The Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday ordered a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Olisa Metuh, to be in court on February 5 or be arrested and sent to jail.
The trial judge, Justice Okon Abang ruled that Metuh had been absent from his trial since Monday without any lawful excuse, a development which the judge said was a sufficient reason to revoke the defendant’s bail.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, on seven counts, including an allegation of fraudulent receipt of the sum of N400m from the Office of the National Security Adviser in 2014.
The charges also include the allegations that the ex-spokesperson for the PDP transacted with $2m cash which was said to be above the threshold of cash payment prescribed by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
Metuh was absent from the proceedings since Monday on the excuse that he was on admission at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, Anambra State for treatment of an ailment.
On Tuesday, his lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), sought an adjournment of the case till a period outside this week.
EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, opposed the application for adjournment, described the medical report of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Teaching Hospital relied upon to ask for the adjournment, as a trash meant for the dustbin.
Tahir in opposing the application for an adjournment asked the court to revoke Metuh’s bail and send the defendant to prison form where he should be made to attend his trial.
Ruling, Justice Abang said 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.
Justice Abang held that 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.
In the absence of an explanation from defence lawyers, 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”.
Noting that the letter failed to state the period that the defendant must be on bed rest, the judge said it could imply that the court had to adjourn the case indefinitely.
According to the judge, the application was tantamount to an application for stay of proceedings, which had been prohibited in criminal trials by the Supreme Court.
Justice Abang ruled, “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.
He 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 added, “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 also ruled 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.
But he granted the application by Metuh, whose ninth witness has yet to conclude his testimony, to call additional 10 witnesses.
The judge ruled that, 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,” the judge added.
He, therefore, ruled that 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.
Both defence lawyers, Ikpeazu and Onwugbufor, thanked the judge for showing sympathy to Metuh.
Promising not to engage in anything to stall the trial, they also noted that the judge had always been giving the case an accelerated hearing before the January 12, 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court.