Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has ordered that the trial of former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisa Metuh, could proceed in his absence.
Metuh is answering to a seven-count charge alongside his firm, Destra Investment Ltd.
In the said charge, the EFCC alleged that Metuh received N400 million from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), prior to the 2015 presidential election, without executing any contract.
The decision was sequel to an application which was moved on Tuesday, by the prosecution counsel, Sylvanus Tahir, following Metuh’s absence in court.
The development came as the court has summoned the General Manager of Channels TV and the anchor of Sunrise Today, Maukpe Ogun Yusuf, to appear before it on Friday.
They are to show cause why an order should not be made to compel them to produce an unedited video recording of May 22 edition of the program where prejudicial comments were allegedly made concerning the court proceeding.
The judge said the television’s officials were being summoned in respect of the prosecution’s allegation that the television aired prejudicial statements allegedly made by a lawyer in Metuh’s defence team, Mr. Ben Chuks Nwosu, during the medium’s Tuesday’s edition of Sunrise Daily.
Justice Okon Abang who delivered the ruling said the court was satisfied that Metuh has jumped bail as there was no reasonable explanation to justify his absence for continuation of trial.
The judge agreed with the prosecution counsel Metuh had on Monday, engaged in gross misconduct when he disobediently attempted to enter the dock after the court had permitted him to remain where he was initially seated.
Justice Abang held that Metuh subsequently fell down on his own and disrupted proceedings by whispering loundly in the open court and groaning intermittently, “giving the impression that he was in serious pain.”
“The 1st defendant has no right to hold this court to ransom by doing things or taking steps deliberately intended to scuttle his trial.
“The 1st defendant has repeatedly made the court of law look like an accident scene. This conduct should not be allowed in the temple of justice”, Justice Abang held.
He said Metuh had since April 2016 when EFCC closed its case, repeatedly “erected several road blocks aimed at frustrating this trial”.
“In a bid to dismantle those road blocks, the court was accused of being biased and conducting unfair trial. However, this court will stand its ground and always do what is right”, Justice Abang added.
He said Metuh “ignored a humane disposition of the court” by insisting on entering the dock, saying his action amounted to gross misconduct and wilful disobedience to the authority of the court.
While invoking the provision of section 266 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, Justice Abang said: “I do not think that further hearing of this case in the absence of 1st defendant will in any way affect his right to fair hearing under section 36 of the 1999 Constitution”.
Relying on a decision of the Supreme Court, Justice Abang said the court was entitled to proceed with the trial in Metuh’s absence, considering the defendant’s previous several attempts to frustrate the trial and the way he allegedly conducted himself after he fell down in court, on Monday.
The judge ruled, “The application by prosecution deserves to succeed.
“The trial shall proceed in the absence of the defendant. See Section 266(a) and section 352(4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.”
Recalled that Metuh fell down in the courtroom, as he was approaching the dock on Monday.
He was later taken away in the court’s ambulance and has since been absent from court during both the Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s proceedings.
But Justice Abang held, on Wednesday, that Metuh deliberately collapsed, on Monday.