James Emejo in Abuja
The House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a motion urging the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami, to use his position as chief prosecution officer to ensure that former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman, Olisa Metuh is allowed access to medical attention abroad until he is fit to continue with his trial.
The House also mandated its Committees on Justice and Human Rights to follow up on the resolution and report back within two weeks.
The resolve of the lower chamber was as a result of a motion brought under matters of urgent national importance by Hon. Chris Azubogu (PDP, Anambra) on the urgent need to save the life of Chief Olisa Metuh.
He said the life of Metuh, who is currently facing trial on charges of money laundering- which does not prescribe death as penalty if convicted- was under grave danger.
He expressed concern that the health of the former PDP spokesman had deteriorated while in custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), leading to his collapse in court recently before being rushed to the National Hospital.
He said Metuh had travelled to Nnewi to attend to some family issues only to be rushed to the Nnamdi Azikwe University Teaching Hospital on emergency due to complications on same spinal cord injury.
He regretted that while on admission, the court refused the medical report wherein the hospital had requested adequate time to complete its investigation on him.
According to him, Metuhâ€™s condition had prompted his transfer to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu before the National Hospital Abuja in an ambulance to enable him appear for trial on the order of the court.
Azubogu in his lead debate argue that Metuh is on trial but not yet convicted, adding that his condition had continued to deteriorate.
He said further denial for him to receive appropriate medical attention overseas could cost him his life or permanent paralysis since heâ€™s been bed-ridden.
Quoting relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), he said: â€œEvery person has a right to life, and no one shall be deprived intentionally of his life, save in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty in Nigeria.â€
He further expressed worry that the embattled PDP scribe has had to appear in court on Monday on a stretcher from the National Hospital on the order of the court against medical recommendation considering the grave danger heâ€™s currently in.
The lawmaker argued that â€œItâ€™s only the living that can answer to charges of criminal offence and Metuh, a lawyer I know will not become a fugitive because of the charges he is facing if granted a leave to obtain treatment for a given period of time and come back to continue with his trial since he is already on bail and there is a surety.
However, the original prayer of the motion was to urge the AGF and the Federal High Court Abuja to grant Metuh access to medical care overseas pending his fitness to resume trial.
Even though Azuboguâ€™s motion attracted sympathy from his colleagues, it only required the prompt intervention of the Chairman, Rules and Business, Hon. Emmanuel Oker-jev (APC, Benue) who threw a spanner in the works of the sponsor- leading to a divided opinion on whether to involve the courts and judiciary to a larger extent on the issue.
Oker-jev, who had raised a point of order immediately after Azuboguâ€™s debate, drew attention to the fact that it was against the rules of the lower chamber to venture into the affairs of other tiers of government, particularly the judiciary, in the spirit of the principles of separation of powers.
He said even though the motion enjoyed his sympathy, it appeared to â€œquestion what the court is doingâ€, which ought not to be the concern of the House.
His point of order did reset the whole argument as House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, who agreed that constitutionally, the House was not supposed to intervene in judiciary affairs, nevertheless, sought expert advise from learned members to break the seeming deadlock.
Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Chukwuka Onyema, said the motion was purely on humanitarian grounds, adding that it was an eyesore to see Metuh brought to court on a stretcher.
He stressed that the House was not questioning the judiciary but only appealing that Metuhâ€™s request be considered in order to get medical treatment abroad.
In his contribution however, Hon. Olabode Ayorinde (APC, Ondo) said in the absence of sentiments by member, there was nothing the lower chamber could ask the court to do in the current circumstance, given that Metuh had earlier been granted bail.
At this point, Dogara said the National Assembly was not in a position to tell the judiciary what to do.
He said bail application is at the discretion of the judge and since the lower chamber canâ€™t dictate to the court, the former can only urge the court to consider the prayer of the motion.
Meanwhile, it took the counsel of Hon. Edward Pwajok (APC, Plateau)- himself, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), to save the motion from being literally killed.
He advised that the prayer of the motion be amended to urge the AGF, not the court, to look at ways of ensuring that Metuh gets medical care overseas.
With this, Dogara said having resolved issues of prejudice, it was clear that the House cannot talk to the courts but rather to the AGF.