Sex scandal: Reps must tread cautiously

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Since the embarrassing news about an allegation of sexual misconduct by the United States against three members of the Nigerian House of Representatives broke about a month ago, I have listened to various comments and read numerous analyses assessing the veracity of the claim.
As expected, the majority of Nigerians have swooped on those in the eye of the storm – Mohammed Garba-Gololo (Bauchi), Terse Gbillah (Benue) and Samuel Ikon (Cross River) – demanding their immediate resignation even before they are pronounced guilty. Yet, a sprinkling, who appear, in their analyses, as great critics of the Americans, have warned those who care to listen to take a second look at the allegations and not ‘bury the honourables before they are dead.’
What is the bone of contention?
The three reps, mentioned earlier, had attended a week-long International Visitor Leadership Programme, along with seven of their colleagues, in Cleveland, Ohio, US. Instead of returning home with a cheering ‘testimonial’ from the “Leadership Programme on Good Governance”, however, the honourable members of Nigeria’s lower legislative chamber were confronted, about eight weeks after their arrival, with a demeaning report card of sexual misconduct.
The US Ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle, had reportedly alleged, in a June 9, 2016 letter to Speaker Yakubu Dogara, that Garba grabbed a housekeeper in his hotel room and solicited her for sex while Gbillah and Ikon asked hotel parking assistants to help them find prostitutes.
These acts, as alleged, might have been buried by many hotel officials in this part of the world; the authorities concerned could also have laughed the cases off as ‘normal’ escapades those who can afford them, engage in to make trips memorable. But in a place like the US, cases like this linger until investigators reach the very bottom of the controversial pot; and this is where the contrast between the political system here and in that clime strikes me as very huge.
In Nigeria, the dominant ethical issue in governance is not morality, at least, not in the sense of moral conduct or chastity. It is more about officials stealing government funds in monstrous sizes to satisfy inexplicable wants. Yes, this form of corruption still finds its place in US’ history books. In fact, some officials are standing trial for one form of corruption or the other as I write. But having followed the activities of the US Legislature closely during my brief stint at Gongwer News Service, Michigan, in 2007, I have found that issues bordering on sexual misconduct or policy misjudgement receive more coverage in the American media, especially against political office holders.
Interestingly, the biggest scandal in Michigan at the time was one involving a former Mayor of US’ popular city, Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick. Kilpatrick was accused of having an affair with his Chief of Staff, Christine Beatty, and then lying under oath about it. The two were high school friends and were both married with children. The ensuing media frenzy culminated in a move to remove the Mayor after whistle blowers exposed hot text messages that authenticated the sexual misconduct claim and also suggested that Kilpatrick had used the resources of an already cash-strapped city to satisfy personal needs.
His mother, Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, who had been a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives since 1997, with clean records, was, also, almost made to pay for her son’s sins. She had enjoyed 78 per cent of votes since she began her political career but narrowly missed being kicked out on account of the people’s resentment of her son’s misconduct. Her campaign team had produced a flyer, which said, “The ‘alleged’ sins of the son should not be visited upon the mother.” Yet, many commentators had said that if she could not raise her son to be morally upright, she had no business retaining her seat.
The Detroit mayor resigned in the thick of the crisis in 2008 and was sentenced, in October 2013, to 28 years in a federal prison on corruption and extortion charges. Haba, many Nigerians would say. But that is the extent Americans would go in their quest to see that only a leader that fits their bill leads them, though such moves could also be politically motivated.
Now that Hillary Clinton seems, to many, to be just a few months away from being the first female president in the 240-year history of the US, the opposition has tried hard to arouse old sentiments around globally publicised extra-marital relationships her husband, former US President Bill Clinton, had during his days as President. There may be no need at this point to spell out the details of the popular Monicagate and other allegations of sexual misconduct against one of America’s greatest presidents. The fact, nonetheless, remains that Hillary, who stood ‘painfully’ by her husband against what many termed the Republicans’ calculated struggle to eject Clinton from the White House, is today enjoying the fruit of her rare wisdom.
Keen followers of US political scandals cannot also forget the case of Jon Hinson, a Mississippi Republican congressman, who was arrested in 1981 for having oral sex with a government staffer in the House of Representatives’ bathroom. He resigned from office after that incident.
Funny as these cases, among others, may seem, they expose an irony: the same Americans that many in this clime would cite to justify the biggest of immoral acts frown at marital infidelity, or better still, sexual misconduct, particularly when it has to do with those they have charged with political authority. Untitled1Some may see this as hypocritical, going by the perceived ‘crazy’ moral standards of that part of the world as against our own more conservative cultural stance. It is on record, however, that the fear of whistleblowers lurking in the dark to expose the slightest of moral slips has contributed in forcing many top politicians to control any urge that could lead to a career suicide.
Back to the case of the Nigerian legislators. It is not surprising that the affected reps have condemned the allegation of sexual misconduct against them in the strongest terms, describing it as an unfortunate attempt by the US to tarnish the image of Nigeria’s House of Representatives. Ikon, reportedly, threatened to seek legal redress in competent courts of law, both in Nigeria and the US, if the American ambassador failed to clear his name. He cited ill health, during the period, as a key reason he would never have been involved in such exploits. To very kind Nigerians, his argument may be strong enough to make a case out of the web, even for the others. But those who have seen many celebrated Nigerian big men exhibit shameful conduct during official trips, in or outside Nigeria, would tell the reps to try convincing a statue.
A top government official once told me, during the days of late President Umaru Yar’Adua, that the greatest absurdity he found in the Nigerian political environment was that a legal husband would not mind driving his wife to meet an influential lover, as long as it would translate into big contracts for the family. This can only mean that, in Nigeria’s political dictionary, sexual misconduct may be a ‘foreign’ term. If moral tests were, therefore, to be introduced into the Nigerian polity, going by allegations and counter-allegations of gross sexual misconduct involving some past and present top political office holders, then we may have to turn to the labour rooms to enrol newborns.
While I do not want to judge the reps yet as they are presumed innocent until proved guilty, I would advise the leadership of the National Assembly to be cautious in handling this sensitive diplomatic row.
If the 2007 Ettehgate; the sour car purchase scandal under Dimeji Bankole; and a bribery scandal involving Representative Farouk Lawan, among others, could, practically, be swept under the carpet, this particular one, involving the US, may be a stubborn bulging stone. This is, however, a wake-up call that if we must protect Nigeria’s image, we must pay more than a passing attention to entrenching acceptable moral standards.