Alex Enumah in Abuja
A defence witness has said former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, personally gave approval and made request of a corporate account from Olisa Metuh, spokesperson of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to enable him handle issues relating to image laundering and publicity of both the president and his party, the PDP.
The witness, a journalist with the New Telegraph and a Public Relations Consultant, Ike Abonyi, made the disclosure during examination by the lead counsel to the first defendant at the resumed hearing of corruption and money laundering charges brought against Metuh by the federal government.
Metuh is being tried on a seven-count charge of criminal breach of trust, corruption and money laundering involving $2million cash transaction as well as for allegedly receiving N400million from the Office of the National Security Adviser (DNSA) last Friday.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming that funds from the former NSA were meant for publicity and image laundering of the PDP and President Jonathan.
When the case was called for hearing yesterday after it was adjourned last week for the defence to open up its case, the lead counsel, O Ikpeazu, called on Abonyi who told the court that his relationship with Metuh, dates back to when he (Abonyi), was Media Adviser to the then National Chairman of the PDP, Okwesilize Nwodo, added that Metuh was then Vice Chairman of the PDP in the South-east.
He however stated that he was invited by the PDP spokesman in 2014 to help him handling issues relating to publicity and image laundering of the party, as according to Metuh, the party’ image was in a bad shape.
“Towards the 2014 general election, Metuh approached me, and then I was Deputy Managing Editor of New Telegraph, and requested that he would need my full services, this time. That he would like me to come into the party as a consultant to help him improve the image of the party which he said then was in a bad shape. And by virtue of his position, all eyes were on him to come up with services that would shore up the image of the party at the forthcoming election,” he said.
The witness further disclosed that they then engaged the services of a private PR firm, CNC Connect, which had worked with them when Nwodo was chairman of the PDP.
He added that he initially protested against the engagement of the firm due to its high fees, but Metuh prevailed on him, noting that the services of CNC Connect were of high quality and the party needed nothing but the best at that stage.
Abonyi said: “When I mentioned the area of funding, he reminded me that the general election was coming. He told me it was a thing of the past because the leader of the party which is the president then has no other choice but to fund the department.”
The witness further added that Metuh told him he has been given an assignment by the president to come up with a strategy that would help the party win the forthcoming elections, adding that other people have been given the same assignment as such they should do their best to be chosen.
He disclosed that after their presentation at the presidential villa, the president requested for comments from other members of the team and after their comments, Jonathan jokingly said the group was too hard on him as virtually all who spoke from among them made it clear that his image was bad and he himself was not helping matters with the way he was acting.
“At this point, his media adviser, Ruben Abati, who saw our presentation as an indictment on him, told the president that the position was not as bad as they portrayed it but, the president overruled him.
“After the presentation, the president asked for more comments from those sitting with him and most of the speakers said they were impressed by what they saw in our presentation.
“I recalled vividly the comment of former governor of Anambra State who urged the president to do something urgently about the image of the party before the campaign, if not, it would be difficult for it to win the general election going by the public perception of the government at that time.
“The president then said since it appears to be the consensus of the people sitting with him, Metuh and that and his team did a better job, he would advise that all the others work would have to work with Metuh’s team, because he wants the consultant to provide direction.
“At that point, he told Metuh, you have done a good job and asked him to send a corporate account to him for immediate mobilisation,” the witness said.
He went further to say that one afternoon, Metuh, told them that the work would soon start as the president called him to say some money had been paid for work to commence.
Following the examination and cross-examination by both the first defendant and the prosecution counsel, trial judge, Justice Okon Abang adjourned till April 20th 2016 for further examination and cross examination of the witness.
He premised his decision on an oral application by counsel to the second defendant seeking an adjournment to enable him prepare effectively for the defence of his client since he is just coming into the matter.
In the oral application by Tochukwu Onwugbufor argued that he was appointed as counsel to the second defendant on Friday and as such, incapacitated to participate in any proceeding connected to this charge today.
He added that he will not participate in the proceedings henceforth unless he is given time and facilities to prepare the case of the second defendant in line with section 36 (b and c) of the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria:”The second defendant has now briefed us in accordance with this provision of this provision and we are asking the court to give us adequate time and facilities to come up with the defense.”
He added that he needed to apply for all processes, applications and rulings delivered on them by the court.
Abang in his ruling however held that he had earlier decided on the issue raised by the second defendant, adding that the only issue that was not decided by the court was section 349(3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
Abang said once a court of law decided on an issue no party can reverse the court to make a fresh pronouncement, and declared the issue “es-stopped”, that the second defendant cannot bring up the case again.
He however said in view of findings made in the bench in respect or adjournment sought by the second defendant in line with section 349 (7&8), the matter is hereby adjourned at the instance of the second defendant.