Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday denied the petition written against him by the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, asking for the transfer of his corruption trial to another judge.
The judge disclosed in the open court on Thursday that one of Metuh’s lawyers, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), had sent a petition to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asking for the reassignment of the case to another judge.
The judge disclosed this while considering an application by one of Metuh’s lawyers, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), asking for an adjournment due to the absence of the leader of the defence team, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), who was said to be on a trip to the University of Ilorin for an eye surgery.
Justice Abang said he never knew Metuh to be his classmate in the law school as alleged in the petition sent to the chief judge.
Justice Abang also denied the allegation that he deliberately held back the record of the proceedings of the trial from the defence team.
The judge, who said he would resist any blackmail, insisted that despite the petition written against him by Etiaba, apparently on Metuh’s instructions, he would continue to hear the case except if the Chief Judge directed otherwise.
He said, “I want to say that I have a circular by my employer, the National Judicial Council, that where there is a petition in a matter seeking the transfer of a case to another judge, that the judge handling the case shall continue to preside over the matter until a decision is taken by the authority that the petition was addressed to.
“On account of this circular, I shall continue to preside over this matter until the honourable Chief Judge of this court takes a decision on Emeka Etiaba’s petition.”
The judge faulted Etiaba for failing to serve the petition on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which is prosecuting the case, so as to enable it to respond to the application.
The judge said Etiaba’s act of serving a letter with respect to a pending case on the Chief Judge without serving it on the other party was a breach of Rule 30(5) of the Rules of Code of Conduct for Legal Practitioners.
The judge said, “The prosecution ought to have been availed with that letter so that they could also be heard before the Chief Judge takes a decision on the petition. It is not only the defence that is entitled to justice.
“The Federal Republic of Nigeria and the defendants are also entitled to justice. Emeka Eitiaba ought to have served a copy of that letter on the prosecution so that they would have the opportunity to react to the view expressed by him.
“There are three grounds in the letter – one: that some of the decisions the court took were given in favour of the prosecution; two: that the court refused to release the record of proceedings. The record of proceedings has been released to the defendants two days ago. It comprises 212 pages.”
Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, who are being prosecuted by the EFCC, were scheduled to open their defence on Thursday.
The accused persons are being prosecuted on seven counts of fraud bordering on the N400m which they allegedly received from the Office of the National Security Adviser as well as money laundering involving cash transaction of $2m.
But responding to a similar question put across to him by the judge, Adedipe, who led the defence on Thursday, said, “Any letter written by any member of the defence counsel is a decision of the defence team.”
The judge subsequently granted Adedipe’s application for adjournment and fixed March 23 for Metuh to open his defence.
The judge noted that the case had already been adjourned three times before Thursday at the instance of the defence.
He warned the defence team to be mindful of section 396(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act which he said prohibits parties in a criminal trial from taking more than five adjournments.