations less likely to welcome similar visits in the future.”
Simply put, unless something is done about the scandal, the US may review Nigeria’s participation in its IVLP. Beyond that, organisations and individuals may also not be easily disposed to accommodating Nigerians because of “troubling allegations regarding the behaviour of three members of the delegation to the U.S. Government’s flagship professional exchange programme.”
Prostitution, loitering, and solicitation are punishable in Ohio by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Perhaps, the reason why the accused lawmakers are not sitting in an American jail right now is because of their diplomatic status.
The cancellation of their visas is a slap on the wrist going by what could have happened if they were ordinary Nigerians.
Not a few have declared Ikon, Gololo and Gbillah guilty of interparty infidelity and official indiscretion going by the reputation of Nigerian politicians as Viagra on legs. Those who have attended certain conclaves often come back with tales of debauchery and all forms of hedonism among that class.
One can’t, however, decide this case on the ground of “dem say”. That is why I agree with Dogara that the accused lawmakers are innocent until proven guilty. It is not in the accused persons’ place to establish guilt.
The “it wasn’t me” and “I went to the US with my family” rhetoric is needless. At best what the accused persons should do is carry out their threat to institute legal action against all their accusers. After all, they claim to be innocent.
Dogara should also compel the US authorities to substantiate its allegations against the Nigerian lawmakers. It is not for the sake of Ikon, Gololo or Gbillah, but for the image of the country which has taken a knock by this “body no be wood” controversy.
If the men are indeed guilty, losing their seats in the National Assembly should be the least of their punishment.
Everyone from the hotel housekeeper, parking attendant, manager to the US Ambassador definitely knows better than making allegations about sexual assault and soliciting for prostitutes without hard evidence.
It is time they brought it forward.