By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The ongoing trial of the former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, took a dramatic turn on Tuesday, as his team of lawyers, asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to allow them to withdraw from the case.
In a motion dated March 4, the team of 12 lawyers led by two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu and Mr Emeka Etiaba, adduced reasons why they would no longer appear before the court to defend the former PDP spokesman who is facing money laundering charge.
Metuh’s lawyers told the court that they have been under “immense pressure” with respect to their continued appearance in the case, alleging threats to their lives.
They urged the court to allow them to withdraw from the trial in the interest of justice.
“The counsel representing the 1st defendant has been going through immense pressure with respect to their appearance in this case including severe threat to their lives and will be unable to contain the 1st defendant”, read the withdrawal application predicated on section 349(7)and (8) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015.
Besides, Metuh’s lawyers, who were all absent at the resumed proceeding on the matter on Tuesday, said they would be occupied with election petition cases and would no longer be able to attend the day to day trial that was ordered by the court.
In a supporting affidavit that was deposed to by Metuh’s lead counsel, Ikpeazu, SAN, he told the court that he received crank calls by persons that threatened to kill him because of the way he “mishandled” the case.
“I have received numerous threats to my life from diverse sources through telephone calls with disguised numbers, giving an ultimatum and threatening to kill me based on the manner they claimed I had been mishandling the case”, he averred.
Ikpeazu further told the court that his next in command, Etiaba, SAN, also informed him that “he had received similar threats and thus will no longer proceed with the representation of the 1st Defendant.”
He contended that “in the circumstance, it is impossible to avail the 1st Defendant the legal representation he deserves in this case”, and therefore applied that the court grant the application to enable them to withdraw from the trial.
for day to day hearing of the matter, which they noted that they cannot afford, “having regard to diaries of their respective offices.”
The trial was earlier stalled on Monday owing to the absence of the defence lawyers, even as Etiaba notified the court that he was summoned to appear before an undisclosed government agency.
Meanwhile, owing to the development, trial Justice Okon Abang sought Metuh’s opinion on what he would want the court to do in the circumstance.
Responding from the dock, Metuh, told the court that he met with his lawyers on Monday evening, saying they took turns and recounted how they were traumatized by experiences they have had in the hands of the Federal Government since the trial started.
He prayed the court for an adjournment to enable his lawyers to move their application.
Consequently, Justice Abang adjourned the matter till March 13.
Metuh is facing trial alongside his firm, Destra Investment Ltd, for allegedly receiving N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser, ONSA, prior to the 2015 presidential election, without executing any contract.
EFCC 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.
It told the court that the fund which was released to Metuh and his firm by detained former NSA, Col. Sambo Dasuki, retd, was part of about $2.1billion earmarked for the purchase of arms to fight the insurgency in the North East.
More so, the prosecution which had earlier closed its case after it called eight witnesses that testified before the court, equally alleged that Metuh was involved in an illicit transaction that involved the exchange of $2million.