Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court in Abuja has directed that the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Olisa Metuh, will open its defence by 12pm on Thursday in his ongoing trial for corruption the despite absence of the defence lawyers.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Metuh and his firm, Destra Investments Limited, on seven counts of fraud relating to the N400m he received from the Office of the National Security Adviser in November 2012 and $2m money laundering cash transaction.
Metuh was in court on Thursday but none of his lawyers was.
When the case was called at exactly 9am earlier today, the judge was handed a letter from Metuh’s lead counsel, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), asking for an adjournment on health grounds.
The judge said the letter indicated that Ikpeazu had travelled to University of Ilorin for treatment without stating the particular hospital he was visiting.
Justice Abang also acknowledged receiving another letter from the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, that was given to passed to him during the brief court session.
Tahir in his letter asked for a stand down till 12pm to enable him to appear for an appeal at the Supreme Court.
In a bench ruling on Thursday, Justice Abang said there was no evidence that the defence lawyer’s letter, asking for an adjournment was served on the prosecution.
He ruled, “Therefore my lords, I am inclined to stand down the matter till 12pm for the defendant to open their defence.
“I will only take decision on the request for adjournment by 12pm.”
Justice Abang had in a ruling on March 9 dismissed Metuh’s no-case submission, directing him to open his defence in the trial.
PDP spokesperson had in his no-case submission asked the court to discharge and acquit him and his company on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to lead evidence linking him to the alleged crimes.
But the judge held in his ruling that the accused had case to answer to enable him to offer explanations about the allegations levelled against him.
He explained in the opening of his ruling that the court was not expected at the stage to make findings on the guilt or otherwise of the accused.
He added that the court could also not make pronouncement on the credibility of the prosecution witnesses that had testified.
After the prosecution closed its case with eight witnesses, the defendants through their lawyers, filed a no-case submission, asking the court to discharge and acquit them on the grounds that the prosecution failed to make any prima facie case against them.
But the judge ruled against the defendants on Wednesday, holding that the prosecution’s case had raised so many questions, which the defendants needed “to urgently answer”.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the defendants have explanations to make regarding counts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7,” the judge ruled.
He held that the evidence given by the prosecution’s third and seventh witnesses as well as Exhibits D1 and E6(1) to (4) linked Metuh and his company to the alleged crime.
He added, “It is only the first defendant (Metuh) that can answer the questions. The first defendant admitted in his statement that the the second defendant (Destra) received N400m on November 24, 2014.
“Did the first defendant inquire from the bank the source of this money? If he did, what did he do?
“If he did not ask from the bank why did he not report to the police or even the EFCC to investigate it. If he did not why did he disburse the fund to the 5th and 7th prosecution witnesses? Did he also disburse part of the money to Chief Anenih as contained in count seven.
“If he answer this questions it will be clear if the defendants knew or reasonably ought to have know that the fund represented proceeds of corrupt and criminal breach of trust by Col. Sambo Dasuki, while being the National Security Adviser.