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N400m fraud trial: Absence of defence lawyer stalls Metuh’s trial in absentia

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By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA—SCHEDULED commencement of trial of the embattled former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP,   Chief Olisa Metuh, in absentia, suffered a setback  on Thursday, following the absence of his lawyer in court.

Former Publicity Secretary Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP ) Olisa Metuh on customized wheelchair during his trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja. Photo by Gbemiga Olamikan

Metuh’s lead counsel, Mr. Emeka Etiaba, SAN, was said to have gone to the Supreme Court to handle another matter.

Consequently, Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja who initially stood down the trial till  1pm, subsequently adjourned the case till  Friday.

Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr.   Sylvanus Tahir had, after Metuh’s case was called up around  1:50pm, applied for a further stand-down to enable him verify if Etiaba had concluded his matter at the Supreme Court.

His application was supported by the lawyer representing Metuh’s firm in the trial, Chief Tochukwu Onwugbufor, SAN.

In a bench ruling, Justice Abang who restated his position that Metuh jumped bail and deserved to be tried in absentia having failed to offer any reasonable explanation for his absence in court, said he was however minded to shift commencement of the trial till  Friday.

It will be recalled that the high court had  on Wednesday,  granted EFCC leave to continue the trial in the absence of Metuh who was said to have been admitted at the Intensive Care Unit of the National Hospital in Abuja.

The former PDP spokesman was  on Monday, rushed to the hospital in an ambulance belonging to the court,   after he fell   while on his way to enter the dock to continue his defence to the seven-count money laundering charge EFCC preferred against him.

Justice Abang had since maintained that Metuh engaged in gross misconduct when he disobediently attempted to enter the dock after the court had permitted him to remain where he was initially seated.

The Judge stressed that Metuh fell  on his own and disrupted the court’s proceedings by whimpering loudly and groaning intermittently, “giving the impression that he was in serious pain”.

He said it was not correct that Metuh collapsed, “the defendant did not collapse, he fell down on his own”.

According to Justice Abang, Metuh “ignored a humane disposition of the court” by insisting on entering the  dock, an action he said amounted to gross misconduct and wilful disobedience to a lawful directive from the the court.

He said Metuh had on the day he fell , entered the courtroom with a walking stick “to give impression that he cannot walk on his own”.

The court accused Metuh of employing various delay tactics to frustrate his trial.

“The 1st defendant has no right to hold this court to ransom by doing things or taking steps deliberately intended to scuttle his trial.

“The 1st defendant has repeatedly made the court of  law look like an accident scene. This conduct should not be allowed in that temple of justice.”, Justice Abang held.

“In a bid to dismantle the road block, the court was accused of being biased and conducting unfair trial. However, this court will stand its ground and always do what is right”, Justice Abang added.

Metuh is facing trial alongside his firm,   Destra Investment Ltd.

EFCC alleged that he received N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, prior to the 2015 presidential election, without executing any contract.

The agency alleged that the fund was electronically wired from an account that ONSA operated with the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to Metuh, via account no. 0040437573, which his firm operated. with Diamond Bank Plc.

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