Justice Abang, Metuh and Matters Arising

0

Despite the fact that the PDP spokesperson, Chief Olisa Metuh is facing corruption charges, Idris Mustapha Ahmed argues that the process of his trial should be credible

The trial of the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Olisa Metuh on charges of receiving the sum of N400 million from the previous government for campaign activities of the PDP is fast assuming an interesting dimension with the trial Judge, Justice Okon Abang now on ‘trial’ over allegations of bias, infractions of rules of the court and integrity issues.

Metuh had pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him by the EFCC that the N400 million was proceed from “the illegal activities” of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), though Dasuki himself has not been convicted by any court for any illegal activity.
Issues took a dramatic twist when Chief Metuh, in the course of the case petitioned the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Auta, who requested that his case be transferred to any other over 70 judges of the Federal High, on the ground that Justice Abang was exhibiting manifest bias and violating the rules of court process against him.

Currently, the embattled judge is trying to wriggle out of the web, resulting in open altercations with the defendants and their counsel as well as joining issues and putting up defence in the media, a situation which has now spurred concerns in the legal circles and calls to question his ability to deliver justice in the matter.
Already there are calls from judicial watchers that Justice Abang should toe the path of honour and excuse himself having allowed this high profile corruption case to become an issue of media controversy, with him the judge unfortunately in the middle of the storm.

The big questions now are: has Justice Abang shown any bias against Chief Metuh? Has he committed any infractions or his integrity found wanting in the course of the trial? Will his ruling in the case, one way or the other, still be fair, objective and without sentiments now he has engaged in altercations and joined issues in the media with the defendants?

The bad blood between the judge and the defendants was externalised from the court, when Justice Abang on March 18th 2016 announced in the open court that the defendant had written to the Chief Judge requesting that the case be transferred to another judge. Justice Okon averred that the defendants raised only three issues; that he was classmates with Chief Metuh; that his rulings were against the defendants and that he overruled the defendants No-Case Submission.
The Judge denied he was Metuh’s classmates and insisted that he would continue with the case until otherwise directed by the Chief Judge. Expectedly, the media went agog with Metuh’s transfer letter, with a few of them interestingly stumbling upon documents showing the Judge was Metuh’s classmate and that Metuh actually raised 16 issues bordering bias and infraction of rules in his request for transfer.

On the next adjourned date, March 24th, 2016, the Judge announced in the open court that Metuh had filed a motion seeking him to disqualify himself. He thereupon announced that he had also responded to enquiry by the CJ regarding Metuh’s request for case transfer and that the documents, all pending before the CJ have become “public documents” He went ahead to engage in altercations with counsel to Metuh, Emeka Etiaba, SAN, on issues of procedures and insisted that he would sit in judgment over the motion for disqualification motion and to continue with the trial on the adjourned date of April 8, 2016.

The next day, the media was again agog with Justice Abang’s response to the CJ prompting concerns regarding the externalisation of the processes of the court, prompting a national daily to post an editorial on the case. Apparently worried about the development, the Office of the National Publicity Secretary of PDP filed a rejoinder to the reports, arguing they wanted to put the records straight.

The office stated that the issue of Chief Metuh and the Judge being classmates in the Law School and their past encounters was not the exclusive reasons his lawyers requested for transfer of his case, but that the letter raised 16 points, topmost being the Judge’s refusal to release the record of proceedings of the court to Chief Metuh timeously, thereby denying Metuh his constitutionally guaranteed right to appeal interlocutory decisions taken by the court.

They pointed out that Metuh applied for the records on the 8th of February 2016 but that the Judge refused to release the document until March 15th 2016, by which time his rights to appeal (within 2 weeks) had been denied him. Their argument is that this is a serious infraction, which betrays the determination to frustrate Metuh’s defence and possible appeal.

Another salient point raised by Metuh is that Justice Abang, in ruling on his No-Case Submission on March 9, 2016, surprisingly descended into the arena and imported other issues that were not in the original charges brought against the defendant by the EFCC.

Metuh complained that Justice Abang, even after warning himself of the need not to go into the substance of the case, went on in the open Court to state with respect to Counts 5 and 6 (which deal with transaction with regard to the sum of USD2m (Two Million Dollars) with a non-financial institution), that though the origin or source of the money was not part of the Charge, the Defendants must prove same as that forms the basis of money laundering offence.
The Defence posited strongly that by this, the trial Judge had taken sides and got himself assisting the prosecution to explore new opportunity. They complained that such infractions had occurred severally in the course of the trial prompting the amendment of charges by the prosecution, a development they argued called to question the detachment of the judge?

Another important point raised by the defence counsel in the letter of transfer is that Justice Abang on several occasions stated in the open court that he had no discretion to exercise one way or the other where the prosecutor opposed the defendant’s applications. Metuh is contending that it is wrong for a trial judge in a criminal case to tie his discretion to the Prosecution’s disposition as such cannot guarantee justice.

Pundits tend to believe that despite the fact that Metuh is facing corruption charges, the process of his trial should be credible and devoid of issues of infraction and biases. It is held strongly that the accusation against Justice Abang are too weighty to be ignored, and the fact that he has already engaged the defendants in open altercation also raises questions regarding his ability to deliver justice to the same accused he now quarrels with.
Perhaps, Justice Abang should simply take a bow, like other judges who have been accused in a similar manner, unless he is on a forced dance to the drumming of powerful but unseen hands.
– Ahmed, a legal analyst, wrote from Katsina

Quote
Pundits tend to believe that despite the fact that Metuh is facing corruption charges, the process of his trial should be credible and devoid of issues of infraction and biases. It is held strongly that the accusation against Justice Abang are too weighty to be ignored, and the fact that he has already engaged the defendants in open altercation also raises questions regarding his ability to deliver justice to the same accused he now quarrels with