Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja has debunked the claim of the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, that they had known each other before the PDP’s spokesperson’s trial started in his court on January 15 this year.
The judge denied the claim and other allegations contained in a petition sent by one of Metuh’s lawyers, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asking for the re-assignment of the PDP’s spokesperson’s trial to another judge.
Our correspondent sighted Justice Abang’s response, dated March 23, 2016, which was addressed to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
The judge, in his response, maintained that he never knew Metuh to be his classmate in the 1987/1988 set of the Nigerian Law School, which according to him, was made up of over 1,000 students.
He added that if Metuh had truly been his classmate, that would never change the facts of the case and the relevant laws.
Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, are being prosecuted before Justice Abang by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The EFCC is prosecuting Metuh and his firm on seven counts of money laundering involving $2m cash transaction and contract fraud relating to the N400m the accused allegedly received from the Office of the National Security Adviser in November, 2014.
At a point when the prosecution led by Mr. Sylvanus Tahir had closed its case with eight witnesses, and Metuh was expected to open his defence, Etiaba sent the petition, dated March 11, 2016, to the Federal High Court’s CJ, asking for the re-assignment of the case to another judge.
In the petition, Etiaba claimed that Metuh was a classmate of the judge in the 1988 set of the Nigerian Law School.
He claimed that Metuh and the judge both practised law in Lagos before the PDP spokesperson relocated to Abuja and Justice Abang, on his part, was appointed a judge.
Etiaba also alleged that Metuh met and had discussion with Justice Abang late last year at the L’e Meridien Hotel in Akwa Ibom State, adding that his client was baffled at the views expressed by the judge during their encounter.
The lawyer also accused the judge of denying his client fair hearing by refusing to release to the defence team a copy of the records of proceedings of the court to enable them to appeal against some decisions of the judge in the course of the trial.
But Justice Abang denied all the allegations in his letter to the Chief Judge.
The judge stated that he could not recall either seeing Metuh while at the Law School or coming across him while practising as a lawyer anywhere in the country before he (Abang) was appointed a judge in June 2009.
Justice Abang stated that contrary to Metuh’s claim, he never attended any function at the Uyo hotel where the PDP’s spokesperson claimed they met late last year.
He added that he did not see Metuh at the Law School class reunion meetings which he recently attended in Abuja, Lagos and Enugu.
The judge stated, “With respect to the first issue that the petitioner, Emeka Etiaba (SAN), stated that the 1st defendant in Charge FHC/ABJ/CR/05/2016 was my classmate in the Nigerian Law School, my Lord, for the records, I was at the Law School in 1987/88 academic session.
“I am not aware that Olisa Metuh was my classmate in the Nigerian Law School. I cannot recall seeing him in the time session in my time. In the Law School, we were over 1,000 students and we had then two sessions, morning that I attended.
“He is not from my place, Oron, in Akwa Ibom State. I did not see him as a student at the University of Calabar that I attended between September 1983 and June 1987. I have never met him in practice anywhere in the country before I was elevated to the bench in June 2009.
“Again, he claimed he met me at Le’ Meriden, Uyo, late last year. I was not at Le’ Meriden, Uyo, late last year. I had no function that I attended at the Le’ Meriden, Uyo, late last year. I did not meet him at Le’ Meriden Uyo late last year. If the records show that he is a lawyer and was called to the Nigerian Bar on November 3, 1988, which record I am yet to see, that cannot affect the facts and the law.
“I attended recently my class reunion meeting in Abuja, Lagos and Enugu, I did not see Olisa Metuh in the places I mentioned. I am not related to Olisa Metuh in any way, I do not know where he comes from.”
Concerning the allegation that he delivered rulings in favour of the prosecution, Abang said Metuh’s lawyer ought to know what to do.
The judge also denied the allegation that he deliberately withheld the record of proceedings to scuttle Metuh’s plan to appeal against some of the court’s decisions.
The judge stated, “As regards the issue that I made interlocutory decisions in favour of the prosecution in the matter, my response here is simple, and that is that I am entitled to give decisions in matters placed before me for adjudication having heard parties.
“That is why there are appellate courts. If he is dissatisfied with those decisions, I think Emeka Etiaba (SAN) ought to know what to do.
“As regards the alleged non-release of the record of proceedings, I think Emeka Etiaba (SAN) is not fair to me at all. I will leave him to his conscience. He has an improper motive in this regard.
“For the records, my Lord, the defendant applied for the Certified True Copy of the proceedings at the time the proceedings were going on from day to day. I approved same and directed my secretary to type the proceedings.
“The proceedings were bulky in nature because I heard the case from day to day. When the secretary concluded typing the proceedings, I abandoned all other matters before me and concentrated on checking the typed proceedings to be in line with what were in the court’s records.
“When I proofread the proceedings and was satisfied that it represents what transpired in the open court, I endorsed same for certification and released the proceedings to them on March 15, 2016.”
The judge had on March 9 dismissed Metuh’s no case submission, declaring that the accused had case to answer and directed the defendants to open their defence.
But the case has since then been adjourned three times due to the inability of Metuh and his firm to call their witnesses.