Attend court Feb. 5 or be returned to prison, judge tells Metuh

Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered a former spokesman of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP ) Olisa Metuh, to attend court on February 5 or be arrested and returned to prison.

Justice Abang gave the order yesterday whiling on two applications. One by Metuh’s lawyer, Okezie Ikpeazu (SAN), for adjournment on health ground and the other by prosecution lawyern Sylvanus Tahir, seeking the revocation of Metuh’s bail for allegedly being absent in court for not cogent reasons.

The judge said Metuh had been absent from his trial since Monday without any lawful excuse. This, the judge said, was a sufficient reason to revoke the defendant’s bail.

Metuh and his company, Dextra Investment Limited are being tried on money laundering charges before the court.

Last Monday, Metuh was absent in court and his lawyer said he was on admission at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State. He drew the court’s attention to a letter to thate effecr from the hospital.

On Tuesday, Ikpeazu applied for an adjournment of the case to a period outside this week based on the health situation of his client, an application Tahir objected to.

Tahir described the letter from the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital, relied on by Ikpeazu as worthless.

He urged the court to revoke  Metuh’s bail and return him to prison, from where he should be made to attend his trial.

Justice Abang, in his ruling, noted that  the medical report  relied on by Metuh to stay away from court was fraudulently smuggled into the court’s file and aimed at forcing the court to stay proceedings in the trial indefinitely.

The judge said EFCC’s application for the revocation of Metuh’s bail deserved to be granted, but that the court decided to suspend taking such step in order to afford the defendant another opportunity “to turn over a new leaf”.

He agreed with Tahir to the effect the hospital’s letter dated January 21, 2018 indicating that Metuh had been on admission since the previous day, for treatment for an ailment, was sent to the court to frustrate the trial.

He queried why the medical report had to be issued barely 24 hours to the resumption of the trial on January 22.

The judge also queried how the letter issued in Nnewi, Anambra State, could find its way to the court’s file in Abuja within 24 hours.

He said the letter was fraudulently smuggled into the court’s file and defence lawyers chose to rely on it to ask for an adjournment yet refused to disclose the identity of the person who sent the document to the court.

He noted that the “lengthy letter” by the hospital laced with many medical terms, was meant to confuse the court.

“How will the court, not being an expert in the medical field, be able to understand it, if not to confuse the court and give the impression that the ailment is serious?” the judge asked.

He ruled that the letter having not been filed before the court through established procedure and without any indication on it linking it to the trial, the EFCC’s lawyer was right to describe it as “a trash meant for the dustbin”.

The judge noted that the letter failed to state the period that the defendant must be on bed restam He said it could be implied that the court had to adjourn the case indefinitely.

He said the application was like an application for stay of proceedings, which had been prohibited in criminal trials by the Supreme Court.

He said: “That means the court will be forced to adjourned sine die (indefinitely). It is my humble view that this sounds like an application for stay of proceedings. It is not just a medical report but an application for stay of proceedings.”

He recalled that the Supreme Court had in its judgment delivered on June 9, 2017, on an appeal by Metuh prohibited stay of proceedings in a criminal trial.

The judge also recalled that the Supreme Court, delivering judgment in an appeal by Metuh’s firm and co-defendant, Destra Investments Limited, on January 12, 2018, had ordered the Federal Court to give the case an accelerated hearing.

He said:  “Any purported medical report that will act as a stay of proceedings ought to be rejected by the court. The medical report was fraudulently smuggled into the court’s file.

“I agree with the learned counsel for the prosecution that it a trash meant for the dustbin. It is a useless paper only dumped on the court.”

He however said out of human sympathy he would consider the plea by defence lawyers  by adjourning the case till February 5.

The judge said, “‎In view of the passionate plea by the learned senior counsel for the first and second defendants, I hereby suspend my decision to revoke the bail granted to the first defendant. I hereby give him another chance to turn over a new leaf.

“Where the situation remains the same at the next adjourned date, this court shall exercise its power of revoking the bail. This matter is adjourned till February 5 and 6 for continuation of trial.”

The judge further said that Metuh’s application for adjournment as argued on Tuesday and Wednesday had been overtaken by events since by his (Metuh’s) conduct, the court had been unable to record progress in the case since Monday.

The judge granted the application by Metuh,  to call additional 10 witnesses.

He noted that Metuh had engaged in different ploys to frustrate the trial and attempts, “to hijack the proceedings.

“The first defendant has overstretched the patience of the court beyond limit in these proceedings,” Justice Abang said..

He said the court would no longer accept any medical report from Metuh.

The judge also ruled that the court would no longer entertain any application for adjournment to enable the defendant to call any witness.

He therefore directed that all the remaining witnesses Metuh had to call must always be in court for all proceedings.

Ikpeazu and lawyer to Destra, Tochukwu Onwugbufor (SAN), thanked the judge for showing sympathy to Metuh.

They promised not to stall the trial, and noted that the judge has always given the case accelerated hearing before the January 12, 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court, which directed that the case be promptly decided.

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