The drama of Metuh’s trial

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ROBERT EGBE chronicles the courtroom drama of a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) spokesman Olisa Metuh following his conviction and 36-year imprisonment for laundering N400million.

 

IT was an unusual emotion for a man in his shoes.

Moments after a Federal High Court in Abuja sentenced former spokesman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Olisa Metuh to seven years in prison for money laundering, there was a smile on his face.

The smile lingered even while heavily armed Nigerian Correctional Service officers led Metuh to the green-coloured bus that conveyed him to his new home.

Psychologists call such odd emotion the “inappropriate affect” and it involves the display of reactions that do not match your physical or even internal situation.

Or perhaps, in this case, the smile was just a mask for the emotional turmoil Metuh must have been undergoing.

Evidence, somewhat, of that turmoil surfaced a few minutes earlier when Justice Okon Abang convicted the lawyer of money laundering.

The judge had just pronounced Metuh guilty on one count out of the seven counts of money laundering preferred against him when Abel Ozioko, his counsel, told the court he had an application to make.

Ozioko told the court that his client needed to use the restroom and asked the judge to grant him permission.

Abang ordered three security agents to accompany Metuh to the loo and gave him three minutes to return.

The toilet episode brought down the curtains on the lawyer’s colourful trial.

For four years that the trial lasted, Nigerians were regaled by scene after scene of Metuh’s sensational courtroom drama.

 

Attempts to eat statement made to EFCC

On January 12, 2016, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accused Metuh of tearing up a statement he voluntarily made regarding his alleged involvement in the $2.1 billion arms fraud being investigated by the anti-graft agency.

The anti-graft body claimed Metuh tore the statement after it was presented to him by the investigating officer for endorsement, as part of preparations for his prosecution.

It said rather than sign the document, Metuh on realising the weight of his confession, seized the documents and proceeded to tear them.

The agency further alleged that the PDP spokesperson later tried to stuff the papers into his mouth in a bid to swallow them when he was stopped by operatives who managed to recover the torn pieces of papers from him.

 

Appearing in handcuffs

One of the many incidents that awakened public interest in Metuh’s case occurred outside the courtroom on January 19, 2016.

The PDP spokesman was handcuffed to the Federal High Court in Abuja by prison officials.

The act drew criticisms against the Prison Service, especially from the PDP which described it as a deliberate attempt by the Federal Government to intimidate him.

Metuh, who had been was remanded in Kuje prison days before, was guarded by officials of the Nigerian prisons service.

Two days later he again appeared in court in handcuffs, for a fresh charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

 

Arriving in an ambulance

On February 5, 2018 Metuh made a dramatic appearance when he arrived in court in an ambulance.

He was wheeled into the court premises on a stretcher to the surprise of people present.

Metuh was absent when the case was heard the week before and Justice Abang had ordered him to appear or risk being arrested.

Metuh’s counsel, Onyeachi Ikpeazu (SAN) told the judge that his client was absent because he was admitted at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital (NAUTH), Nnewi, and was unable to attend court.

 

Threat of arrest

On January 25, 2018 Metuh missed his court date and an angry Justice Abang ordered him to appear in court on the next adjournment, February 5, or risk arrest.

Abang rejected Metuh’s application seeking an adjournment on health grounds.

The judge said the letter which Metuh wanted the court to rely on to grant the adjournment was not a proper document before the court.

Abang said: “I agree with the prosecution that the purported letter written by Dr. O.C. Ekweogwu, who is unknown to the court, is trash and a useless paper meant for the dustbin, which was dumped on the court by the defence.

“The said letter was fraudulently smuggled into the records of the court by a person unknown to the court with the intent to stall proceedings.”

Metuh arrives court in wheelchair, insists on being treated abroad.

There was another drama on March 14, 2018 when the PDP spokesman appeared in court on a wheelchair, demanding that his international passport be released to enable him travel overseas for medical treatment.

It was the third time Metuh would ask the court to release his passport for him to seek medical attention abroad.

At the resumed hearing, Justice Abang granted Metuh’s counsel, Emeka Etiaba (SAN) permission to move the application.

The Justice had earlier refused another application seeking permission for Metuh to be absent from the proceedings based on his health.

Etiaba noted that his client did not appeal against the two previous applications, which were refused by the court but added that this was a new and different application.

 

Metuh ‘decides to fall’ in court

On May 21, 2018, Metuh collapsed in court. He was making his way to the dock for his resumed trial when he fell down.

Medical personnel and Metuh’s relatives rushed to where Metuh was.

Justice Abang stood down the matter to enable the former PDP spokesman receive medical attention.

Metuh was then placed on a stretcher.

Abang directed that the trial should go on but Metuh’s counsel, Emeka Etiaba SAN, argued that proceedings could not go on when his client was lying on a stretcher.

Etiaba said: “The 1st defendant had a terrible fall while trying to mount the dock, and I don’t even know if he is alive on that stretcher.

“Since the court has insisted on proceeding with trial, I announce my withdrawal from the trial.”

The judge adjourned trial, but the next day following Metuh’s absence and his lawyer’s application for an adjournment on medical ground, Abang said Metuh fell in court “on his own.”

“The court directed him to sit down where he was but he decided to fall down on his own,” he said.

 

Metuh jumps bail

On May 23, 2018, Justice Abang held that Metuh had jumped bail by failing to attend court a day earlier without any reasonable explanation for his absence.

He agreed with the EFCC that Metuh willfully disobeyed the court’s directives.

“I entirely agree with the submission of Tahir that what transpired in the court room amounts to misconduct by willfully failing to abide by the directives of the court to remain on his seat,” he said.

He added that since there was no material placed by the defendant in court explaining Metuh’s condition, it could not be presumed the court was aware of the state or condition he was in. The court ordered Metuh’s trial in absentia.

Yesterday, Metuh got a cumulative jail term of of 36 years on seven count charges.  Metuh was sentenced to seven-year imprisonment on counts 1, 2, 4 and 7; five-year imprisonment on count 3; and three-year in respect of counts 5 and 6.