….asks court to summon Channels TV
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Tuesday, urged the Federal High Court in Abuja to invoke its powers under the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, and try the embattled former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, in absentia.
Former Publicity Secretary Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP ) Olisa Metuh on customized wheelchair during his trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan
The anti-graft agency made the application on a day it accused Metuh who is facing money laundering charge, of violating his bail conditions by absenting himself from court for continuation of his trial, without reasonable explanation.
EFCC lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, further opposed request by Metuh’s lawyer for the matter to be adjourned till a later date in view of the inability of his client to attend the proceeding due to ill-health.
The prosecution urged trial Justice Okon Abang to reject the adjournment request and proceed with the trial as originally scheduled, alleging that Metuh purposely collapsed before the court in a bid to frustrate his trial.
Tahir maintained that the former PDP spokesman disobediently attempted to enter the dock after the court had permitted him to remain where he was initially seated.
EFCC argued that Metuh’s insistence to enter the dock on the day he fell down, amounted to gross misconduct and wilful disobedience to directive of the court.
It equally contended that there was no medical report or record before the court to explain the absence of the defendant for his trial.
“What is playing out is complete disregard and disobedience to the authority of this court and judiciary.
“This matter was adjourned till today for continuation of trial, but the 1st defendant is not here.
“I urge my lord to invoke section 266 and 352(4) of ACJA to proceed with the trial in the absence of the 1st defendant who has violated conditions of his bail by absenting himself from court without reasonable explanation”, Tahir added.
Besides, the prosecuting counsel prayed the court to refer one of the lawyers in Metuh’s defence team, Mr. Ben Chuks Nwosu, to the Legal Practitioners and Disciplinary Committee, LPDC, to be sanctioned for violating rules of professional conduct.
He told the court that the said lawyer made prejudicial comments pertaining to the proceeding before the court, while appearing as a guest in a program that was aired by Channels Television.
Tahir asked the trial Judge to summon the General Manager of Channels TV and anchor of Sunrise Today, Maukpe Ogun Yusuf, to produce the tape of the program in court.
However, Metuh’s lead counsel, Mr. Emeka Etiaba, SAN, opposed the application, stressing that one EFCC lawyer, Mr. Johnson Ojogbane, equally participated in the said TV program.
Etiaba argued that EFCC’s application was not only incompetent, but also brought malafide (in bad faith)
“My lord what was so horrible in that program was that Mr. Ojogbane, very bodly, said the EFCC wants to conclude Metuh’s case so quickly so that it will serve as a refrence point in the war against corruption.
“He did not only told his audience how and why he wanted Chief Metuh’s trial concluded immediately, he went on to narrate what happened in this court including the interlocutory decisions.
“He who comes with equity must do so with clean hands. A prosecution that concealed that it was duly represented in the program cannot come back to allege what Mr. Ben Nwosu did or did not do in the program. I therefore ask my lord to discountenance that application as a distraction”, Etiaba argued.
Etiaba told the court that his client could not attend the proceeding considering that he was admitted at the Intensive Care Unit of the National Hospital in Abuja.
“I had earlier in my submission, given reasons why the 1st defendant is not here. I went further to state that he was taken to the hospital by the medical personnel and ambulance of this court.
“The problem we have is that we are using touchlight to look for the truth in the day time, and that amounts to deceit”, Etiaba stated.
He wondered why the prosecution who had on Monday, conceded for an adjournment to enable Metuh to be attended to by a doctor, suddenly made a U-turn to argue that there was no reason for the defendant’s absence.
“It is most unfair, no matter what this case is about”, Etiaba added.
He argued that his main prayer was for the court to determine the propriety or lawfulness of the trial going on in the absence of his client whose whereabouts is known, pursuant to section 266 of the ACJA”.
Etiaba insisted there was no order from the court that his client disobeyed.
Earlier, Justice Abang counted five occassions between March and April that he said Metuh did not enter the dock during his trial, and queried why he chose to do so on Monday when he fell down.
I response, Etiaba said his client had since commencement of the trial, appeared before the court over 50 times, saying the five times he did not enter the dock “cannot be said to be normal, it is rather the other way round”.
“I believe that the 1st defendant’s decision to go into the dock should be seen as normal. And it was in his bid to enter the dock that my lord directed that he should sit by the dock. At that time the 1st defendant was already in motion. Whether he was turning back or trying to enter the dock, I do not know”, Etiaba submitted.
On his part, counsel to Metuh’s firm, Chief Tochukwu Onwugbufor, SAN, argued that trying the former PDP spokesman in absentia would amount to violation of constitutionally guaranteed right to fair hearing.
Meantime, Justice Abang adjourned the case till Wednesday to consider EFCC’s application to try Metuh in absentia, as well as whether or not the Channels TV should be summoned to produce the tape of its Sunrise Today program the prosecution complained about.
Metuh is answering to a seven-count charge alongside his firm, Destra Investment Ltd.
EFCC alleged that he received N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, prior to the 2015 presidential election, without executing any contract.
The agency alleged that the fund was electronically wired from an account that ONSA operated with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to Metuh, via account no. 0040437573, which his firm operated with Diamond Bank Plc.
It told the court that the fund which was released to Metuh and his firm by detained former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd, was part of about $2.1billion earmarked for the purchase of arms to fight insurgency in the North East.
Besides, the prosecution which had earlier closed its case after it called eight witnesses that testfied before the court, equally alleged that Metuh was involved in an illicit transaction that involved the exchange of $2million.