By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has accused the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Olisa Metuh, of attempting to use “cooked up” allegations to frustrate his trial before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
The anti-graft agency, in a counter-affidavit deposed to by one Mr. Francis Jirbo, said it was appalled that Metuh, who is facing a seven-count criminal charge alongside his firm, Destra Investment Limited, resorted to “antics and gimmicks” aimed at blackmailing trial Justice Okon Abang to hands off his case. Metuh had in a petition he forwarded to the Chief Judge of the High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, expressed his unwillingness to conclude his trial before Justice Abang, who he said he always had a “frosty relationship” with from their days in the Law school.
Aside the claim that the judge was his classmate, Metuh insisted that Justice Abang had through some interlocutory rulings so far delivered in the matter, shown elements of bias against him. The petition with Ref No. EES/01/11/03/16 and dated March 11, 2016, was signed by one of the four Senior Advocates of Nigeria representing Metuh before the court, Mr. Etiaba, SAN. Meantime, at the last adjourned date, March 24, Justice Abang, directed the EFCC to respond to Metuh’s bid to disqualify him from further presiding over his trial.
In its response, the commission argued that it was late in the day for the defendant to raise such issues, having already subjected himself to the jurisdiction of the court despite the fact that he purportedly attended law school together with the trial Judge. “All manner of allegations, as stated by the defendants, were cooked up by them just to justify frustrating the stalling of proceedings.
We submit that the antics and gimmicks deployed by the defendants are nothing but mere afterthought and pure blackmail aimed at intimidating the court to drop the case in the guise or pretext of bias by the judge. “The allegations of bias levelled by the defendants against the court relate merely to the exercise of judicial powers by the court, without any evidence of facts or circumstances that suggest that the court did, in fact, favour one side unfairly. “In the circumstances of this case, even if the judex and the 1st defendant (Metuh) were classmates, one would have thought that relationship would have given more concern to the prosecution than the defence for obvious reasons.
The prosecution would have been the one to entertain fear that the court may favour its classmate. “The 1st defendant suddenly woke up when it is time to open his defence to remember an alleged ‘frosty relationship’ that had existed over the years. This is blackmail of unprecedented proportion, which cannot be a ground to disqualify his lordship (the judge). “Other tendentious and mundane allegations of bias remain unsubstantiated and unproven.
Even the normal practice of a litigant (either in civil or criminal cases) standing either in the dock or witness box until his counsel draws the attention of the judex, with an oral request for the litigant to sit down, which is acceded to by the court, has become an issue of bias. “Another germane issue on the allegation of bias is that the test of real likelihood of bias is that of a reasonable man, not that of a man, who has made up his mind to pull down the institution of justice in a desperate bid to undermine the judicial process and get off the hook by all means” , EFCC stated.
More so, EFCC’s lead counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, relied on provisions of sections 396(3) & (5) and 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, and Section 19 (2) and 40 of EFCC Act and urged the court to ignore the petition and compel Metuh to enter his defence to the charge against him. “That it will not serve the interest of justice to grant the defendants/applicants’ (Metuh and his firm, Destra Investment Limited) application which will entail commencing trial de novo (afresh) with all the expenses and the difficulty of procuring prosecution witnesses, some of whom have been harassed out of the country, with some receiving threats for having the courage to have testified in the court”, EFCC added. Justice Abang who already slated Friday to entertain arguments from both Metuh and the EFCC, had earlier responded to allegation of bias against him, saying he never knew the defendant as his classmate. “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. “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 added. Justice Abang had in a ruling he delivered on March 9, dismissed a no-case-submission Metuh filed through his lawyers, saying the EFCC had through evidence that was laid by eight witnesses, established that he has a criminal case to answer.