Justice Okon Abang is going no where.
The judge of the federal high court ruled on Friday that he would not disqualify himself from presiding over the case involving the national publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh.
Metuh was attempting to be clever by half. He and his company, Destra Investment Limited are being prosecuted for allegedly receiving N400m meant for purchase of arms from the former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki.
The EFCC, which is the prosecution, had opened its case, called its witnesses and closed its case. However when it was time for Metuh’s team to begin their defence, his counsel, Emeka Etiaba, filed an application asking Justice Abang to disqualify himself for being unfair. It was also at that point that Metuh suddenly remembered that he and Justice Abang were classmates in law school and that the judge did not like him.
If the judge had agreed with the application and disqualified himself, it would have meant that the case would be assigned to another judge and made to start afresh, despite the resources which the prosecution has expended so far in gathering its witnesses.
Sylvanus Tahir, counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) asked the court to throw out the application.
“There is no reason a reasonable man will think that the presiding judge has exhibited any conduct which has cast doubt on his ability to dispense justice fairly,” he said.
“The defendant alleging bias against the court has not provided evidence. We urge your lordship to dismiss the application. The honourable judge is not a party to this case. He is not on trial.”
On Friday, Justice Abang held that Metuh’s application was an abuse of court process and lacked merit. So he dismissed it.
Earlier, Tochukwu Onwubufo (SAN), counsel to Destra Investment Limited, Metuh’s company and second defendant, had asked the court for an adjournment, saying he needed time to prepare his defence.
He said that he was yet to study the processes of the court in the case, and for that reason the trial should be adjourned to another date.
“I urge you, my lord, to grant me an adjournment to enable me to prepare adequately for this trial,” Onwubufo said.
But Tahir, the prosecution counsel, urged the court to discountenance the application and to proceed with the case.
However, Justice Abang held that he would first consider the application by Metuh asking him to disqualify himself from the case before ruling on the one for adjournment.
On March 17, Metuh had petitioned Ibrahim Auta, chief justice of the federal high court, requesting that his case before Justice Abang be transferred to another judge.
Abang had made the disclosure while addressing counsel to the prosecution and the defence in court on that day. He had said that Metuh, through one of his lawyers, Etiaba (SAN), petitioned the chief judge to accuse him of bias in the case.
The judge had also said that Etiaba accused him of giving a majority of his rulings in favour of the prosecution, and that Metuh was his classmate at law school.
He had denied that he knew Metuh, and stated that Etiaba would need to prove the allegation.
“The court will not be blackmailed. I fear no evil,” he had said.
“I shall continue to preside over this case until the honourable chief judge takes a decision on the petition.”
The chief judge has since turned down Metuh’s request, asking him to appeal against any decision Abang may take if he is dissatisfied with it.
The PDP spokesman is facing a seven-count of charge of criminal breach of trust and money laundering to the tune of N400m.
He maintains that he is innocent of the charges, and that he only received the sum of N400m from the office of the former national security adviser to carry out media campaigns for former President Goodluck Jonathan.