Justice Okon Abang of a Federal High Court Abuja has fixed February 22, 2017 for “hearing without fail” in a money laundering charge brought against Olisa Metuh, former spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The decision of the judge was as a result of the “passionate plea” by Tochukwu Onwugbufor, SAN, a defence counsel, who appealed for an adjournment due to absence of lead counsel for the defence, Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN.
Ikpeazu had sent a letter to the trial judge notifying him of his inability to attend the sitting as he was “involved in another criminal case at the Federal Capital Territory, FCT High Court”.
The said letter was brought to the attention of the court by prosecution counsel, Silvanus Tahir.
Tahir also pointed out that another letter was also sent in by Emeka Etiaba, SAN, who also requested for an adjournment on health grounds.
“I observe that the defence, particularly the first defendant and counsel representing him, are trying to turn these proceedings into a game of musical chairs,” Tahir argued.
He further argued that adjournment from the earlier date was at the instance of the defence, and “the defence has exhausted its five days entitlement as stipulated in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015”.
Responding Onwugbufor, who acknowledged being in receipt of the letters, disagreed vehemently that the defence was playing games with the case.
“The allegation that we are turning this case into a musical chair is absolutely uncalled for and frivolous,” he said, adding that Ikpeazu had to attend to the other case because the FCT High Court had ordered “accelerated hearing”. According to him Etiaba was also absent on health grounds as he had a “malingering toothache”.
Having listened to the arguments, Justice Abang, stood the case down till 1.30pm to allow Ikpeazu time to be present in court, noting that his letter superseded that of Etiaba, being the lead counsel. The trial judge however noted that the case before it preceded that of the FCT High Court, noting that Ikpeazu ought to have been present in court and sent the letter to the other court giving Metuh’s case precedence.
However, by 2.05pm when the court reconvened, Ikpeazu was still not in court. Onwugbufor told the court that he had gone to the FCT High Court, but “Ikpeazu needs to cross examine a star witness at the other court and so is unable to make it here”. He thus pleaded passionately for an adjournment.
The prosecution raised no further objections but left it to “the discretion of the court”.
In his ruling Justice Abang said: “In view of the passionate plea at the instance of the defence I’m inclined again to exercise my discretion in favour of the defendant and I shall God willing hear the pending applications dated 24 January 2017, and 9 February 2017, on Wednesday, the 22nd day of February 2017 without fail”.
Metuh is being prosecuted alongside his company, Destra Investment Limited on a seven-count charge bordering on money laundering. He is accused of allegedly receiving N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser, under Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd).