Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday,May 25, 2018, ordered for the continuation of the trial of the former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Olisa Metuh, after overruling an objection to the application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s Lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, for the trial to proceed in the absence of the former PDP Spokesman and his Lawyers.
The objection was raised by Mr. Tochukwu Onwugbufor (SAN), Counsel for Metuh’s co-accused, Destra Investment Limited, who had argued that the law never envisaged that a criminal trial would ever be conducted behind a defendant and his Counsel.
However, in dismissing the objection, Justice Abang ruled that although the court had ruled that the matter would proceed in Metuh’s absence, the absence of the defence team was designed to frustrate the trial.
He went on to explained that the court did not bar Metuh from the proceedings, but only held that “the trial will proceed in his absence”, due to what the court described as the defendant’s “misconduct” in court on Monday.
You will recall, that Olisa Metuh had collapsed in court on Monday, while making his way to the dock, during his trial. The Defense Counsel, Emeka Etiaba (SAN), had thereafter pleaded the court to allow his client seek urgent mediacl attention, and thereafter stand for trial. The Judge however, refused the application and insisted that the trial would continue, even with the defendant lying almost lifeless on the floor of the courtroom.
Reacting and totally condemning the way and manner in which the case and his defendant were being treated, without any regard to human life and right to fair hearing, as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution, the Defense Counsel opted to withdraw from the case.
Since the incident on Monday, Olisa Metuh has not been seen in court and has been receiving urgent medical care in a Hospital in Abuja.
Nonetheless, Justice Abang having insisted that the trial must continue with or without Olisa Metuh’s presence or his Counsel, totally disregarded section 349 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, when he closed the defense of Olisa Metuh, and foreclosed him from offering any more defense in the matter.
The above has also been seen as an infringement on Olisa Metuh’s human right to fair hearing as guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
Elsewhere, section 349 of the ACJA 2015, states as follows: “(2) Where the Legal Practitioner who had appeared on behalf of the defendant ceases to appear in court in two consecutive sessions of the Court, the Court shall enquire
from the defendant, if he wishes to engage on his own another Legal Practitioner, or a
Legal practitioner, engaged for him by way of legal aid.
“(3) Where the defendant wishes to engage another Legal Practitioner of his choice, the
Court shall allow him reasonable time, but not exceeding 30 days to do so.”
The very important questions ringing in the minds of many concerned Nigerians, is: ‘what is the interest of Justice Okon Abang in this matter? Why is he in a sudden hurry to round up this case, despite the health status of the former PDP Spokesman???’