After four years of fierce legal battle court finally convicts Metuh for spending public funds on party and self, Alex Enumah reports
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court Abuja, last week sentenced former Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh to seven years imprisonment without an option of fine for spending public funds on the activities of his party, the PDP.
He was also jailed for diverting part of the N400 million he unlawfully received from the office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) under Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd).
Metuh is not the first to be jailed for spending public funds on party affairs or diverting public funds into personal use.
When President Muhammadu Buhari first assumed office as Head of State in 1983, the likes of late Professor Ambrose Alli, late Chief Bola I’ve and Chief Bisi Onabanjo were sent to prison for tampering with public funds.
Infact the military panel that tried them at the time had handed down a 100 years prison terms on the late Alli for misappropriating the sum of N983,000 meant for road projects in the former Bendel State and was only released in 1989 after the fine imposed on him was paid. Similarly both Chief Ige and Onabanjo were jailed for several years after the Buhari government in 1983 found them guilty of enriching themselves with party funds.
They were however released from prison by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime which overthrew the government of Buhari in 1985. But for Metuh, February 25, 2020 would best be described as a dark Tuesday as he on that day came face to face with his greatest fear, which is spending any time at all in prison over corruption allegations.
The trial, which started on January 15, 2016, finally came to an end with a guilty verdict by the trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, who found Metuh guilty on all seven count criminal charge filed against him by the federal government.
Abang in the more than four hours judgment took time dismantling Metuh’s defence against the charge one after the other. And having convicted him went ahead to sentence him to seven years in prison.
As if predetermined, not even the plea by the lawyer representing Metuh’s company, MR. Tochukwu Onwugbufo, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, could persuade Justice Abang not to send Metuh to jail as he maintained that but for Metuh’s stubbornness he might not have been jailed.
According to the judge, Metuh started to compound his problem when first he destroyed his statement made to the EFCC, wherein he claimed that his company Dextra Investment Limited has not handled any government project and that the company has no staff, adding that even when he was confronted with hard facts of his complicity in the charge, he remained hardened.
“He had opportunity to resolve the issue with the complainant, when he was confronted with the statement of account showing that he transferred N50 million to an account owned by his wife. He ought to have been sober, because of the involvement of his immediate family,” the court held.
Another issue believed to have also worked against Metuh was the absence of a cordial relationship with the judge and Metuh’s first team of lawyers led by Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu SAN, whom the judge said capitalised on every opportunity to humiliate him, adding that but for God and his immediate family, he would have given up in trying the defendants.
Metuh and his company, Dextra Investment Limited were arraigned on a seven count criminal charge bordering on money laundering to the tune of N400 million allegedly received from a former National Security Adviser (NSA), Colonel Sambo Dasuki (Rtd), also standing trial for diverting money meant for arms purchase in the fight against terrorism.
They were also accused of laundering and converting the sum of $2 billion of public funds into private usage.
According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in the charge sheet, Metuh was said to have illegally received the money from the Office of the NSA in the build-up to the 2015 general election.
But the former PDP Spokesman insisted that his travail was more political than crime-related, claiming that he was being prosecuted, because of his strong criticism of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Muhammadu Buhari.
He claimed that the said funds were legitimate and that the funds followed due process, adding that the money was to enable him carry out a national assignment as directed by then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
In prosecuting the case, the EFCC, before closing its case, called eight witnesses and tendered several documents to support its case against Metuh and his company. Among the documents is a bank document, which captured the details of the transactions carried out by Metuh and his company, Dextra Investment Limited.
Metuh, on his part, called 14 witnesses with himself as the 15th witness in proving his innocence. The second defendant called in only one witness. Also while the prosecution closed its case in February 2016, barely a month after trial commenced, Metuh did not close his defence until late 2019.
First, he had filed a no-case submission on the grounds that the prosecution failed to call former President Jonathan, who according to him engaged him on a national assignment to douse the tension allegedly raised by the forthcoming 2015 general election. But the court dismissed his no-case submission and ordered him to open his defence.
Also, Metuh’s attempts to get another judge to try him owing to the poor relationship between his lawyers and the trial judge were all rebuffed by Justice Abang as well as the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
At a point, one of the lawyers, Mr. Emeka Etiaba SAN, opted to withdraw from defending Metuh, his request was however rejected by the court.
It was only in early 2019 that both Ikpeazu and Etiaba were finally disengaged from the matter. They had in an application asked to be excused from the case owing to threat to their lives by some unknown persons. But before the court could deliver its ruling in the application, Metuh on his own disengaged them and engaged another lawyer in the person of Abel Ozioko, who concluded his defence.
Both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court in their separate rulings had declined to stop Metuh’s trial at the Federal High Court. Not even his allegedly failing health. On one occasion, he was brought to court on a stretcher following threat by the court to revoke his bail if he failed to appear in court at the next adjourned date.
During his trial, the former publicity secretary in another occasion collapsed in court while making his way to the dock. Metuh who until he was sentenced attended trial with the aid of a walking stick as a result of his failing health was on three occasions denied request to get medical attention abroad.
In their final address to the court, the defendants led by Ozioko and Tochukwu Onwugbufo (SAN), for the first and second defendants respectively, urged the court to discharge and acquit them on the grounds that the prosecution has failed woefully in establishing any case against the defendants.
The former Spokesman of the PDP in his evidence maintained that the sum of N400 million received from Dasuki was for a national assignment as directed by Jonathan.
Ozioko submitted that a total of 11 witnesses including a prosecution witness had all testified as receiving various sums of money from Metuh both in cash and cheques as contained in exhibit G20, which has remained unchallenged as evidence.
He further submitted that the testimony of Metuh was collaborated by witnesses to the fact that Jonathan gave him an assignment on security issues, which was not challenged by the prosecution.
Ozioko further urged the court to note that the document, which is the e-payment mandate with certification shows that all payments with regards to the N400m complied with the statutory requirement.
The defence lawyer further submitted that the prosecution failed to establish that the source of the money was illicit to warrant a charge of money laundering to be file against Metuh.
He urged the court to hold that having failed to establish any case against Metuh, the only inescapable conclusion is to discharge and acquit him.
Also arguing, counsel to Dextra Investment Limited, Onwugbufor challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear matters bordering on simple contract. He submitted that the issue of the source of money should first be determined by the court in other to establish a case of money laundering.
According to Onwugbufor, the N400m was legitimately provided and transferred to the second defendant, noting that the non-calling of Jonathan to give evidence was fatal to the case of the prosecution, because only his evidence would have shown whether he authorised money or not.
The senior lawyer argued that throughout the trial, the prosecution never responded to the origin of the money, adding that, “The failure of the prosecution to respond to this issue, which is highlighted in our addresses is deemed to have accepted and admitted all the points and issues raised therein. Having conceded same, the court is urged to hold that the origin of the money is legitimate and if that is so, the entire charge of money laundering must fail.”
But the prosecution on his part urged the court to convict the defendants as the prosecution has proved his case beyond reasonable doubt.
He submitted that money laundering is a global offence and that section 15(6) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act. 2011 catalogued list of predicate offence that can give rise to money laundering including Criminal breach of trust.
With submission from all parties, Justice Abang, while delivering judgment, held that the prosecution was able to establish the ingredients of guilt in all the seven count criminal charge against Metuh and his company.
Abang, accordingly handed down the minimum seven years prison terms as prescribed by section 15 of the money laundering Act for the offence. He also warned other public officers not to dissipate public funds on private matters, noting that the act was an endemic disease that has eaten deep into the fabric of the Nigerian society.
Noting that the menace required drastic solution in order to be eradicated from the country, he stressed that there must be a change in the way things were done in the country.
Abang, who claimed the fact of the case has revealed the level of decay in the country, said the sentencing would serve as a lesson to others to think twice before dissipating public funds.
“When you are faced with the facts of the case, particularly in situation like this you should not be assertive or stubborn”.
For count one, the judge sentenced Metuh to seven years imprisonment; count two, seven years; count three, five years; count four, seven years; count five, three years with a fine of N25 million; count six, three years with a fine of N25 million and count seven, seven years imprisonment.
The sentences, which are to run concurrently according to the judge comes into effect from the day the judgment was delivered.
While ordering the winding up of Dextra Investment Limited and the balance in the firm’s bank accounts should be forfeited to the federal government, Abang in addition, imposed a fine of N375 million on Metuh.
He held that Metuh and his company were guilty of unlawfully possessing the sum of N400 million from the account of the office of the NSA domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The court said evidence before it proved that the funds formed part of the unlawful activities of then NSA, adding that the claim by Metuh that the funds were payment for a national assignment he carried out for Jonathan was untenable.
He explained that Metuh’s failure to call President Jonathan to give evidence was fatal to his case and that he was certain Jonathan would not have given a verbal approval for payment of the said national assignment.
He argued that Metuh ought to have known or probably new that the funds were part of the unlawful activities of the former NSA, whom he (Metuh) said had no contract with in the first place and yet went ahead to dissipate the funds.
While stating that the first defendant was not telling the court the truth, Abang said if the defendants knew of the inflow of the sum of N400 million from the NSA, where he had earlier claimed in his statement that he never had any contract with, he (Metuh) ought to have questioned the source of the money and not have gone ahead to spend it.
The court held that the only person, who could have corroborated Metuh’s claim that the money was authorised by Jonathan was the then president himself, whom the defendants planned to call but later abandoned.
The court further noted that even when it was subpoenaed to call Dasuki, who was a principal officer to Jonathan, relevant questions were not put before Dasuki to affirm or deny that Jonathan directed the sum be paid to Metuh for a national assignment.
In counts two and three, Abang held that evidence tendered by the prosecution proved that Metuh disbursed the funds received from Dasuki for the political activities of the PDP as well as for his personal use, stating that all documentary evidence presented to the court failed to show any security services for which the sum of N400 million was paid to the defendants, but rather flow of funds into PDP’s campaign activities as well as Metuh’s personal use.
In count four, the court also found the defendants guilty on the grounds that they failed to place material before the court to show that Jonathan engaged the first defendant on a national assignment for national security.
The court also found the defendants guilty on counts five and six which borders on making cash deposits beyond the maximum threshold which is N5 million for individual and N10 million for an organisation.
The EFCC, in counts five and six, had accused Metuh of handing over the sum of $2 million cash to one Nneka Ararume, who in turn handed over the monies to two bureau de change agents for conversion to cash and was then deposited in Metuh’s Diamond Bank account.
According to the judge, findings show that although Ararume was a staff of ARM, she was not in Metuh’s Abuja residents on behalf of ARM.
The court further held that the two bureau de change operators were not financial institutions and violated section one of the money laundering Act, by making cash deposits into Metuh’s Diamond Bank account well above N5 million, adding that the $2 million formed part of the N400 million received illegally from Dasuki.
In count 7, which borders on the transfer of the sum of N21.7 million to former PDP chieftain, the late Chief Anthony Anenih, the judge held that the prosecution was able to prove that the said funds transferred to the late Anenih was also part of the unlawful activities of Dasuki.
Abang, therefore, held that in all, there was evidence that the first defendant ought to have known that the money received from Dasuki was proceeds of an unlawful act.
Accordingly, Abang, who almost went personal, found Metuh and his company guilty on all the seven-count charge and dismissed the argument that Metuh and his company could not be charged with money laundering without the conviction of Dasuki over alleged breach of trust and corruption on the grounds that doing so would amount to “commanding the impossible”.
According to Abang, it was not mandatory for the prosecution to provide evidence of Dasuki’s conviction on breach of trust and corruption before money laundering charge were filed against the defendants.