Metuh who is answering to a seven-count criminal charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him, urged the Chief Judge of the High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, to transfer his case-file to another Judge.
Excerpts from the petition revealed the 16 Issues Metuh’s Counsels have against Justice Okon Abang for which they requested for transfer of case.
The petition with Ref No. EES/01/11/03/16, dated March 11, 2016, was signed by one of the lawyers in Metuh’s team, Mr. Emeka Etiaba, SAN.
However, Justice Abang who disclosed that a copy of the petition was forwarded to him by the CJ on March 16, at about 4pm, said he would not hands-off the case.
The facts relied upon by the Defendants in requesting that their case be transferred to any other Judge as given by the 1st Defendant are as follows:
1. Upon granting the 1st Defendant’s Application for bail on the 19th day of January, 2016, the learned trial Judge gave very stringent conditions of bail and part of the conditions was that two Sureties must be properties owners in Maitama Abuja and must submit their Statutory Certificate of Occupancy.
2. Due to the above stringent conditions, he spent another nine days in detention before the terms were varied and he achieved bail.
3. Immediately after his plea was taken, Honourable Justice Abang announced that trial will commence on 25/1/2016 and shall be on day-to-day basis. All attempts made by his Lawyers to urge the Court to give him time to meet the conditions of his bail, come out, get his documents (which he needs for his defence) and property brief them failed.
4. His trial therefore, commenced with the Court refusing to avail him the Constitutionally guaranteed right to reasonable time to enable him prepare his Case (Please see with respect, Section 36(6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
5. Throughout the conduct of the case of the Prosecution, the Honourable Justice Abang refused Applications made by his Counsel except where the Prosecution states that it is not opposed to the Application. The issue here is not the fact of refusal or grant of the Applications made, but the insistence of his Lordship that since the Prosecution has opposed same, the Court lacks discretion. The Court has said and acted on this severally.
6. The implication of the lack of discretion as expressed by his Lordship is that his Lordship’s discretion is tied to the Prosecution’s disposition in his own criminal trial. This fact portends danger to him.
7. On the 27th day of January, 2016 when this Case came up, one of his Counsel informed his Lordship that Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, the lead Counsel for the Defendants was engaged at the Supreme Court and the Defendants desire that he personally handles the proceedings that day because of its sensitive nature. The Counsel therefore asked for a stand down or adjournment. The Prosecution having opposed the Application, his Lordship rules that since Dr. Ikpeazu, SAN, did not send a letter, the Case must go on. His Lordship therefore, jettisoned the age long tradition of deferring to the Supreme Court in matters of this nature and not minding that this is a Criminal trial where the right of a Defendant to choose his Counsel is paramount (Please also see with respect, Section 36 (6) (c) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
8. In contrast my Lord, his Lordship has always differed to the Prosecution at any time the Prosecution applies for adjournment for reasons bordering on availability of witnesses. The record of Court will bear that the Prosecution has on more than one occasion asked for adjournment for lack of witness and was obliged without hesitation.
9. The Defendants are uncomfortable with the Rulings and Decisions of his Lordship in some of the Applications made by them and they decided to apply for the record of proceedings to enable them challenge them at the Court of Appeal by way of interlocutory Appeal. They applied through their Counsel for the record of Proceedings on the 8th day of February, 2016 but till date, his Lordship has not obliged them the record not minding that their case comes up virtually everyday and his Lawyers check on the registry on daily basis to know whether the record is ready. The Learned Trial Judge on 9/3/2016 personally confirmed to Miss Nancy Okoli, Counsel in our Chambers that the record is not ready as he must read and approve same personally. This was a month after the Application was made.
10. The refusal of his Lordship to oblige the Defendants the record for a period over one month and one week (for a trial that has seen only eight (8) witnesses and which record is not voluminous) has fully foreclosed their right of appeal on the decisions that will at the end of the day impact on the judgment in their case. This is a denial of fair hearing.
11. The Defendants view the refusal/failure of the Honourable Judge to release the Certified True Copy of the record of proceedings as unhealthy and is a manifestation of his Lordship’s determination to frustrate their defence and appeal.
12. On the 9th day of March, 2016, his Lordship delivered his Ruling on their No CASE submission and surprisingly, after warning himself of the need not to go into the substance of the case, went on in the open Court to state with respect to Counts 5 and 6 (which deal with transaction with regard to the sum of USD2m (Two Million Dollars) with a non-financial institution) that though the origin or source of the Dollars was not part of the Charge, the Defendants must prove it as that forms the basis of money laundering offence. By so doing, his Lordship introduced a perceived element of the offence that was not in the Counts.
13. The Ruling of my Lord in the NO CASE submission has been appealed against and the mention of the statement made by his Lordship while delivering the Ruling only serves to show the disposition of his Lordship in this trial. The 1st Defendant noted that such statements in the past have resulted in the amendment of Charge or procurement of additional Proof on evidence by the Prosecution.
14. Upon dismissing the NO CASE Application of the Defendants, his Lordship insisted that the Defendants’ must commence their defence immediately citing his decision on 25/2/2016. It took the Defendants’ Counsel’s Counsel’s repeated submissions to the effect that the Defendants’ witnesses are to be subpoenaed and before that day, the need to apply for subpoena did not arise as they believed their NO CASE Application will succeed for his Lordship to grant a very short adjournment. The Defendants then began to wonder whether the decision for them to begin their defence without preparing for it is in the interest of justice or whether they are being stampeded to jail?
15. Today, Counsel in our Chambers went for the umpteenth time to collect the long awaited Certified True Copy of the record and the Certified True Copy of the Ruling in the NO CASE submission and to her chargrin was informed that his Lordship said the Certified True Copies will be ready on or before Wednesday, 16/3/2016.
16. Bearing in mind the fact that trial has been adjourned to Thursday, 17/3/2016, his Lordship’s decision to release the Certified True Copies on or before Wednesday 16/3/2016 is a grand plan to further frustrate the Defendants and their appeal, which Notice of Appeal was served on the 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 stated 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 or not.
“May we therefore appeal to my Lord in the interest of justice to cause the transfer of this Case to be made to any other Judge in the interest of justice”.