A United States-based human rights activist and a member of the prestigious Nigeria Bar Association, called to the bar in 1987, Barr Hope Umana, in this exclusive, takes a look at the recent letter to the Speaker of Nigerian House of Representatives written by the US ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Entwistle, describing the approach by the ambassador as un-American and a breach of diplomatic protocols. Excerpts
Can we meet you sir?
I am Barr Hope Umana, a US-based attorney, practice mainly in Washington DC and all US Courts. In addition, I am a member of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). I have been in the practice for over 20 years now. I am into Human Rights, matters that involve free speech and fair hearing; I practice under Humana Law firm.
As a US based attorney, is it crime to solicit for prostitutes?
It would be yes. I will speak in details about some of the issues raised in the letter of James Entwistle, the US Ambassador to Nigeria but let me hasten to clarify that nobody was accused of committing a crime in this case. There is a clear difference between allegations and in this case, we have to continue to talk about the matter as mere allegations. However I will be quick to add that the allegations are flimsy because if you say somebody was caught soliciting a prostitute or acts that say or relate to that kind of action, then it is a crime. But in this case, Rt Hon Samuel Ikon was not accused of that, even in the statement by the ambassador in his unfortunate letter to the Speaker, no matter how you twist or analysis it, there is nothing that implicates Sam Ikon in any crime or anything untoward that would have put his reputation in jeopardy. The whole issue was overblown and people have gone to their corners with one speculation or the other around this matter and that is why it has continued to be an issue. The manner the US ambassador reacted, we are looking at Ikon’s options against the US government and some people that may have contributed to this damage. We have asked the hotel of that magnitude to provide us with video or audio and as soon as we get that we will move into the second stage of the case.
Is it safe to say that the US Ambassador overstepped his bound in this matter?
Absolutely, here is the deal. What is the ambassador’s beef with communicating directly with the House of Representatives speaker? He is a delegate of the United States and he should be speaking with the minister in charge of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria. Even if he wanted to copy the speaker the minister’s letter, it would still have been a breach of diplomatic protocol. You send a letter to the minister of external affairs and then get action; this to me, is punching against one’s weight grade. Every decent diplomat ought to know what the implications of such action.
The question is, did he desire this outcome or he is just incompetent at his task? The facts are so flimsy, you want to speak slowly and wield the big stick, if you want to, when all the facts are in. In his letter, he said they confirmed that these were the people and I ask how you confirmed without speaking with these people especially when you allege a crime. You need to have clear and convincing evidence against a high officer of another country, that is why we have diplomacy, and the essence of diplomacy is that you say what you want to say in a way that protects all the interest so that nobody’s ox is gored without due process.
Don’t you think the US government, through the ambassador, is keeping back some of the evidence at the moment?
That is unattainable and ludicrous. Nobody becomes the prosecutor, the judge, and jury and in this case even the hangman. This is not how it works; there is a standard legal process. The ideal thing is to release the evidence, assuming we were dealing with a chargeable offence, in fairness some of the allegations like the case of fondling a room keeper would be a serious issue if it happened but when dealing with the charges as it relates to Hon Ikon, were so flimsy headed. A better trained diplomat will not write such letter; so imprecise, so incomplete. The US central government won’t be involved in matters like that.
What manner of charge would this be? What we have heard so far is that Sam asked somebody to help them solicit prostitutes. To help him get a prostitute that walks across the road? Did he give him money? Prostitution is service for exchange of money, so what exactly is alleged that, Honourable Ikon did? This ambassador ought to have done more by bringing the video (as evidence) before the Nigerian authority for them to pass their judgment. It is so un-American, without fair hearing, without speaking with anybody. It is not done that way. This is somebody that was ill. His colleagues went to watch basketball but he couldn’t join them because he was ill in bed. When I visited him I was hungry and wanted to eat few blocks away from the hotel and it was a very cold day it was impossible for him to even come and see me for the 30-40 minutes that I had my meal. These are some of the facts that I have with me because I know he was on heavy medication and if they had spoken with us we would have drew their attention to some of these issues that would have reduced the ambassador’s infamous letter to material only fit for the trash bin.
Can’t a man that is ill have sex?
I think when you are ill, you try to get healed first. Remember in this case, you are not in your house where you are eating the kind of food you would want to or such situation. Sam is a frequent traveller and that should be an asset to him that he understands the system very well, there is some illness that talking to your friend is an issue not to talk of energy for an intercourse. We are not talking about an intercourse here but allegation of asking somebody to help solicit prostitute.
What is your formal response on this issue?
I think it’s most appropriate that we don’t step too far ahead of ourselves at this point. The ambassador claims he did not release this letter to the general public and it would be premature to release at the moment. As we consult further we will do that bearing in mind the immunity question but we are talking with the right people to clarify some of the issues. In Nigeria, we have to overcome the jurisdiction question, where do we go? How do we deal with this? What are the issues we canvass? Centrally, we do know the ambassador with his letter defamed Sam and we are looking at all options, upturning all stones to get appropriate kind of redress. It is mostly about reputational damage and we will release the right document at the right time sooner than later.
Was Honourable Ikon’s response to the ambassador necessary at the moment?
To me, it was a response to his superior which is appropriate. He had to put everything out, put out sufficient evidence to prove that such allegations cannot be tolerated and should not be tolerated and most importantly, did not happen.
You said the conduct was un-American, is it the conduct of the Honurable members or that of the ambassador?
Definitely, it is the conduct of the ambassador that is quite un-American. Deeply rooted in the tenet of American judiciary system is due process. Due process demands that both sides must be heard, that the accused must be given opportunity to defend himself but when the ambassador becomes the prosecutor, the judge, jury and in this case the hangman, it is extremely un-American. What exactly did the hotel say Hon Sam Ikon do? I don’t know what the prosecutor is talking about here, I need more. What are the elements of the allegation here? Secondly, it does violate Ikon’s reputation because if the ambassador wanted to say something he needed to say it right so that we know exactly what he did. I am confident that he does not have it, if he had it, he would have included it in his letter.
What does the word ‘misconduct’ imply?
I think that is left for the ambassador to answer. What misconduct happened here and how did it happen, that is central which explains my earlier position that the ambassador is punching above his weight scale. He can’t allege misconduct without stating the element of the misconduct.
Can this mere allegation lead to the withdrawal of his visa and confiscation of his property in US?
Confiscation of property in US remains mere speculation and the short answer is No. There is a huge process of forfeiture of assets. There are some offences that one can forfeit property but I must also add that different jurisdiction have different process of forfeiture but I don’t see in my wildest dream where a case of this nature can leads to forfeiture even if you were caught with your hands in the cookie jar, this is not the kind of thing that will lead to forfeiture. To the issue of visa withdrawal, it is mainly administrative matter and has to go up in the chain of command. It is a privilege that can is given and could be withdrawn but I don’t see such in a case like this one.
Are you challenging the US ambassador and the hotel to come up with all the evidences?
Our desire is that all facts related to this matter be put out in the public domain. Unfortunately, we cannot let innuendos, backroom or beer parlour discussions dominate in this matter. If the facts are out there everybody will be on the same page then we can have a thorough and decent debate of what those facts mean but right now we are living in the era of speculations. We are not dealing with a criminal prosecution here who will say I am withholding some of my evidence so as not to tip the accused and his defense team off. We are encouraging them to put all their evidences in the public domain so that some of the low tone and whispers and the gossip mill will grind to a standstill. We call on the hotel but they were evasive. All those involved in this case need to unleash their beast and let them come to the field. It is a challenge. There is no need to hide anymore because the baby is already tout, of what use is the advice that the mother to close her legs?
Thank you very much for that insightful encounter.
You are welcome