The National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Olisa Metuh, has introduced a new twist to his fresh request for the transfer of his trial from Justice Okon Abang to another judge.
Metuh, in his new move to actualise his request, claimed that he had a long-standing frosty relationship with Justice Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja, who is currently presiding over his trial.
But the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has, in its response, stated that the alleged frosty relationship between the judge and Metuh “is bereft of details and particulars”.
The agency stated that the allegation was an “afterthought” which amounted to “a blackmail of unprecedented proportion” and was aimed at frustrating the trial.
The EFCC stated this through one of the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Francis Jirbo, in an affidavit accompanying its reply to a fresh application by Metuh asking Justice Abang to disqualify himself from further presiding over the case.
“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,” the anti-graft agency said.
Metuh mentioned the alleged frosty relationship between him and the judge in an affidavit accompanying his application dated March 24, 2016, asking the judge to disqualify himself from further presiding over the case.
He anchored the application on the grounds that the judge had been biased in his handling of the case.
In an earlier petition, dated March 11, 2016, which his lawyer, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), sent to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja, no mention was made of the said “frosty relationship”.
Etiaba had only alleged, among others, in the petition, that Metuh was a classmate of the judge in the 1988 set of the Nigerian Law School.
He also stated that the PDP spokesman and the judge both practised law in Lagos before Metuh relocated to Abuja and Justice Abang, on his part, was appointed a judge.
Etiaba also alleged that the opposition party’s publicity secretary met and had discussion with Justice Abang late last year in Le Meridien Hotel in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, adding that his client was baffled at the views expressed by the judge during their encounter.
The anti-graft agency had, on January 15, 2016, arraigned Metuh and his firm, Destra Investments Limited, before Justice Abang on seven counts bordering on money laundering, involving $2m cash transaction.
After the prosecution closed its case with eight witnesses, the defence lawyers raised a no-case submission, contending that the evidence tendered by the prosecution did not link Metuh and his firm to the alleged crimes.
Justice Abang subsequently dismissed the no-case submission in a ruling delivered on March 9 and called on the accused to open their defence.
But instead of opening their defence, the defendants, through Etiaba, petitioned the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, accusing Justice Abang of bias in the handling of Metuh’s case.
The PDP spokesperson said since he was called to the Bar along with Justice Abang in 1988, he had been attending an annual dinner, organised by their set, along with the judge. The judge had denied the claims in his response to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
“I believe that the frosty relationship I have had over the years with the presiding judge will lead to a denial of fair hearing in the case,” Metuh stated.
But the EFCC, through its lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, stated in its reply dated March 31, 2016, that Metuh’s allegations “remain unsubstantiated and unproven”.
Tahir stated that “the defendants have not made a case justifying the honourable judge to make an order disqualifying himself from continuing and concluding with trial of this case.”
He added, “The first defendant suddenly woke up when it is time to open his defence to now remember an alleged ‘frosty relationship’ that had existed over the years. This is a blackmail of unprecedented proportion, which cannot be a ground to disqualify His Lordship.
“With respect, all the allegations of bias levelled by the defendants against the honourable court relate merely to the exercise of judicial powers by the trial court without any evidence of facts or circumstances that suggest that the trial court did, in fact, favour one side unfairly.”
He stated that it was the prosecution that ought to be concerned about the fact that Metuh and the judge were classmates.