Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja noted Thursday that Metuh has written, through his lawyer, Emeka Etiaba (SAN), to the court’s Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta, raising sundry accusations against him (Justice Abang) and seeking the transfer of the case to another judge.
The judge said he will not be intimidated and that, by virtue of a circular by the National Judicial Council (NJC), he will continue to preside over the case until the court’s Chief judge takes a decision on the petition (letter) written by Metuh.
Metuh, in the letter dated March 11, claimed to have been the judge’s classmate at the Nigerian Law School and that, they had met few weeks before his trail commenced before the judge.
Metuh, who is standing trial with his company, Destra Investment Limited on a seven-count charge of money laundering, accused the judge of being bias and withholding records of proceedings in the case, with the intention of denying him (Metuh) the right to appeal.
The judge spoke on the letter Thursday while ruling on an application by one of Metuh’s lawyer, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) for an adjournment in the case, on the ground that the lead defence lawyer, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) was not available.
Justice Abang said: On the 16th of March 2016, at about 4pm, the honourable Chief Judge of this court forwarded a copy of the letter written by Emeka Etiaba (SAN), for the defence, praying the honourable Chief Judge to transfer this case to another judge, eight witnesses having been called, the no-case application of the defendant having been dismissed for lacking in merit.
“I want to say that I have a circular issued by my employer, the National Judicial Council (NJC) to the effect that where there is a petition in a matter, seeking the transfer of the case to another judge, the judge handling the case shall continue to preside over the matter until a decision is taken by the authority to which the petition was addressed.
“On the account of this circular, I shall continue to preside over this matter until the honourable Chief Judge takes a decision on Mr.Etiaba’s petition,” Justice Abang said.
The judge expressed surprise that Etiaba failed to avail the prosecution with a copy of his letter dated March 11, as required under Rule 30(5) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners. He said having refused to serve the prosecution with a copy of his letter, he (Etiaba) violated the Rules of Professional conduct for lawyers.
Justice Abang noted that by not serving the prosecution with the letter, Etiaba has denied the prosecution lawyer the opportunity to react to issues he raised in the letter.
“Mr. Etiaba complained, in the letter that the record of proceedings was not made available to him. The record of proceedings of about 212 pages, have been served on the defence team since two days ago. This is not the only case the court is handling. This court is a busy court.
“And again, he (Etiaba) said the accused person is my classmate. I don’t know the accused person as being my classmate. It is for him to prove that he was my classmate. Assuming the accused person was my classmate, which will not change the facts of the case and the law.
“I do not take arbitrary decisions. Whatever decision I take here is in line with the law and my conscience. I fear no evil. I am guided by my conscience, without fear or favour,” the judge said.
Going through the history of the case, the judge noted that most adjournments have been at the instance of the defence.
Metuh’s legal team comprising of three Senior Advocates, including Ikpeazu, Adedipe and Etiaba, suddenly developed cold feet when, after the judge ruled on March 9, dismissing the defendants’ no-case submission for lacking in merit, became reluctant to open its defence.
Metuh made a no-case submission after the prosecution completed its case after calling eight witnesses, who the defence team exhaustively cross-examined. Rather than lead evidence in his defence, Metuh elected to make a no-case submission, which the court dismissed on the ground that the prosecution has raised several issues to which Metuh must respond to by conducting his defence.
After the judge refused his no-case submission on March 9, Metuh was asked to open his defence. He sought for time to enable him prepare his witnesses, prompting the judge to adjourn to yesterday for the commencement of defence.
Rather than open his defence yesterday, Adedipe, who led the defence team told the court that the lead lawyer, Ikpeazu, who prepared the defence witnesses, was not available. He sought an adjournment, undertaking to conduct defence, in the event that Ikpeazu was away at the next date.
Prosecution lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir reluctantly agreed to an adjournment in view of the promise by Adedipe to conduct defence on the next date even where Ikpeazu was absent.
Justice Abang upheld Adedipe’s application and adjourned to March 23 for Metuh and his company to open their defence.
Part of the letter reads: “it is the brief of the defendants that the 1st defendant (Chief Olisa Metuh) was called to the Nigerian Bar along the honourable Justice O. E. Abang, the presiding judge in the above charge, in 1988 and after their call, they both practiced Law in Lagos for many years before he (Chief Metuh) relocated to Abuja where he has since lived and hounourable Justice Abang, on his part, took to the bench.
“The 1st defendant further informed us that the last time he met with honourable Justice Abang was sometime late last year at Meridian Hotel in Akwa Ibom, where they had time to talk on many issues. Chief Metuh informed us that he was baffled at honourable Abang’s views and when eventually the charge against him was assigned to his court this January (a few weeks later), he got very worried because he feared that he may not get justice in his court.
“The defendants believe that having been a part of the trial in this case and having noticed the disposition of his lordship in this case, they ask themselves this pertinent question: Do we believe that honourable Justice O. E. Abang will do justice in this case? They went ahead to resolve the question in the negative, hence a need for this very urgent and intervening letter.
“The defendants state that they had resisted causing this letter to be written, but have come to the inevitable conclusion that a judge, who denied them the inalienable right of appeal by withholding the record of proceedings amongst others, will care less about whether they obtain justice in the same case.
“May we therefore appeal to my lordship, in the interest of justice, to cause the transfer of this case to be made to any other judge in the interest of Justice.”