By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh, has engaged a new lawyer, Abel Oziokor, to continue with his defence at the Federal High Court, Abuja, where he is standing trial on alleged N400 million fraud and money laundering charges.
Oziokor’s appointment comes shortly after Metuh had debriefed his former counsel, Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), who had been in charge of the case since 2015, when the trial started.
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).
At the last sitting, Ikpeazu had informed the court of an application he filed seeking leave of the court to withdraw from the matter.
In the application dated March 4 and filed March 5, Ikpeazu had cited what he described as, “Immense pressure with respect to their appearance in the case” as well as “severe threats” to their lives.
Responding, the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, then adjourned till March 13 for hearing on Ikpeazu’s motion on withdrawal from the suit.
However, a new twist emerged Wednesday when the matter was called. Instead of hearing on the motion on withdrawal, the court’s attention was brought to a letter by Metuh debriefing Ikpeazu from continuing as his counsel. The letter dated March 6, 2019 was filed March 12, 2019.
Justice Abang, who wondered why the first defendant would debrief his former counsel only a few days after the counsel applied to withdraw from the case, however held that there is nothing the court can do other than to respect the decision of the defendant.
“The court cannot question his decison or carry out an investigation to know why he is disengaging his client. It is his fundamental right,” the judge held.
Abang said Ikpeazu haven been debriefed cannot be compelled to continue as counsel to the first defendant, “he is hereby discharged as counsel to the first defendant in this case”.
He accordingly dismissed the application of Ikpeazu seeking withdrawal from the case on the grounds that the application had been overtaken by events, adding that the outcome of the motion will not serve any useful purpose in the case.
The new counsel, Oziokor, however applied for a short adjournment to enable him have a grasp of the case in order to properly defend his client.
Since the request for adjournment was not opposed to by the prosecution and the second defendant, Justice Abang subsequently adjourned the matter till March 28 for continuation of the trial.
He however warned that the court will not entertain frivolous applications from any counsel.