By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The trial of former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh at the Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday suffered a major setback following an application by the defence counsel to withdraw from the matter.
Metuh and his company, Dextra Investment Ltd., are being prosecuted by the federal government over alleged money laundering and illegal receipt of funds from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA).
They pleaded not guilty to the charges, prompting the prosecution to commence trial. But the trialTuesday took a dramatic twist when counsel to Metuh, Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN and Emeka Etiaba SAN, announced before the court that they had filed a motion to withdraw from the matter.
Both counsel predicated their actions on what they described as “immense pressure with respect to their appearance in the case” as well as “severe threats” to their lives.
The counsel, who were not in court on Tuesday, had in the motion on notice, further cited the order of the court for day-to-day hearing of the matter, which they noted that they cannot afford, “having regard to diaries of their respective offices.”
It would be recalled that hearing on the matter was stalled last Monday after Etiaba informed the court that he was summoned by a government agency on that same day, forcing the court to adjourn to Tuesday.
However, at the resumed trial Tuesday, Metuh’s lawyers were absent in court and reported to have been summoned again by the same agency, prompting the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, to inquire from Metuh what he wants the court to do, in the circumstance.
Responding, Metuh who disclosed that he met with his lawyers on Monday evening, recounted how they were traumatised by their experience in the hands of the government agency.
He prayed the court to grant an adjournment to enable his counsel to present their application.
In the application, Metuh’s lawyers stated that, “the counsel representing the 1st defendant have been going through immense pressure with respect to their appearance in this case, including severe threats to their lives and will be unable to continue to represent the 1st defendant.”
In an affidavit in support of the motion on notice, Ikpeazu averred: “I have received numerous threats to my life from diverse sources through telephone calls with disguised numbers, giving ultimatum and threatening to kill me based on the manner they claimed I had been mishandling the case” Ikpeazu also stated in the affidavit, that Emeka Etiaba had also informed him that “he had received similar threats and thus will no longer proceed with the representation of the 1st Defendant.”
He contended that “in the circumstance, it is impossible to avail the 1st Defendant the legal representation he deserves in this case” and applied that the court grant the application to withdraw from the case in line with Section 349 (7), (8) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
The matter was adjourned to March 13, 2019. The trial of Metuh and his company has lingered since 2015 when trial first commenced. The prosecution closed its case in 2016 after calling eight witnesses to give evidence against Metuh.
However, Metuh who is currently testifying in his own case was yet to close his case and the second defendant yet to open his own case.