Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday insisted that he would go on with the trial of the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, despite the petition written by his defence lawyers asking that the case be transferred.
The judge said, “I want to say on this 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 the case to another judge, that judge handling the case shall continue to preside over the matter until decision is taken by authority 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 Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Metuh and his firm, Destra Investments Limited, on seven counts of fraud bordering on the N400m he allegedly collected from the Office of the National Security Adviser in November 2014 and $2m money laundering cash transaction.
Metuh was scheduled to open his defence today after the judge on March 9 dismissing his no-case submission and declaring that he (Metuh) had case to answer.
But the judge disclosed that a lawyer in Metuh’s defence team, Mr. Emeka Etiaba, had petitioned the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, asking for the transfer of the case to another judge.
The judge disclosed this while considering an application by one of Metuh’s lawyer, 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 University of Iloring for an eye surgery.
The judge while writing his ruling on the application for adjournment paused to read from his record, by asking Adedipe and the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, if they were aware of the petition.
He said, “Learned counsel for the prosecution and learned counsel for the defence, I want to ask you a question and I want you to respond if you are aware of it or not.
“Are you aware that after the prosecution had called eight witness cross-examined and re-examined and ruling has been delivered on the no-case submission by the defendants, dismissing the no-case submission, one of the counsel, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), wrote a petition to the honourable Chief Judge of this court asking for the transfer of this case, principally on the reasons that the court gave ruling in favour of the prosecution and that the court also refused to release the ruling and the records of the proceedings to them, and that the first accused person was my classmate in the law school? I didn’t know the first accussed was my classmate, it was he (Etiaba) that said so. Are you aware of the petition?”
In response, EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Tahir, said he was not aware of it.
He said, “Speaking for the prosecution my lord, I categorically state without any equivocation that until this hour and minute, I am not aware that such petition has been written by one of the counsel for the defendants.”
On his part, Adedipe said, “Any letter written by any member of the defence counsel is a decision of the defence team.
The judge in his ruling insisted on going on with the case until superior authorities directs otherwise.
He also said in his ruling that the records of proceedings comprising of about 212 pages had been released to the defence two days ago.
“This is not the case is not the only case I handle. The court had to suspend every other thing to ensure that the record of proceedings as of March 9 was ready. I had to read and proof read about four times and it has been released to them two days ago.”
The judge also said it was an act of professional breach of the code of conduct for legal practitioners on the part of Etiaba for writing to the Chief Judge without serving same on the prosecution.
The judge said the act was a breach of provisions of Rule 30(5) of the Code of Conduct for Legal Practitioners.
The judge granted the application and fixed March 23 for Metuh to open its defence.
The judge noted that the case had already been adjourned three times before today (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 prohibits parties to a criminal trial from taking more than five adjournment.
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