The three members of the House of Representatives exonerated of the sexual misconduct allegations levelled against them by the United States Government are set to file a $1bn suit against the latter and its agents, Saturday PUNCH has learnt. They are House Deputy Chairman, Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Mr. Terse Mark-Gbillah (Benue); Mr. Samuel Ikon (Akwa Ibom); and Mr. Mohammed Garba-Gololo (Bauchi).
A former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, had accused the three lawmakers of committing the alleged misconduct during a visit to his country last April for a leadership training programme, prompting the Nigerian legislature to call for an investigation. The House had exonerated the lawmakers on Tuesday after a report by its Joint Committees on Ethics/Privileges and Foreign Relations found no wrongdoing on their part.
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH on the outcome of the investigation, Mark-Gbillah disclosed that the three lawmakers would immediately institute a legal action against their accusers in the US. Mark-Gbillah, who spoke for the three lawmakers, stated that the US Government, Entwistle, the Marriot Hotel, the US Embassy and their agents would be sued for damages.
This will be in addition to demanding what he called “internationally-published apology.” He expressed regrets that they would be unable to visit the US physically to file the suit because their visas, which were withdrawn in the wake of the “false allegations”, had not been restored.
Mark-Gbillah gave details of the steps the members would take, saying, “We won’t let the matter go like that because our reputation has been defamed internationally and there is also the cancellation of our visas to consider, a decision that has still not been reversed.
“In the American archives, the records have not been set straight. As a matter of fact, this has already affected the members of one of our families. We will be seeking legal redress in the US; we are going to take the hotel to court, the Marriot Hotel, the parent brand, the place we stayed (in the US).”
“We are going to take the (former US) ambassador himself and the US State Department, who are his employers to court. We are going to be taking the local organisers of the programme to court as well. We will be seeking among other things, an internationally-published apology to us as individuals, to the National Assembly and to Nigeria by the US Government.”
“We are going to be seeking damages from all concerned parties and right now, we are looking at suing in the region of $1bn. Already, contacts have been made with various law firms in the US. We want to use a very reputable law firm.”
“You can now see that the revocation of our visas is now hindering our ability to visit the US physically to do the ground work. We are liaising with our lawyers via email messages and telephone calls. The lawyers will still advise us on whether to ask for damages of up to $10bn because the damage they did to us can’t be quantified in financial terms.”
Saturday PUNCH was unable to reach Garba-Gololo for comments, but Ikon confirmed that Mark-Gbillah spoke for the group.
“Mark-Gbillah is our spokesperson. Whatever he has said is what we are going to do. For me, there is no comment again,” he added.
The House committees made three recommendations to the session, which was presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun. It read:
“That Hon. Mohammed Garba Gololo, Hon. Mark Terseer Gbillah and Hon. Samuel Ikon are cleared of and exonerated from the allegations levelled against them by the United States Ambassador to Nigeria in his June 9, 2016 letter to the Rt. Hon. Speaker, for want of evidence;”
“That in the light of the foregoing, the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs do engage with (sic) the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, with a view to finding a seamless resolution of the domestic fallout of this unfortunate incident as it relates to Hon. Mohammed Garba Gololo, Hon. Mark Terseer Gbillah and Hon. Samuel Ikon;”
“That the Ministry of Foreign Affairs do write (sic) to remind the United States Embassy of the need to always adopt the official channel of communications in its dealings with any organ or institution of government.”
The House adopted all three recommendations soon after the Lead Chairman, Mr. Nicholas Ossai, briefed members on the findings of the investigation. He stated:
“The committee was not availed of any concrete evidence outside the confidential letter the ambassador wrote the speaker. There was no video, audio or any form of evidence presented before the committee to justify the allegations.”
While testifying on July 21, Onyeama had told the committee how he encountered Entwistle over the allegations, but could not get “concrete evidence.” He explained how the former US Ambassador also apologised for not using the official diplomatic channel to route his letter to the Speaker (Mr. Yakubu Dogara) through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.