Judge threatens to strike out charge over EFCC’s refusal to oppose adjournment
Embattled former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, on Monday, collapsed at the Federal High Court in Abuja while on his way to the dock for continuation of his trial.
Metuh who is defending a seven-count charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him and his firm, Destra Investment Limited, fell down shortly after his case was called-up for hearing and remained motionless on the floor.
The development caused panic in the courtroom, as one of the registrars quickly ran out to look for a medical personnel to attend to him. Trial Justice Okon Abang thereafter asked officials of the court to explain for his records, what actually transpired before Metuh who walked with the aid of a stick, crashed down.
The three officials, Doyin Olawole, Omoju James and Dorcas Danjuma, narrated that Metuh who was heading to the dock, suddenly landed on the floor while his aide was attempting to draw his attention to directive by the court that he should remain where he was initially seated.
Meantime, in the midst of the narrations, a Doctor from the Medical Unit of the Court came and examined Metuh’s condition, even as he notified the trial Judge that there was need for the defendant to be rushed to a hospital for further examination. However, Justice Abang said he would proceed with the trial despite the condition of the defendant. The judge wondered why the Doctor who was not in the courtroom when Metuh fell down would request that the defendant be taken to hospital.
Irked by the decision of the Judge, Metuh’s team of lawyers led by Mr. Emeka Etiaba, SAN, announced their resolve to pull out of the case should the court decline to adjourn to enable the defendant to seek medical help. Etiaba said he could not continue with the matter with his client lying lifeless on the floor with no attempt to resuscitate him since the court was in session. Metuh’s lawyer, Etiaba, SAN, while announcing his withdrawal, said his client was obviously ill as confirmed by medical personnel of the high court.
Etiaba decried that though Justice Abang refused to put him on record, he said the whole world was watching. Not perturbed by Etiaba’s submissions and withdrawal, Justice Abang ordered the defendant to produce his eleventh witness. EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, however told the court that he was not opposed to the request for adjournment since the Doctor confirmed Metuh’s condition. Tahir’s position infuriated the trial Judge who threatened to strike out the charge against Metuh.
“The Federal High Court has nothing against the 1st defendant. It is the duty of the prosecution to prosecute its case. “If the prosecution does not want to proceed with the trial, the court will strike out the case” Justice Abang fumed. He queried why the prosecution failed to oppose the adjournment request after seeing what happened, and how a Medical Doctor who was not present in court when Metuh fell down, suggested that the matter be suspended for the defendant to be taken to the hospital.
After he had rejected Etiaba’s application to withdraw from the trial, Justice Abang reluctantly adjourned the case till Tuesday. “In view of the application of the Medical Doctor in the employment of Federal High Court, that was not in court at the commencement of proceeding, and there being no objection, and since it is a medical opinion, this matter is adjourned to May 22” Justice Abang held. It will be recalled that Metuh was on February 5, brought to court from his hospital bed, in an ambulance, after the Judge threatened to order his arrest and remand in prison custody, should he fail to appear for continuation of his trial.
Meanwhile, Metuh has gone before the Court of Appeal in Abuja to challenge refusal of the trial Judge to allow him to travel abroad for medical treatment. Metuh who is facing trial over allegation that he had through his firm, received N400million prior to the 2015 presidential election, had on March 14, applied to be allowed to seek medical attention in the United Kingdom, lamenting that he has lost sensation in his lower limbs.
Metuh said he was suffering from spinal cord related ailment. His lawyer told the court that Metuh’s health had deteriorated badly, a situation he said would require urgent medical attention from his doctors in London. He tendered as an exhibit, a letter from one Dr. Adrian T. H. Kasey, a Neurosurgeon at Wellington Hospital in London, which he said emphasized the need for Metuh to be treated urgently. The former PDP spokesman predicated his application on section 33(5) and 6(b) of the 1999 Constitution. However, trial Justice Okon Abang turned down the request, insisting that the former PDP spokesman failed to persuade the court that he was indeed suffering from a life-threatening ailment as he claimed.
Besides, Justice Abang accused Metuh of deliberately frustrating his trial with the same application the court had refused three times. He said the trial court had become functus-officio to grant such request to the defendant who he said had yet to appeal previous rulings that were delivered against him on the same subject matter. The court further barred Metuh from thi hiendering any medical report before it, pending the conclusion of his trial. EFCC alleged that Metuh received the N400m from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, 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.