The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday fixed July 3 to rule on an application filed by Olisa Metuh, former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, seeking to reopen his case.
The court had closed the defence of Metuh on May 25, following an application by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir.
Tahir had asked the court to close Metuh’s case as both he and his counsel were absent in court and no reason given for their absence.
The judge, Justice Okon Abang, closed the case on the grounds that Metuh’s absence in court could only mean he had abandoned his defence.
He also said that the absence of Metuh’s counsel in court showed lack of interest in the defence of his client.
At the resumed hearing, the lead counsel for Metuh, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), prayed the court to reopen the case to allow Metuh and the two remaining witnesses to testify.
“The court had made it clear that it is only upon the 1st defendant’s testimony and explaining what he did upon receipt of the sum of N400 million, the subject matter of the charge, that the court may determine whether or not he knows or ought to have known that the sum was a product of an unlawful act.”
Ikpeazu further told the court that he was absent in court on May 25 due to his indisposition and that he had not applied to be discharged from the matter.
He also brought to the attention of the court, where he averred that he had undertaken to personally conduct the evidence and to seek no adjournment until the termination of the case.
The counsel also told the court that the absence of Metuh’s team of lawyers in court on May 25 was not to disrespect the judge or the court since a lawyer was sent to inform the court of their absence.
He expressed regrets that the lawyer acted irresponsibly by failing to deliver the information to the court or inform his superiors of his inability to deliver same on the grounds that he took ill.
Ikpeazu told the court that the lawyer had since been placed on a 30-day suspension by his superiors for his action, adding that the suspension letter was attached to the application.
“It is not judicial for a counsel who was sent to court to claim that he took ill and without notifying anyone so that an alternative remedy may be sought.
“In a situation like this, the court will dispassionately view the right of the defendant to defend himself and accord the defendant a fair trial.”
He urged the court to give adequate consideration to the fact that the affidavit explained the reason for the counsel’s absence in court on the said day.
The prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, asked the court to view the application as analogous to the story of the prodigal son in the Holy Bible.
“We looked at the entire circumstances of the case particularly that it is a criminal trial and the fact that the court has toiled for over two years adjudicating on this matter.
“Having in mind provisions of Section 36 of the constitution which deals with a fair hearing, we thought it wise not to oppose the application.
“We decided to view the case as analogous to the story of the prodigal son as recorded in the Holy Bible. I think the defence has realised that they have offended the father unjustly and have come back in repentance,” Tahir said.
Justice Abang adjourned the matter until July 3 to rule on the application.
The judge also said that the outcome of the ruling would determine whether or not the second defendant would be called upon to open his case.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that Metuh was present in court.